Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

What a magical night Christmas Eve is! The trees are in houses. The green, fresh smelling branches are decorated and lit. Those tiny rays of light cast away the darkness; reminding us that even a glimmer of Christ’s light is enough in a dark world.

The manger scenes are set up in yards. They are decorated and lit. Those tiny shepherds and iconic figures of Mary and Joseph pointing us to the real reason we are celebrating.

The baby Jesus is placed in the manger. He is decorated and lit…from the inside in most yards. This either reminds us that the true light that comes into the world, bringing life into the world is Jesus, or seeing it sadly reminds us that we need a new plastic Jesus because our old one from 1968 is beginning to look more like a little red demonized child’s toy than the savior of the world.

The Christmas songs have finally broken loose in the church, flying through the pews and around the altar. The stars shine bright and the angels join in our songs, offering their prayers to God as we cry out with familiar melodies and beautiful harmonies of thirds and fifths up the scale. There are even some harmonies of 2 1/2s up the scale that certainly would never come out of the mouths of an angel but are certainly noises of praise. Glories are everywhere, and anticipation of tomorrow morning are on the thoughts of all children.

How can you not be excited about a night like this?

When I was a young child the smell of pipe also entered the picture as my grandfather sat down getting ready for all of us to open our presents. The smell of pipe smoke raised the heart rate as our cousins dealt out the gifts to everyone. Sitting on the floor, staring at the wrapping paper in front of me, the tender stuff just waiting to be destroyed, we sat and sat and sat, waiting to discover the prize inside.

There was only one problem; my grandparent’s house was the opposite of the quick paced, frantic, fantastically joyous and beautiful Christmas season. There was nothing quick about this gift unwrapping. You could honestly wait half an hour before you might open your gift. You see, everyone had to take turns unwrapping presents. We would wait and watch the next person open their present, and that person would then say “thank you,” and then they would both start a discussion of how they thought of the present and the other would sit and talk about how they might use it and how they loved their cousin or Uncle or Aunt or whoever had given them the present. This process took well over an hour, and it was pure torture for a seven year old. I would have rather been hung by my toenails at that age; at least that would be stimulating.

Like the story of Jesus’ birth, the process made Christmas rather simple and plain. Did you notice how plain this story of Jesus’ birth really is? Read it closely, there is no iconic Inn Keeper telling the young Mary and Joseph that there is no room. There also is no stable with talking animals and swirling Angels. In fact, the first Christmas was quite the opposite of tonight’s celebration. It was a regular pregnancy, and a regular labor, in a meager place with ordinary people doing ordinary birthing things. Luke seems to be trying to tell us something about how God works. It is not a great and glorious scene.  It is, rather, a simple scene with simple parents connecting closely with their new child.

Connecting closely; that is what was happening during those Christmas gift unveilings after-all. The gift givers and the gift receivers were being given the time to connect with each other through loving words. My grandparents were secretly wise. To the kid’s anxious disappointment, my grandparents knew that the gift themselves were not the important part of the tradition. Connecting with someone who loves you was the whole point.

Today, and through the rest of the Christmas season, take the time to slow down from the gloriousness of the Christmas season and take the time to connect one-on-one with Christ. “Glory to God in the highest heaven” yes, but simple time with a simple God is also very good. It is hard to be loved by someone who is held up with such high glory. But, we can easily be loved by a God who is willing to come down to be with us.  Take time right now to connect closely with Christ.

Reflection on Luke 3:7-18

You pit of snakes! You slithering, slinky, sneaky, snakes of systematic sin and suffering. You literarily alliterated selection of sinful snakes. Who warned you to slither your way onto a website to take sanctuary in a proclamation about God? Who told you to come here? Who told you that you needed to come here and turn your life around?

Are you here to read the words of a fabulous preacher? Or, are you here because you truly are thirsting to soak up the moist, refreshing water of God’s kingdom? Perhaps, the rush of the pre-Christmas season, or the pre-family tension season, or the ever popular pre-post Christmas shopping season has gotten to you. Perhaps, life has gotten to you in general. Perhaps, you cannot wait to stop reading this thing so that you can do something much more productive with your life. Perhaps, John the Baptist is judging you unfairly right now. Perhaps, Jira Albers is suggesting to you that John the Baptist is judging you unfairly while he gets off scot free to do all the judging himself. Perhaps, this reflection is a literary nightmare with way too many “perhaps” taking place all in one paragraph, and it should stop very soon!

Perhaps…why not, I’ve already used seven “perhaps,” can one more really be considered over the top…perhaps, you actually care about your life with God, and perhaps you have heard God’s beautiful symphony, and you simply seek some wisdom concerning living out a life that is in tune with the beautiful and haunting melody of God’s kingdom. In other words, you hear the tune while driving down the road of life, and you want to sing out loud in the car. As John the Baptist did, I will assume that you have an honest desire for God and God’s kingdom.

So, you ask, “What should we do?” The crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers asked John in his time and the question still echoes today. “What should we do.”

Some would say that you simply need to live your best life now. Go, make a bunch of money and buy your happiness. Go ahead, it’s simple! Making millions, at least for myself, has never been a problem. I simply do not want to right now. You know, I have other things to do.

Maybe, you should participate in a cheaply made sweat lodge ceremony run by a Hollywood guru?

Maybe, you should just listen to your instincts and do simply what they say. My instincts often tell me that the way to a good life is through a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I am willing to go with that.

Others will tell you to leave all that you have, go move to the top of the mountain, and contemplate the meaning of life alone in the woods with only wild fruits and berries to live on.

Maybe, you should go off and study in the ivory towers of the seminary. Putting your nose in theology books is famous for putting people at peace. You would not believe how far a snore travels in a library built with stone walls.

John’s answer to the question, “What should we do?” is not this complicated, it is amazingly simple. It does not require feats of starving yourself, over-indulging yourself, or living alone in the woods. What should we do? Professor David Lose from Luther seminary puts John's simple message this way, "Share. Be fair. Don't bully."

Do you want to sing a line in God’s symphony? Then, share what you have with someone else. Don’t take or expect things from others, rather share. If you have two coats, give one to someone who needs it. That is not too difficult.

Are you trying to adjust your voice’s pitch so you are not singing flat to Christ’s wonderful tune of grace? Then, be fair when you deal with others. Make sure to treat others as you would want to be treated. Tax collectors should not expect more than what is owed to them and neither should you. Be fair. That does not take a special person.  It is well within everyone’s reach.

Does your base note drown out every other tune God has put out there? Then do not bully. The world will continue to run without you having your way, really it will. Soldiers already have intrinsic power, they do not need to prove anything by bullying and neither do you. You will not die if you do not get your way over what to have for dinner. Really, it will not happen. Neither will the world come to an end if you do not get your way at your job or with your spouse. Do not bully. It does not take a theologian to accomplish that.

Does this sermon sound a little like it was written for kindergarteners? Well, it was…in a sense. Anyone is able to participate in God’s kingdom here on earth. Even a kindergartener can display God’s grace when they remember: "Share. Be fair. Don't bully." The kingdom of God is a realm that we all can participate in. God’s grace is not limited. If someone tells you it is not that simple, do not believe them. It is simple. It is a kingdom built for all to live in. It is a place where even kindergarteners can participate in sharing God’s grace with others. As we wait for the coming of our Lord, take the time to "Share. Be fair. And, don't bully."

Reflection on Luke 3:1-6

“Welcome to history class!” With those words out on the page I am sure that I have completely engaged you.  Perhaps not.  If you are anything like me your body is now thinking, “Welcome to my nap.” But, this will not be a long history lesson. Luke wants you to understand something about history and how Jesus fits into it but the lesson is very simple and direct.

John the Baptist came to prepare the way of Christ during the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius; who is now dead. That is right, this emperor is now gone and is not worshipped at all today. In a similar way, this nobody John came when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; who incidentally is also now dead. No one worships or follows the philosophy of the powerful Pilate today either. No one even remembers when and how he died. And, of course John came to proclaim Christ during the rule of Herod, ruler of Galilee; and his brother Philip, ruler of some linguistically unpronounceable regions; and Lysanias, who was the ruler yet another unpronounceable region. Though each of these rulers is remembered in history for their power, might, and political craftiness, guess what?  All three are history, literally. Oh yeah, and do not forget the high priests who put Jesus to death, Annas and Caiaphas. Guess what? Yep, they are dead also.

Alright, now for the history test. Are these people alive or dead?

Emperor Timberius?
Pontius Pilate?
Herod?
Philip?
Lysanias?
Annas?
Caiaphas?
John the Baptist?
Christ?

What a great class! Of course, I am assuming that you are extremely intelligent and have shown everyone to be dead with the exception of Christ. 

Though the powers of the world try to control by force, corrupt ways, sly dealings, political calculations, selfish motivations, cruelty, false kindness, and suave tongues, all of these powers will be upturned and plowed under as the preparations for Christ’s word of repentance and forgiveness levels mountains, fills valleys, bends roads, and straightens paths. The foundations of the world will be grasped like a child grasps a handheld sandbox and shaken until all of the sand settles into a peaceful, smooth plain, where no one is higher or lower, and repentance and forgiveness brings us all onto the same level.

Recently, my foundations were shaken a little bit and my sands were leveled to some degree. Quite recently, the big news story was not the troop surge in Afghanistan, nor the health care debate, but was all about: Tiger Woods.

I had Tiger set up high on a mountain in my mind. You have to understand, he is the first of my generation. He is the first golf genius of my generation. He is the first of my generation to make it big. And, he was all class. He was what was right with the world. He and his character is what set us apart from the previous generation of drug induced hippies and corrupt politicians. And, as we found out this week, he was no better than any of them. With the exposure of his marital infidelities, the mountain was shaken, and a flat plain was created.

I am not trying to get down on the guy. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I had high hopes for my generation. I had created a mountain upon which we could stand proudly, and that mountain was shaken this week by the inherent need for repentance and forgiveness.

No one is immune to sin and the pain it causes those around you. No one. This should not have been such a big story. This should not have been such a big surprise. When Christ comes into the world, all the foundations are shaken and all the high are brought low and all the low are brought high until we all stand on the same plain facing the same God who has the same piercing gaze of truth and forgiveness for all flesh.

But, do not fear that piercing gaze. Allow your mountains to be made low. Do not fear. Allow your valleys to be filled in. Do not fear. Allow your crooked roads to be straightened. It may be painful and scary, but do not fear, in the end you find yourself standing next to Christ on a flat plain of grace.

Nowhere to hide.
No need to hide.

Nowhere to go in fear.
No need to fear.

All will be gathering on the same flat plain of grace and peace. Do not fear, Christ is coming.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reflection on Mark 13:1-8

(The following is a stewarship sermon given on November 15th, 2009.  There were many visitors to the congregation that day due to a baptism.  That is the context of the sermon, now enjoy this reflection.)

Before I even begin my sermon today, I would like to give just a few words of encouragement, instruction, and reassurance. The reassurance goes out to everyone who is visiting here today. Throughout the rest of the service you are going to hear about money and giving. I want to reassure you that we do not always talk about money and giving. Our primary focus…even today…is the good news, God’s unconditional love for the whole world through Jesus Christ.

I say that because I was visiting a church once, and happened upon their stewardship Sunday. They talked about money, they sung about money, and…as it was a Pentecostal church…they even danced about money. I left that church thinking to myself, “they are God’s people and all they care about is money.” I am certain, now that I think back, that they probably cared about a great many things other than money; I simply had chosen to visit on the one Sunday that they secretly wished no one would visit. Therefore, as a visitor, you do not need to feel compelled in any way to give to this church or make some sort of financial commitment to it. That is the job of the disciples of this congregation. You are here simply to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, nothing more is expected of you.


And, speaking of disciples, if you attend this church, but are certain that you are not yet a disciple of Christ, then you too do not need to worry about any financial commitment this day. The Church is here for you…to bring the good news to you.  You are not here for the existence of the church.

And last, if any of you believe that I am a hypocrite when it comes to talking about money and giving, then I will assure you, I will put your heart at rest, that you are 100% correct.

Sometimes I give wonderfully of myself and my possessions to the work of God, and sometimes I do not. Like you, I am a confused mix of good intentions and selfish desires. I desire to enter into the lives of people who are suffering and provide them some comfort from our loving God. And for that you do need some comfortable shoes (tennis shoes are placed on the pulpit).  But, what if it’s winter? Then you need some boots (boots are placed on the pulpit). Or, what if it’s summer? Then you need some sandals (sandals are placed on the pulpit). Or, what if you are wearing tan pants? Then you need some brown dress shoes (brown dress shoes are placed on the pulpit). Don’t you see? I am completely a mix of good intentions with a very healthy dose of selfish desires. I am trapped by stuff. I am quite literally trapped by my stuff.

I need to reform! Have you not experienced this?  Every time that you commit to reform your ways, to clearing out a space in your house, and you start to give away what you have for the sake of others and for the sake of God, you inevitably have a birthday, or Christmas comes, or Father’s Day comes, or National Potato Day comes? You will not believe the amount of gifts…that I buy for myself on National Potato Day. Agh!!!! I suffocate myself and fill my existence with stuff, and somehow I miss those around me who will not have to worry about the tortures of too much, or the horrors of being full.

It is a huge problem that people…real human beings…are forgotten just as the poor man, Lazarus, was not even seen starving at the foot of the rich man’s door. But, is it not also a problem for me, that I am stuck trusting in something that is certainly going to rot, rather than trusting in the one who gives me life every waking moment?

I think that I would be horrified if I were standing with the disciples, staring up at the beauty of the temple, noticing how glorious are the columns and gold fa├žade, and hearing from Jesus that this beautiful place is soon going to be nothing but rubble. I would be truly horrified. And, when I saw it fall into rubble, I would be stricken. Grief would overtake me, and I would not be able to breathe. Beauty should not be destroyed.

But, have I not been lead astray? Have I been led to believe that beautiful things are important and that relationships are not? Have I been led to trust in the comfort of shoes rather than conversation; and nice cars, rather than welcoming people to my dinner table; and beautiful homes rather than forgiving a former friend; and possessing lots of movies rather than possessing and living out the story of God’s love for all?

Jesus says that temples will fall into rubble and that possessions will rot away, but the word of the Lord will never rot away. God’s unconditional love for the world will continue to live on in the hugs and smiles of newly baptized babies, in disciples who carry forgiveness on their shoulder like a high priced bag, and people who allow God to turn their lives away from dead things, to the living God and the living God’s purposes.

As a visitor, you may be wondering why we talk about money and giving once a year. Surprisingly, the primary reason is not to get more money for the finances of the church. The church will do its ministry with the gifts that it has been given as it has done for centuries. Rather, we talk about it for my sake, and for yours. It is a spring cleaning of the soul, moving out our trust in money, and shoes, and making space for God to direct our lives. Every year, I get tired of being pushed around and reoriented by my things, and every year I get a chance to do some spring cleaning so that my faith can be restored once again. It is a chance to reclaim a simple life in Jesus Christ.

Reflection on Mark 12:38-44

He noticed her. No one else seemed to pay any attention. No one else even realized that she was there. But, sitting across from the treasury in the temple, peering through the masses of people walking by on their way to throw their large, clanking sums of money into the ornate metal chutes that collected the offerings, Jesus saw the widow when she threw in her two small coins. The clank they made was not even audible. No one around her turned to notice the widow’s contribution. No one around her noticed that she had just thrown in her last bit of wealth. Not even the disciples noticed. No one noticed. That was the problem. She was in a room full of faithful, devoted, religious people, and no one noticed her.

Plenty of people go unnoticed. There is the girl that sits at the edge of the dance floor, waiting for someone to ask her to dance. But, she goes unnoticed. There is the slum containing thousands of poor who struggle to find clean water. The slum is along the rail line between Cairo’s suburbs and the business district. None of the commuters look out the window at the struggling faces. Thousands go unnoticed. There is the boy that needs help. He needs help with his homework. He needs help with his behavior. He needs help because he has no stable parents. He needs help, period. He is technically not an orphan…he has parents, but make no mistake, he is an orphan. He too goes unnoticed. Like the widow, they all go unnoticed.

For the most part, the fact that they go unnoticed is not because people intentionally want to ignore them. Most people do not intentionally ignore the plight of a widow. The widow simply does not register as someone important in an otherwise busy life. There are children to raise, and school to go to, and money to be made, and doctor’s appointments to get to on time, and obligations to take care of in the temple. Who has the time to see her? Who has the time to care?

Of course, the scribes will see her. It is their job after-all to take care of the widows and orphans. In an ideal world, this scene would not be tragic. In an ideal world, the widow would give her last cent in gratefulness to God, and she would have no worries because the scribes of the temple would make sure that she is cared for (food, clothing, shelter, and companionship). In an ideal world, you can give away your last cent for the sake of others because you know that you have a whole community who will care for you. That is what community is all about, is it not?

As biblical scholar Rolf Jacobson says, If God’s people were to write a self-help book, it would not be titled, “Your Best Life Now.” It would be titled, “Your Neighbors Best Life Now.” That pretty much sums up the Laws of God: care for your neighbor first. That pretty much sums up the message of Jesus: "love your neighbor as yourself,” and “be a living sacrifice for others.” Surely the scribes will see her. Surely they will care.

Assumptions are never a good thing. I am not certain the scribes are corrupt, but they have lives too. People expect them to go to banquets and social events and say long prayers and speak eloquently. Surely, they feel good when they do well, and feel the pressure of needing to do just as well the next time they speak. Surely, they are expected to dress well, therefore they get the long robes that make them look like the fine and respectable religious scribes that they are. People would expect no less of them. So, we have to cut them a little slack when they forget the widows do we not?

The widow expects that the religious leaders will not have forgotten her, though they have. The girl on the edge of the dance floor expects to enjoy the night spinning across the dance floor, though she will not. The poor expect someone on the high speed train to see that they are thirsty and need a fresh water supply, but no one will. The boy expects someone to help him, his parents, his grandparents, his friends, his neighbor, anyone, but they will not.

Well, almost no one notices. Peering through the crowds sits a man. He hears the clank of those two, small coins. He sees the widow’s trust in her community. He sees her, period. Only Jesus sees her.

Jesus calls his disciples over to look at her. He tells them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." He calls them over to see the woman’s faith in her community. They need to see that she trusts that she will be cared for. They need to see her, period. Jesus sees her. Jesus will die for her. Jesus will not forget her. Neither should the disciples. They need to learn and see.

In an ideal world, people give what they have for the sake of other people and for the sake of God. They do not fear to give what they have away, because they trust that others will in turn provide for their needs.

“In an ideal world,” I hate that phrase. The “ideal world” sounds like something unattainable; something that would be a waste of our time. But, this is not a waste of our time. I think that Jesus is teaching his disciple to see the widow, because Jesus actually wants us to try to be that community that she is giving her money to.

So how does this sound? “In a grace filled world, people give what they have because they love God and love others. They can do this because they know that they will be loved in return.” This is not an ideal. This is Christian community.


 
All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Reflection on Mark 12:38-44

He noticed her. No one else seemed to pay any attention. No one else even realized that she was there. But, sitting across from the treasury in the temple, peering through the masses of people walking by on their way to throw their large, clanking sums of money into the ornate metal chutes that collected the offerings, Jesus saw the widow when she threw in her two small coins. The clank they made was not even audible. No one around her turned to notice the widow’s contribution. No one around her noticed that she had just thrown in her last bit of wealth. Not even the disciples noticed. No one noticed. That was the problem. She was in a room full of faithful, devoted, religious people, and no one noticed her.

Plenty of people go unnoticed. There is the girl that sits at the edge of the dance floor, waiting for someone to ask her to dance. But, she goes unnoticed.

There is the slum containing thousands of poor who struggle to find clean water. The slum is along the rail line between Cairo’s suburbs and the business district. None of the commuters look out the window at the struggling faces. Thousands go unnoticed.

There is the boy that needs help. He needs help with his homework. He needs help with his behavior. He needs help because he has no stable parents. He needs help, period. He is technically not an orphan…he has parents, but make no mistake, he is an orphan. He too goes unnoticed. Like the widow, they all go unnoticed.

For the most part, the fact that they go unnoticed is not because people intentionally want to ignore them. Most people do not intentionally ignore the plight of a widow. The widow simply does not register as someone important in an otherwise busy life. There are children to raise, and school to go to, and money to be made, and doctor’s appointments to get to on time, and obligations to take care of in the temple. Who has the time to see her? Who has the time to care?

Of course, the scribes will see her. It is their job after-all to take care of the widows and orphans. In an ideal world, this scene would not be tragic. In an ideal world, the widow would give her last cent in gratefulness to God, and she would have no worries because the scribes of the temple would make sure that she is cared for (food, clothing, shelter, and companionship). In an ideal world, you can give away your last cent for the sake of others because you know that you have a whole community who will care for you.

That is what community is all about, isn’t it? If God’s people were to write a self-help book, it would not be titled, “Your Best Life Now.” It would be titled, “Your Neighbors Best Life Now.”

That pretty much sums up the Laws of God: care for your neighbor first.

That pretty much sums up the message of Jesus: "love your neighbor as yourself,” and “be a living sacrifice for others.”

Surely the scribes will see her. Surely they will care.

Assumptions are never a good thing. I am not certain the scribes are corrupt, but they have lives too. People expect them to go to banquets and social events and say long prayers and speak eloquently. Surely, they feel good when they do well, and feel the pressure of needing to do just as well the next time they speak. Surely, they are expected to dress well, therefore the scribes buy the long robes that transform their whole being into the fine and respectable religious scribes that they are. People would expect no less of them. So, we have to cut them a little slack when they forget the widows and orphans don’t we?

The widow expects that the religious leaders will not have forgotten her, though they have. The girl on the edge of the dance floor expects to enjoy the night spinning across the dance floor, though she will not. The poor expect someone on the high speed train to see that they are thirsty and need a fresh water supply, but no one will. The boy expects someone to help him, his parents, his grandparents, his friends, his neighbor, anyone, but they will not.

Well, almost no one notices. Peering through the crowds sits a man. He hears the clank of those two, small coins. He sees the widow’s trust in her community. He sees her; period. Only Jesus sees her.

Jesus calls his disciples over to look at her. He tells them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." He calls them over to see the woman’s faith in her community. They need to see that she trusts that she will be cared for. They need to see her; period.

Jesus sees her. Jesus will die for her. Jesus will not forget her. Neither should the disciples. They need to learn and see.

In an ideal world, people give what they have for the sake of other people and for the sake of God. They do not fear to give away what they have, because they trust that others will in turn provide for their needs.

“In an ideal world,” I hate that phrase. The “ideal world” sounds like something unattainable; something that would be a waste of our time. But, this is not a waste of our time. I think that Jesus is teaching his disciple to see the widow, because Jesus actually wants us to try to be that community that she is giving her money to.

So how does this sound? “In a world filled with love, people give what they have because they love God and love others. They can do this because they know that they will be loved in return.” This is not an ideal. This is what it means to live in Christian community.

 
All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6a

When I was young, my dog Sparky “passed away.” She did not survive the cold night as a family member dog sat her. She was a very intelligent little dog. And, she was the cure for a lonely boy.

It was not too far before Sparky’s death that my grandfather “passed away.” He did not survive the depression that he had sunk into. He remains in my memory the greatest fisherman I have ever known. And, now I alone hold many of those fishing memories. Without me, they no longer exist. When my life ends, those memories will too pass away.

A number of years later, my grandmother “passed away” from an extremely rare and very fast moving cancer that overcame her in just three weeks. She loved to cook and bake, and she loved her grandchildren; and those things, cooking and baking, and grandchildren, go very well together. But, her food has too “passed away.” Those Sunday roast beef dinners with hot, freshly baked cinnamon rolls as dessert shall be no more.

“Passed away,” those two little words are loaded words. They are the words we use instead of “death,” because “death” is either too hard to say, or it carries just a little too much reality. But, let us make no mistake, when we say “passed away” we mean “dead,” and “no more,” and “I’m really going to miss him or her,” and “I don’t know what I am going to do without him or her,” and “is it possible to survive after so much pain?” There is nothing happy about the term, “passed away.”

Well, there is almost nothing happy about the term “passed away,” but there are a couple of exceptions. The first is the day that, at age 13, my brother and I were told that our super cool, fits the whole family and the kitchen, “boy I hope we drive right down main street right past our friends," Ford LTD “passed away.” That sad occasion was marked with cheers and celebration, until we saw the Ford Pinto that drove into the yard to replace it. The other exception is in the book of Revelation.

In the book of Revelation, these words ring out from the throne:

"See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

What is surprising about the book of Revelation is that the term “passed away” means the opposite from what we think. We think that “passed away” is what happens when death comes, but Revelation says “passed away” is what happens when death, and mourning, and crying, and pain have disappeared. Those first things, those painful things have “passed away” and are no more. The first world, where dogs freeze to death in the snow, and grandfathers kill themselves in the garage, and grandmothers die from ferocious cancers, is no more.

This text is read at a lot of funerals, but it is not a text intended for the funeral of any person; it is the primary text of the great funeral at the end of existence when death itself has “passed away” and all that is left is God. And, just like the demise of our family’s Ford LTD, we will rejoice and be glad when we hear the news that was promised through the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that the world where pain and death has the last word, has “passed away.” “Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks for the Holy one….” (Sung). Yes, we will rejoice and be glad.

And, the best thing about the passing away of the first things is that it will not be replaced by a Ford Pinto. It will be replaced by a new heavens and a new earth where the river of life flows freely for all to taste and be washed clean body and soul. There will be the tree of life that bears fruit for every season so that no one in the world will go hungry. The oil of its leaves will heal the nations, making us one. War will be no more. And, this new world will not be led by some corrupt, inept, power hungry world leader, CEO, pastor, or military general. God, will personally come down to the world, and things will be made right. The vision is beautiful.

Of course, the vision is not here yet. We see glimmers of it as it creeps into the world, but it is not here yet for good. As of right now we still have pain and death, they have not yet “passed away.” And, we will still mourn and cry, and tears will still flow…as they should when we lose someone close. But, because of this vision in Revelation, our tears will serve a dual purpose. They will express both: sadness at the death of a loved one; and, at the same time, as they stream down our face, they will remind us of the river of life that flows and makes all things new. They are a cleansing tear that reminds us of our hope in Jesus Christ our Lord who makes all things new.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Refelction on John 8:31-36

One fine day, two men were walking by a lake in a city park. They were enjoying the autumn leaves and engaging in deep conversation about life when from out of nowhere they heard it approaching. It, was a 300 pound hotdog cart that had escaped its vendor and was now fleeing downhill to freedom. The men only had enough time to look up, and see it crash into one of the men, sending him flying into the lake in a wonderful explosion of hotdogs, buns, ketchup, mustard, relish, and a special, super spicy chili. Splashing around in the water with hot dogs floating everywhere and the super spicy chili cleansing his eyes the man shouted, “Ouch! Help me, I can’t swim. I’m going to drown.” The water was to the man’s neck and he was sinking fast.

“I can help,” the second man called from the bank of the lake. “I can figure this out, I’m a master of truth,” he yells as he survey’s the situation. “It seems to me that you are in danger of drowning.”

“Good read of the situation,” the sinking man says with the water now to his throat. “You are a genius, now help me out!”

The man on the bank quickly scanned all of the hotdogs and yelled back, “Hey, look at all of the hotdogs around you! There must be hundreds. Look on the bright side, you won’t go hungry. People are so negative these days…don’t fall into that sort of negativity. It is very destructive.”

“I’m not hungry you idiot, I’m sinking!” the man yelled back with water now to his chin. “Just help me.”

“I’m trying the best I can. I’m under a lot of pressure here,” the man on the bank whined back.

Now, do not get me wrong. I am not against positive thinking. We are regularly reminded in church to count our blessings; to take a look at the gifts that we have and thank God. But, positive thinking, good as it may be, does not have the power to save…especially when drowning surrounded by hundreds of wieners.

“Take a look at you splashing around out there,” the man on the bank yells. “Just splash a little harder, toward the shore.”

“Splash toward the shore? I can’t see the shore, I think the chili has eaten away my ear balls.”

“The shore is right in front of you. Just splash harded. Just work harder and you will save yourself.”

So, the drowning man splashed water toward the shore, completely misunderstanding the man on the bank, propelling his body quickly backwards toward deeper water.

Now, do not get me wrong. I am not against hard work and the benefits that it brings. Just ask my children. And, people in the faith are often some of the hardest working people you will find. They work hard to take care of their churches. They work hard to feed the hungry. They work hard to care for the needy. They work hard to educate the children. The faithful work very, very hard. But, as Luther discovered just before the reformation, hard work does not save you; especially, when water is now up to your lips.

“I’m a goner. I have a loser for a friend. I can’t swim. I am not going to make it. Goodbye cruel world. Goodbye cruel hotdog stand,” the man gurgles and gushingly weeps, only adding to his predicament.

“Hey, who are you calling a loser! I’m trying my best. I don’t see you doing the same thing you baby. If you just believed a little more, you wouldn’t even have a problem. God probably wanted you to struggle in a shower of hotdogs and ketchup so that you would start to believe harder. Don’t give up, just believe that you can make it to the shore and you will. Just believe correctly and everything will be fine, you will be saved,” the man on the shore reassures.

Somehow, faith discussions always come down to this; believing correctly. Whether you are drowning in confusion and doubt, or drowning in a sea of hotdogs, it always comes down to believing correctly. Do you believe in baptism correctly? Do you believe in the atonement the same way that I do? Do you even know what the heck I’m talking about when I mention the atonement? Well, you better, because you need to believe it correctly in order to be saved. We are saved by truth. We are saved by belief. We are saved by our intellectual understanding. We are speaking a bunch of nonsense. The truth that we seek is not an idea. The truth that we need is not a concept that needs to be understood correctly. The truth is found in a relationship. The truth is a person, and when He has found us, we truly are free.

With his nose soon to go under, that man waves goodbye to the world, and gives a special one fingered wave to his friend on the bank. But, he need not fear so much.  A man in a business suit rushes past the man on the bank, jumps into the water, grabs the drowning man, and pulls him to safety.

“Thank you. Thank you. You saved me. You cared and you saved me.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m sure anyone would have done it for you,” the business man replies.

“No, not just anyone would take the time to jump in and save me,” the former drowning but now very wet man stares at his friend.

“Well, I could have done that. Anyone could have done that,” the man on the bank replies.

"Thank you for caring." the wet man says again.

In the end, the truth is not an idea. Nor does it come about by counting your blessings. Nor does it come in the night as a great idea. None of these things can save. Only someone can save. The truth is not an idea. The truth is a person. And, it is to that person we cling, Jesus Christ our Lord.  "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflection for Mark 10:35-45

“That would never fly in the real world.” That is the typical response to sermons that lay out Jesus’ vision of the world. It is a vision of inclusion. It is a vision of forgiveness. It is a vision where people put the needs of others first and trust that their needs will be taken care of by others in the same way. It is a vision that, “would never fly in the real world.”

Sometimes, I have to be very honest, preaching is not the shaping of minds to be one with the mind of God, rather it is the continual practice of beating your head against the pulpit. People will whole heartedly agree that the vision of the world that Jesus paints with huge, courageous strokes is the world that they want, but they fear stepping into such a kingdom. Though it appears bright and glows with warm, loving colors, at the same time it is a little too bright. It is so bright and warm that it almost appears foreign and different from what we are used to.

There is a lot to fear when you open yourself up to such radical love of the neighbor. It is hard to take even the first step into God’s good news.

Pastor Kendra Mohn, experienced what this hesitancy is all about at an event in a large stadium. She says that:

Recently, while attending an event in a large stadium, there was a break in the action, the kind tailor-made for a bathroom run. Not wanting to miss anything, I sprinted down the stairs and out into the concourse. In my experience, (she says) hundreds of women usually have this thought simultaneously, so I was thrilled to see that there was no line. I must have beaten the crowds for once! As I emerged from the bathroom to return to my seat, I noticed there was still no one waiting outside. No line for the women's bathroom? What's going on?

Following the hallway around the curve, I came upon another bathroom, surrounded by a huge crowd of frowning women, arms folded across their chests. There were easily fifty people standing in line in the hallway, with many more inside. I walked up to the women at the back of the line and delivered the good news that there was an empty bathroom not twenty feet from where they stood. To my amazement, no one moved. One woman shrugged and smiled, and the rest gave no indication that they had even heard me. I tried again, a little farther up the line, with the same result. Puzzled, I gave up and returned to my seat.

Reflecting…I decided that there were probably several reasons for their lack of response. First, I was a stranger to them, and therefore untrustworthy. For all they knew, I was exaggerating the proximity of the bathroom, or the lack of business there. Second, their life experience (like mine) had taught them that there is always a line for the women's bathroom. Even if I were telling the truth, by the time they got there, there would be a line. Above all, however…they just couldn't give up their place in line. Even if there were forty-nine people ahead of them, they were still in line. They had a spot, and they were not about to give it up in exchange for the unknown.

What had first appeared to be mysterious behavior now seemed logical and prudent. In fact, given the same situation, I'm not sure I wouldn't have acted exactly the same way (she admits). It's the kind of reaction that makes sense in a broken world full of lies, scarcity, and injustice. These realities have a significant impact on us, on both larger and smaller scales. When it comes right down to it, it's going to take a lot for us to give up our place in line. (Kendra Mohn, http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?article_id=267)

So, it is no surprise to us this morning then, when we learn that James and John have failed to hear the words of Jesus that call them to be servants first of all. Instead, they are trying to get ahead in a very different line which they think leads to the best seats next to Jesus on the throne, the seats of power. Jesus is not in that line. He is calling them to get into a better line just down the hall. It is a line that definitely is not full and long. It is a line that leads to an abundant life. It is not a line that they are used to. So, they cross their arms and hope that the line they are in, the line which they know well, will take them some place equally as good.

"Who would be willing to give up their place in line, their life, their security, and their money, so their neighbor can have it instead?" Pastor Mohn reflects. The real world does not allow you to get away with such things. In the real world, you may be judged, excluded, and maybe worst of all, just plain forgotten if you switch lines. If you give it all away, who is going to take care of you? Pastor Mohn continues, "It is hard to relinquish what you have managed to accumulate, however small or shabby it might be." It is hard to switch over to the line of giving to and serving the neighbor first.

And, that’s why pastors beat their head against the pulpit. Because, they know that Christ’s way of life is the abundant way of life. But, they equally know that people will just say, “that’s all good and fine to think about, but in the real world…” They are certain that other people will say this, because they say it themselves even as they type out their sermons; not truly believing the words written on the page.

But, what if we all took just a moment to give up our place in line, wander over, and at least look at the other line? We could go back to the line we have been standing in if we really needed. We may lose our spot for a time, but we could work our way up again, we know how this line works. So why do we not just take a moment and at least look at the other line, and after looking at least take one step in it.

If you took a look, you would see Jesus. You would also see him looking with love on the other people around. You would see him giving himself to heal their hurts. You would see him giving himself over to authorities so others might be free. You would see him forgiving people so that they feel free to forgive others. And, you would see his disciples tending to his needs, wiping his face, bringing over some food, and also tending to the needs of each other.

One thing you do not see is fighting to get to the front of the line. In this new area, there really is not a line. The life of Christ is not about lines; who is first or who is last. The whole scene is people putting each other first, and when they do all are cared for. Taking a step toward this glorious scene, wanting to be a part of it, the first thing you give for the sake of your neighbor is...


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Kendra Mohn is an Associate Pastor at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church (ELCA)Wauwatosa, WI and is a columnist for www.workingpreacher.org. The quotes used here are from her 09.28.09 Post and can be found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?article_id=267.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

What do you own that is not God’s? I truly do mean this to be more than an academic question. Because, of course, we would all dutifully answer in unison, “there is nothing in the world that is not God’s. God created everything, God owns everything.” Very good you all passed your catechetical class, now you can go home and feel good about how smart you are.

But, what if, while at home you were to actually think about what you just said, and be honest with yourself, and look around at your things? You would probably find something like this: a bread machine. It is from my kitchen.

This is not God’s. I do not mean to sound heretical to you. I do not mean to say that God could not use it. I do not mean to say that God does not want to use it. All I want to say is that it is not God’s because I do not allow God to use it. Nor, is it mine because, guess what, I do not use it either. It just sits, lonely in a corner, waiting to make bread to appease the hunger of anyone who would simple open its lid and pour in some flour and yeast. It sits, waiting to feed the the hungry of the world. It sits…that is all it does. It is one of many items that God has entrusted to me that does nothing but clutter my life.

The hiking boot on my feet are similar. These get used some of the time. Twice a year they get used when I decide that six months of rest has been enough time to repair my muscles from the last time I exercised. God has entrusted these hiking boots to me, that they might help me be a healthier disciple, but most of the time they sit. They would probably do better on the feet of someone with no shoes, but about the time I think of giving them up to that noble cause I think, "but, what if I did want to go hiking sometime next year? What would I do then." So, they sit. Like the bread machine and other items of a similar nature, they sit. They are both strange, uncuddly, adult versions of a security blankets. I have them, just in case. They make me feel safe. They are a part of my wealth.

I the ancient world, being wealthy (having much) meant that God had blest you a great deal. So, when the rich man came up to Jesus, no one was thinking, “filthy rich _____” (fill in your own expletive). Not at all. They were thinking, “God truly loves this man.” And, God did. The man had his needs taken care of by God so much that he had the time to sit and study God’s word. He did not have to spend his days of worship toiling with work. He had been blessed, and all could see it.

And, similarly, when I stare around my home, cluttered with wonderful little stuff, I wonder if God had forgotten to turn off the blessing machine. No, this is not bragging. This is whining. They are very different. But, back to the rich man whom God had obviously blessed.

Making certain that he had not missed out on any of God's abundance, the rich man asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, what do I have to do to live a full life with God right now and forever into the future? "I have already been blessed, what more do I have to do?"

“You have kept the commandments?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, of course. It is what I do day and night.” The rich man returned honestly.

Then, with love, Jesus invited this man who was so close to God’s heart even closer. Jesus invited the rich young man so close that will of God and the will of the rich young man would eventually be intertwined. Jesus said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." In other words, make sure your stuff is God’s stuff. Make sure your wealth is God’s wealth. Make sure it is serving God’s will. Give it to the poor, and you will be on the next step of being close to God. Who wouldn't want their heart to be so close to Christ's heart?

Sadly, the rich man turned down Jesus’ invitation and went away grieving. Grieving his stuff? Grieving life with God? I do not know, but he walked away with a life full of grief.

The disciples, by contrast had gotten rid of everything to follow Jesus. They got rid of a lot of their stuff, they said goodbye to family, they got spit upon and persecuted, even their valuable boats got used by Jesus to go from side of the lake to the other more than they did for fishing. They had given up everything for God. They had nothing.

So, if the rich man, who appeared blessed actually had nothing, and they who had given up everything literally had nothing, then who wins? They essentially asked Jesus, "who wins? Who gets life with God now and forever?" They did not know what they were asking. They too were blinded by things and could not see the truth. They could not see God’s grace literally sitting right next to them. They were walking with God. They were blessed. The only difference between them and the rich man was that everything God had given them was actually being used for God’s kingdom. They simple did not see it.

Maybe that is the way it should be. Maybe it was good that they could not see the truth; that they will be blessed with much because they had given much. Maybe it is good that they were blind to their blessings because if they could actually see all that they were blessed with, they may have started to consider their wealth something that they owned. And, if they did that, they would forget that the items were God’s. And, if they did that, the items might have just sat in the corner, ministry potential gone to waste.

But, most people I think are not like the disciples. Most people can see all of their stuff. Most people are not wonderfully ingnorant like the disciples. If that is the case, all is not lost for this rest of us is it? God has promised to walk with us forever in our baptism. And, if God is walking with us, then all things are possible are they not? "With God all things are possible." Perhaps, God can do what we have been unable to do ourselves; to transform our vision so that we see our wealth, not as our own, but as God's wealth for the sake of God and for the sake of others.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” the Pharisees test Jesus.

“Is it right or is it wrong?” They seek to hear Jesus’ answer as they bring Jesus into a debate about the ethics of divorce. And, when people bring it up today, though the discussion will go differently today then it would have in Jesus’ time, people seek to hear the answers to the ethical debate.

You know how the debate goes. Someone will say that divorce is wrong period. They will claim that the Bible says that it is wrong and therefore any time it happens, it is just plain wrong. (That may not be the truth about the Bible, but it is what they claim.) Others will seek to say it is wrong except when fraud, abuse, or adultery is involved. Abuse is the big one. It is hard to argue against leaving a marriage that contains abuse. Most people let that one slide with ease, as maybe they should. Some will say if the marriage is hurting the children, then the divorce is a good option. Still others will say, “Why stay with someone whom you will hate for the rest of your life, sure God would not want you entire life to be miserable.”

And the debate rolls on as it surely did in Jesus’ time. They had different arguments about who was allowed to give out a certificate of divorce and who the divorce certificate does and does not protect, but it was an ethical debate non-the-less and the Pharisees wanted Jesus to enter in.

And, so do we. I think that most Christians today want Jesus to enter the debate. After-all, most of us have been touched by divorce in one way or another. Some of us are divorced. Others of us have a good friend, a spouse, a sibling, or even parents who are divorced. It causes us to wonder. Through all of the pain, we wonder, “is divorce right at least some times?” “What should we think of divorce?” “Lord, tell us what you think.”

This is the point in the sermon where I have to admit that I am tempted to say, “it’s all O.K.; don’t worry that much about it; God will heal everything; it is fine; everything is going to be fine.” Then I can go home, kick up my feet, and watch reruns of the bachelor where contestants get to have all the emotional stress of divorce issues without…the ethical debate or the need to get married first.

“Everything is going to be fine, don’t worry, it’s O.K.” was the wise pastoral advice this minister gave during his internship to a young man who was struggling in the first stages of divorcing his wife. It was gentle advice I thought. But, it was wrong.

“Pastor, everything is not going to be fine. Nothing right now is fine. I feel like my heart is being torn right from my body. Pastor, things are not fine and they are not going to be fine. Don’t tell me things are fine.”

The man was right. It was not going to be fine. Things were not fine. He wanted real answers, and the worst thing I could have done, I did. I gave him cheap comfort.

Jesus does not offer cheap comfort to a complex and painful problem. Jesus is not scared of speaking. But, Jesus also refuses to enter the ethical debate about divorce. He does not lay out which instances of divorce are right or wrong. He does not expand upon the law of Moses and give us the technical answers to the technical questions that we ask. He does something different. He does something better. He answers a much better question. It is the question that is in our hearts but has trouble bubbling up to our lips, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?”

People who are in the heart ripping process of divorce have mixed feelings and ask, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?” Children come to me with confused lives as they try to navigate the reality of two homes, two sets of rules, and two people to love who do not want to talk to each other and they cry out, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?” Parents of children who are divorcing do not know who they are allowed to love anymore. They struggle in a separation of love and family that they did not ask for. And in all of the pain they ask, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?”

To this question, Jesus has an answer, “from the beginning of creation, "’God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

When God draws two people together, God weaves their lives so tightly that they become one flesh, one piece of fabric whose links are so tightly woven that they are not even distinguishable. Marriage is the greatest example of what God intends for all of creation. We read in Colossians that “in Jesus all things hold together.” It is the Lord’s intention that all things be drawn together; that all creation be woven into one strong fabric.

So, why the heck does divorce hurt so much? Because, something that has been woven together is literally being ripped apart.

I have news for everyone. Whether a particular divorce is decided to be right or wrong through ethical debate, it is still going to hurt terribly.

Jesus does not tell us which instances of divorce are right and which are wrong. But, he does say that divorce is not something to be taken lightly.

When the disciples press him to say more, Jesus says "Whoever divorces his wife in order to marry another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." In other words, anyone who sees another person who is prettier, or smarter, or understands my situation more, and divorces so that they can have that better looking option is going to do terrible damage. Divorce is not frivolous. It rips people’s lives apart and has all kinds of unintended casualties. Friends are hurt, children are confused, and parents are put into a dilemma. Divorce is not frivolous. God’s act of weaving people together to become one flesh is not something to be taken lightly.

We know this don’t we? Could not each of us written this very sermon? Those whom divorce has touched already understand that Jesus’ words are not condemnation for doing something wrong, they are merely words of truth. Divorce rips apart and that is the simple truth.

“So, if I have divorced, am I unloved and unlovable?”

That is the real question. And, Jesus has a real answer for you. There are many who are beaten and broken. There are many for whom others simply do not care. There are many who have been touched by the sting of sin and now suffer the ripping apart of their lives.

To all of these people Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Have we so quickly forgotten God’s intention for creation; to draw everything together? Are you unloved or unlovable? No. “In Jesus all things hold together.”



All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reflection on James 3:14-4:3, 7-8a

“I healed a man’s foot, John; a foot…you know that thing you need to get the necessities of life, work, water, food…I healed that,” James sneers.

“So, you know how to scrape off a little foot fungus…big deal. There’s a guy out there that can see because of me. He can see. The guy was so happy that he gave me a tip of three talents,” retorted John.

“I fed someone.”

“Shut it Tim,” John and James sing in unison. “You tried for bread and got a hand full of Cheerios. We already know how great you are.”

Peter stopped the group of disciples in their tracks with one hand, turn and faced them. “I can’t believe you. Look at you. Listen to you. There is one thing that Jesus said that makes this discussion of greatness idiotic, he called me the rock upon which the church will be build.”

And with that, the group exploded into angry conversation, one-ups-man-ship, and even the occasional fist. As the group fought and walked, fought and walked, the blind along the road heard them, but were not ever seen by the disciples. As the fists started flying, the hungry watched, but clung to their rumbling stomachs which held no hope of restfulness. As the disciples imagined glory for their great works, a little girl stepped out in front of them seeking help for her mother, but she was accidentally tripped over and pushed aside. It was not until they approached Jesus that their helium filled heads started coming out of clouds. Jesus stared at them and they went silent.

“What were you arguing about?” Jesus demanded.


Regressing back to his elementary years James ventured a meek “nothing Lord,” but the silence was too thick. It did not even make it past his larynx.

Jesus ripped the silence apart saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”


Again, there was an uneasy silence. Their selfish ambition left a metallic taste in their mouth. For the first time in a while, their desires fell from their eyes like scales and they realized that they had no idea how they had gotten to where they were and who they passed by on the way.

If James, Jesus’ brother, had been traveling with them he might have instructed them:

"For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind…Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts."

I would love to say that I am not like these disciples and that I often follow James instruction to wisely make peace, be concerned about others and not oneself, and in his own words to follow the wisdom from above which is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy." In other words, care for others before yourself.

But, I have been on that playing field at recess and I know what it feel like when the class loser…I’m sorry “socially challenged”…kid is chosen before you. In your mind you are thinking, “isn’t that nice and compassionate.” But in your heart you are seething, “what am I the new class clown? I can kick that ball further than all of you! I’ll show you!” And, the class looser soon discovers that he is still at the bottom as you humiliate him once again to prove your greatness.


There are these desires within us that do not come from above but raise up from below. The need to be right, even when you may be wrong. The need to look good in front of others and prove your worth, even though you may deserve to look bad. The inability to look at your mistakes and the tendency to cover them by pointing out everyone else’s, even though your mistakes are many. The striving for the top, even though you leave everyone else behind. Seeing what you want, and murdering in order to get it. These desires are from below. These are gut desires, and they are powerful.

“Shame on you,” I could yell from the pulpit. “I know what you did,” I could accuse. “I know what you think,” I could venture. But, you would be able to do the same to me, and it would be a worthless waste of energy as we tried to climb our way over one another. Jesus is not interested in wasted energy. Jesus is not interested in wasted anything. Avoiding a fight to the top, Jesus sits down with his disciples and lays out a simple truth, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."


This is opposite advice from what I received when I graduated from High School. As I was leaving home to be on my own I was given this advice from a teacher, “make sure you care for yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.”

Jesus disagrees. In the kingdom of God (the kingdom of love that resides right here on earth) you will care not for yourself, but for someone else. You are safe to do this because there will be someone who will be doing the same for you. It is counter intuitive, but does it not somehow feel right? It does not seem logical, but do we not know that it is right. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

In God’s kingdom, each of us are fully gifts to one another. Like the great Redwood trees of California, we depend on each other in order to survive. Our roots are locked together and we hold each other up. If we were to ever sever our roots and care only for our own self, we would surely topple over. The wisdom from above says, care for someone, and you will be cared for also.

I heard of a mother in Africa who was taking in the sickest of people from around. They held communicable diseases that would make most people turn and walk the other way. She was approached by a reporter who informed her that this was not safe, she should not being doing this because it puts her own health at risk. The woman looked and the reporter and replied, “I am careful. Besides, someone needs to care for them. That person is me. And when I get sick, someone will be there to care for me.”

It defies logic, but it somehow seems right. It is the way of love. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of God.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reflection on Mark 8:27-38

“You are the Messiah.”

The words seem so certain. The words come out so confidently. The words project out of Peter’s firm lips; Peter knows that he is right.

I have seen those lips before, those firm lips that declare confident religious statements. Those lips cross my path a lot. They speak their confidence on the bus. They speak their confidence over coffee. I cannot even take a nice quiet flight without hearing those certain lips.

On a flight from Arizona, I had just settled into my seat, raised the pillow to my head, and closed my eyes to let all around know that I intended to rest and not talk about poodles or how we wish we got more peanuts on this flight. That is when the lips sat down next to me.

“How are you doing?”

“Fine, I’m just trying to rest after a long week.”

The words were out of my mouth, and like watermelon seeds well on their way toward your sibling’s face, I could not suck them back in. A person never says, “after a long week” if they intend to get some rest. Never. Because, the only response to that can be:

“So, you’ve had a busy week, what do you do?”

“I’m a fork lift driver. I’m a toll booth attendant. I take plastic bags of trash out of apartments all day long.” All of these would have been acceptable answers for someone who does not want to hear those confident lips start spurting. Those careers foster no more than a 30 second conversation. But, no...I’m honest. I believe in truth. I believe in love of the neighbor, even annoying airplane seat mates. I believe that I said the worst thing someone who wants sleep should ever say, “I’m a pastor.”

And that is when it started.

“A pastor huh? What do you think about homosexuals? I think they and their homosexual agenda are ruining the moral fabric of our nation. What do you think?”

What I actually was thinking was, “why are homosexuals the first thing anyone talks about with pastors on airplanes?” I am certain all of you would be happy to know that I do not think about homosexuals every minute of my life. For a happily married pastor, I think that this is a good thing. I do think about hungry people. I do think about people struggling to forgive those they love. I do think that Jesus cared much more about these subjects. And mostly, I was thinking at the time that I needed a little sleep. Did I not just say that I needed rest? With that thought in mind, I confidently declared in a pastoral tone, “I don’t…I mean…Uhhhhh.”

This must have been a satisfying answer because he responded, “And, women who get abortions. Don’t they care about life? Don’t they care that they have a life? I think someone should show them just what they are doing and take their life.”

Letting those words fall between us, I looked out the window and saw something that immediately horrified me that he apparently did not see; we were still at the gate. This was a three hour flight.

The guy was confident. The guy was very religious. The man understood a great many things. The man got under my skin because he was so much like me. In the end, you do not want me to get going either. Those firm, confident lips of Peter will form on my mouth and I will declare a great many things to you.

Now, the problem with Peter was not that he spoke confidently. It is much more complicated than that. In fact, what he did say was the truth. This is Peter’s great declaration, “Jesus, you are the Messiah.” He got it right. He spoke the truth. He will be remembered centuries later because of these words.

But, he will also be remembered for Jesus’ words to him, “Get behind me Satan. For you are setting your mind not on Divine things but on human things” when he disagreed with Jesus' plan for the future.

Peter’s problem was not that he spoke confidently, it was that he did not understand what he was saying. Being the Messiah does not mean that Jesus will become a strong king who will set the world straight and create peace with a strong presence and strong commands.

That image is how many churches present Jesus by the way. They own huge lit crosses and place powerful thrones in the front and center of the sanctuary. But, this image is not what it means to be the Messiah.

Instead, being the Messiah means that Christ will suffer and die; and in suffering he will save the world. That looks more like a small bloody cross in the back corner of the church.

Peter was confident, but he did not understand what he was saying. This is the human condition is it not? Are we not constantly getting ourselves into trouble because we are confident in our beliefs, but in the end we really do not understand what we are saying. We really do not stop and think whether or not our confident beliefs line up with God’s vision of love for the other; love to the point of suffering for the other.

Christ’s self-sacrificing love does not make sense. Right and wrong makes sense. Heaven and Hell makes sense. These we can confidently declare. Dying for your enemy is not as easy to understand.

These are much harder words to declare confidently to your neighbor on a flight:

“Hey, I think that when you get home you should lay your life down for your enemy. You know, go a die in place of the woman who had an abortion…so that she might have a new chance at a life that she completely messed up.”

That is much harder to declare confidently. But, it is also the way of Christ.

It is not as easy to understand, but it is the type of God we have. Christ lays down his life in love of you, and me, and the annoying neighbor on the plane.

When someone has given up their life for you, life seems to take on a characteristic other than confidence, it seems to take on something that looks more like humility and gratitude. Do not worry. If you keep reading, Peter will get to that point eventually in the story. And eventually, so will we.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Refelction on Mark 7:24-37

This is one of those texts that many preachers would simple like to ignore. It is a gospel lesson that presents Jesus in a very difficult light. In one of my previous congregations of which I was a member, the pastor would mysteriously take the Sunday with this text off ever single year and leave the job of preaching to a seminary Professor. But, here I am. And, there you are. And, here is the text.

It is a text in which Jesus finds himself in the wonderful region of Tyre. As you might have picked up the past few weeks, Jesus has been trying to get a little time off…to get a vacation. But, people keep interrupting him.

In my opinion, Jesus might have made some better choices as he pursued a vacation destination. He might have chosen Jerusalem, a very Holy and Jewish destination. He might have gone to visit Bethlehem, his town of birth. But he does neither one. He chooses the region of Tyre.

He might as well have chosen the extremely Holy Bourbon Street during Marti-Gras; a true celebration of incarnation (a true celebration of being in the flesh). Or he might as well have chosen the border region between Iraq and Iran where he would surely be given a one star hotel for an indefinite number of years. What is Jesus doing in a godforsaken, unclean, unholy, gentile region such as Tyre? And to top it off, as if things did not look bad enough, he chooses to spend this alone time with a Syrophoenician woman who is of the wrong race, wrong religion, wrong social class, wrong gender, and who has a snot nosed brat with a demon. "That is some good company Jesus," I sneer sarcastically.

I know, I know, you are already light years ahead of my rhetorical argument. You are surely thinking that of course Jesus is in such a place. Our loving, forgiving, healing Jesus can be found in all of the forsaken places in the world. Of course he is in Tyre, the land of sinners, the land of the Gentiles, because Jesus is the savior of all sinners. Why would we expect him anywhere else? You are a smart reader, and you think you know where this sermon is going so your brain is just going to wander over to Jesus on the nice sandy beaches of the resort island of Tyre and start your own 12 minute vacation.

Well, your wrong. Not about the nice resort island of Tyre, but about Jesus. Get your head out of Matthew where the nice, friendly, Jesus of peace resides and get your head into Mark where Jesus says bluntly to the woman’s request to heal her child, “no.” “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Did he just? Did he really?Yes, he just called the woman and her sick child “dogs.” How is that for a nice sandy beach vacation?

Do you see why I should have just gone on vacation this weekend? I could use a nice sandy beach myself right about now. I could leave this text for some poor retired pulpit supply pastor to type up while I stretch out and get some sun. Tyre, here I come! I could just hang you out to dry and leave you dangling with this text. Let the scholars plumb the riches in the text. I am going on vacation.

But, you might say to me, “but don’t even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs? Please, give us a little food for our souls.”

Could you trust that I would be persuaded and come back to preach? Can the woman trust that Jesus will change his mind and show mercy on her child? Who can you trust in this cold world? Insurance companies, government, corporations, friends, spouses, presidents; who can you trust in this cold, unclean, unholy world? Who will not turn their back even when you have done the worst? Who will change their mind and show you a little mercy? Who will change their mind and show a desperate mom who is of the wrong race, wrong religion, wrong social status, and wrong gender a little mercy and love? Who can be persuaded to love me too?

Probably, the same one whose mind was changed when the Israelites were wandering and hatefully complaining against God in the desert, and saved them anyway. Probably, the same one whose mind was changed when the Israelites forgot about the poor and the widows and were punished for such ungodliness, and gave them back their land anyway.

Probably, the same God who became flesh and changed his mind, and healed the woman’s daughter despite the fact that she was the wrong everything.

Who can we trust to change his mind about us, and save us on the cross? Who can we trust to change his mind and show grace? Jesus of course. I guess this story was worth sticking around for after-all.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reflection on Proverbs 9:1-6

“Come over to my house. It is perfect. It is beautiful. It is a place of rest. It is my home…the home of me, Wisdom.

I have sent my girls out to find you; yes you. You desire wisdom don’t you? You desire me, right? Then come and have dinner with me. I will give you a rich feast. It is a feast of fine red wisdom wine, and perfectly grilled wisdom steak. It is a meal that even the foolish cannot pass up. In fact, it is a meal grilled perfectly for those who stumble through life. And, the wine quenches the thirst of those who seek to do good to their neighbor.

Here let me give you a sample of the succulent meal I will provide.

‘Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.’

Here, try this little morsel,

‘The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.’

And I love this one, it will wet your appetite for more,

‘Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.’

Come and eat my meal. Eat your fill of wisdom. Partake of me. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Do not just look at wisdom as one stands back and admires a nice mountain lake painting, but does not wish to enter into the painting’s waters. Enter into the waters of wisdom. Enter into the waters of life.

Wisdom is woven into the fabric of life. Without it, our world would fall apart and we would know nothing but argument and war. Enter in, and allow yourself to be a strand in the fabric that hold’s God’s creation together, peace, goodness, care of neighbor; Wisdom.

On your way in, beware of foolishness. She is across the street, hanging herself over her rod iron balcony.”


“Hey boys! Hi ya girls. Why are you listening to that old windbag? Where are you going, come over here. Everyone knows all of the fun is on this side of the street.

Don’t worry about anyone else, they will take care of themselves. It is time for you to worry about the most important person in the universe, you. It is time that you get some pleasure. I’ve got plenty to spare.

You want a good meal? Just take it…you deserve it. No need to work. No need to look out for anyone. Let everyone serve you. I’ve got some very pleasing bread for you, eat it in secret…keep it for yourself.

Step in the door, I’ve got lots of visitors. We love people who are struggling, it is so easy to get you in the door…I mean so good to set you into the lap of luxury.

Here smoke this. Here drink this. Why are you hesitating? Come on in. Take a peek in, look at all the dead…I mean formerly active people. Come, get your pleasure…get your rest. God has nothing for you. Wisdom has nothing to offer.”


“Foolishness, you cannot win. Wisdom holds creation together, you are nothing but broken pieces and broken promises. You fall away into nothing. You are not able to win. You are not able to hold creation close just as God holds creation close to God’s heart.

Come back over to this side of the street. Yes you. It is OK. I does not matter that you have paid a short visit to foolishness. You are always welcome over here at my table. Sit and eat the goodness of the Lord.

Yes, those are wounds on my hands. I got them for you. You are worth it. I want to the best for you. I hope that you will want the best for those around you also. That is the way of wisdom. Lay aside immaturity and live. Walk in the way of insight. Walk in ways that shows love to all. Walk in God's Wisdom.

Reflection on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

I hardly ever start out a reflection with a cheesy joke from the internet...but this one fits so I will fit into terrible pastor cliche for this one time. So, here it goes:

"My Dad was a taxi driver and he died peacefully in his sleep......Unlike his passengers, who died screaming."

Of course, you don't have to search for a joke to discover people asleep at the wheel. Just open the local newspaper and read an article like this one:

"Police have caught an alleged car thief after he fell asleep at the wheel.
Officers were called to a service station in Adelaide by an attendant at about 3:00am because a black Audi convertible had been sitting in the automatic car wash for over an hour.
When officers approached the vehicle, they found a Campbelltown man, 30, asleep. The man had stolen the vehicle, taken it to be cleaned, and soon after fell asleep. The man has been charged and will face court in September."

I have never titled my reflections before. I am not sure why, other than the fact that I was never taught to. I never expected that anyone would want to bind them into a library for later reference, therefore needing chapter titles. But, I do want to title this one: “Asleep at the wheel.”

That car thief was certainly asleep at the wheel. Who in there right, fully awake mind would steal an Audi, and then promptly fall asleep in it for over an hour, in an automatic car wash. As my dad would say, "That guy is one French fry short of a happy meal." That man is certainly asleep at the wheel, in more ways than one. He is at the wheel, but no one is upstairs looking at the road.

How many of you know people like that? Driving through life, with a glazed look on their faces, oblivious to all around? They are definitely asleep at the wheel.

I stayed the night with a friend in elementary school who was like that. As we walked around town, going into stores, the kid would just grab stuff. If he wanted a candy bar, he would grab a candy bar, open it, start to chew away at it, and walk right out of the store with the candy bar in hand. He would do the same with sodas. I was certain that at age eight I was going to be put away for life as an accessory to theft if he did not stop immediately. I stood right in front of him and said, “You got to stop doing this, it is wrong.”

“Stop doing what?” he said back with chocolate smeared across the side of his face.

He was clueless. He was never caught though, because he never looked like he was trying to do something wrong. The world was his. He had never been taught otherwise.

“Stealing is wrong,” I said.

He just looked at me like I had just gotten off a ship from Neptune. He was asleep at the wheel.

To this condition, Paul quotes, “Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Wake up! You are saved. Christ has died for you. Live a life that makes it look like you were worth saving. Wake up! Do not remain asleep at the wheel.

Of course, stories like I told above makes being asleep at the wheel fun and lighthearted, but most of the time it is not. When an insurance companies denies covering urgent breast cancer surgery for a young mother because the company needs to make a little more money for their stock holders, being asleep at the wheel is not funny. The practice of recision (finding in her medical records that she came in for acne treatment, claiming that acne is a precancerous condition, and therefore claiming she has a fraudulent account that they will not cover) is not a funny example of being asleep at the wheel. And stock holders who do not care about their company’s ethics, as long as they make money, is not a funny example of being asleep at the wheel either. Christ has died for those insurance executives and those stock holders. Unfortunately for some reason their actions do not make them look like someone worth saving. Wake up! Do you not see that your sleepiness is actually affecting people’s lives? Wake up!

Give up your stealing. Instead, work hard for the sake of those who are desperate, in need, and do not have the time or luxury of driving asleep at the wheel.

It is not funny when idle chatter about someone spills around the entire restaurant, drifting throughout the entire town, making the person who was gossiped about unable to get a job and support their children. Leaky mouths are not funny. Wake up. Listen to what is coming out of your mouth. Does it build up or tear down? Talking while asleep at the wheel is dangerous. Wake up. You have been saved. Act like someone who has seen the face of grace. May the words of your mouth be ones of grace and truth. May they build up just as Christ lifts you up out of the pit and out of the fire of sin.

Listen, I know this is easier to say than it is to do. The problem with being asleep at the wheel is that it just comes up on you. One minute you are driving fine down the road, and the next minute you are off in another world with eyes closed. It is hard to stay awake.

While on the road, I've tried to slap myself, pinch myself, stick my head out of the widow into the rush of air and even literally pry open my eyes. But, you know how it is. None of these things work and sleepiness overtakes us. That is why Christians do not and cannot exist alone. I think that God had a good idea when God created a helper for Adam. Randele, my wife, reads to me while I drive and now I can keep awake. I could not possibly do it on my own. But, I do not have to. Christ puts us into a community of faith for a reason, because we cannot keep awake on our own.

We need others to help us stay awake to God's love and to our own expressions of love. We dare not be silent to one another because driving asleep at the wheel is not a funny matter. For the sake of our world in need, we rely on one another to keep awake.

Only as a community can we follow the instructions found in Ephesians to be imitators of God.

Read the words once again, but this time read them with the idea of community living out the words rather than individuals.

"So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Reflection on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Do you mind if I complain a little this morning? Well, you are going to read it anyway so you better get settled into your chair.

When you were in kindergarten and the teacher asked you what animal you wanted to be when you grew up, I am certain the first one that came to mind was, “sheep.” Yes the ever popular “sheep.” It ranks right up there with “amoeba.”

Of course, you did not answer “sheep.” You answered “lion,” because of is the king of the jungle. You answered “eagle,” because of its majesty and its courage as it dives from heights and plunges unto the water. You answered “giraffe” because it was tall, stood above the rest, and because you had an unusually long neck for a five year old. But “sheep” was chosen as often as “cow.” It was not prime animal want-to-be real estate.

Sheep are dumb. They wander around aimlessly, bumping into things. They stray, walking off into nowhere; having no clue where they are going or what kind of trap they are going to fall into. And, all they care about is eating; eat, eat, eat.

That being said, why would anyone ever consider comparing a child to a sheep? Why would anyone ever consider comparing a grown man to a sheep? Alright! I’m complaining this morning because I do not want to be called a sheep, even though I do bump through life, wander the wrong way, and, let’s face it, I love good food.

We are sheep, and we do need a shepherd. We need Jesus who loves us, directs us in the right paths, feeds our souls, sends us out into the world with a purpose, sends us out to love and serve others, and directs us back to the green pastures to rest. Unfortunately, we are a lot more like sheep than we would want to admit, and we do need our shepherd Jesus.

“Need,” what a terrible word. Who would like to stand up right now and admit that they “need” anything or anyone? Come on, someone stand up and tell us how you just cannot do it, how you are a wimp, how you are too dumb to figure it out, how you are a pansy. Come on! All you proud pansies out there, raise your hands high!

This is not something we like to admit in our culture is it? Have you not failed in our culture if you have not figured out how to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? Have you not failed if you are not smart enough to figure it all out on your own? Are you telling me that you would have failed as a pioneer on the American frontier? Shame on you.”

But, is it not also true that he who needs no one, has no one.

One thing we fail to remember about history is that the majority of the those lone pioneers did not make it on their own. They either died, or left the frontier with nothing. The frontier is littered with abandoned pioneer houses. In our collective history, we fail to remember that it was the communities of people, the Germans, the Norwegians, etc. who came after the pioneers who made it. They made it through the harsh conditions of the frontier not because they alone could do it, but because they had a whole community with them. Sheep do not do well alone. They get eaten by wolves. Even though we are not used to admitting it, we are sheep, and the Lord is our shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

That was nice to read was it not? I could finish my sermon right there, on that beautiful note. I hear the “Please do” ringing through your heads. But I am not quite done complaining. My other beef with the Lord this morning has to do with his command to lie down in green pastures.

“Sit still.” “Do nothing.” “Just stay put for a second will ya?” is the command that the Lord gives to his disciples after they return from the long, hard days healing and the preaching they were sent out to do. Now really, who should be complaining about the command to rest. If told to just “stay put, do nothing for a while” you would think that most of us would just drop to the floor right there and say, “Wake me next year.” But, that does not happen does it?

As soon as we sit down to rest, we think of what still needs to be accomplished. We toss and turn with the idea of doing nothing. We need to be on the move. We need to be productive. Do you not want us to be productive Jesus? Do you not want us to be out there healing and caring and loving? Do we really need a Sabbath, because there is a lot of better things that we could be doing than doing nothing at all?

Seriously, are you not considered a loser in our culture if the conversation goes like this, “what have you been up to lately?”

“I tried not to do anything worth while today, thank you. I plan to do the same tomorrow.”

That is just wrong.  We need to be on the move. We need to be strong and productive. And, that is fine to a point, but it can go too far. To our inability to slow down Jesus answers, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."

“You are a sheep, do you not remember?” Jesus implies. “You will wander into dark places. You will run yourself dead. You will forget to listen to wisdom. You will forget to listen to me. Come next to the still waters, rest in the green pastures and listen to my teaching,” says the Lord. “You are my sheep, and I know you better than you.”

If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be? It really is OK to be a “sheep.” A sheep may not be wise, courageous, or great but a sheep trusts in the one who is, the Lord.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.