Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Wasteland: 2nd Sunday Advent 2017

Out on a hike at camp with a friend a few weeks ago, we found ourselves following along the base of a short bluff running vaguely east-to-west. We knew we needed to go north up over the bluff, but it was just a short little rise and it seemed like it wouldn’t go very far. Well, I think we found the longest shortest bluff in the Shawnee. It just didn’t end! And then it started forcing us south.

Isaiah is thinking of experiences like that, but on a bigger scale. “Prepare in the desert a way for the Lord… make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God. Every valley shall be filled; every mountain brought low.” This is God journeying - and where is it God wants to come? That’s rather an odd question, if you think about it. We call God omnipresent, because He’s God; there’s nowhere He isn’t, is there? Well, there’s one place He might not be, once He’s given us free will. He might not be in us. “Behold,” He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” That’s about as aggressive as He gets. But He wants to come into our lives into our hearts. And that’s where Isaiah’s image of the wasteland hits close to home.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ridgway Ecumenical Thanksgiving sermon

I remember being a kid in school and how we’d observe Thanksgiving. We’d trace around our hands on construction paper and cut them out to make turkeys. Maybe we’d have a little bit of dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans. I remember there being a lot of buckles involved, or feathers, depending on the role. And of course we’d hear about the Pilgrim story, and the first Thanksgiving.

Most of those memories are a little hazy now. I remember learning about the Native Americans and the Europeans sitting down together in harmony. I remember imagining how they were happy to be living on this bountiful land, and to have made friends, and to be prospering. Tables full of food, happy families, exciting Indian neighbors to hang out with.

Okay… well, here’s the truth. The colonists we know as Pilgrims were 66 days at sea, before landing to establish the Plymouth Colony. Imagine 66 days in those conditions… this wasn’t exactly Carnival Cruise Lines. Through the winter most of them stayed on the ship. It was safer than exposure outside, marginally, but the trade-off was still brutal conditions riddled with contagion and scurvy and bitter cold. At the end of winter, half of them had survived.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What We Plant: 27th Sunday OT

This is the third consecutive Sunday we’ve heard Jesus tell a story about a vineyard. They make a powerful trilogy and I think of them like a classic boxing combo. Jab. Jab. Today, the haymaker.

One beautiful thing about the three-year lectionary cycle is you get the chance to look at things a little differently as they keep coming around. You can pick different angles. And something really stood out to me from the second reading, from Philippians 4, “Finally, brethren, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.”

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Getting Behind Him: 22nd Sunday OT

If you took a piece of paper and started a list titled “things I offer to God,” what would you write down? Give that a second’s thought, or just mull it over in the background, while we take a look at Jeremiah. We’re in the 20th chapter, and you can tell that Jeremiah is fed up. “You duped me, O Lord.” You might call this venting… it’s one of those prayers that isn’t pretty but it is honest. Well, fine. We should never be afraid to be honest with God. What we’re feeling might not be good, we might need to ask for healing and conversion about it, but there’s no point in pretending. Give God the real you. And right now the real Jeremiah is frustrated and angry and tired.

Read his book and you’ll understand. He’s had a hard time. Working for God has not been a cush job. It’s been brutal. It’s been costly. It’s been big sacrifices for what seem like little or no results. Don’t make the mistake of imagining the Prophet as some kind of superhuman who can handle all this with perfect composure. Imagine how you’d feel if every time you went out in public in these small towns, you could hear people laughing as you went by, making fun of you, scoffing and judging you. Jeremiah says “the Word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” Let’s just assume he enjoys that about as much as we would.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Silence, Rejection, and Faith: 20th Sunday OT

The woman got what she wanted, and Jesus praised her very highly for her faith. Why the tortuous path to get there? Why the hard words, and repeated slights? I can’t 100% explain this conversation, but whatever Jesus did, he had good reasons for, and meant for some good to come of it. So maybe we can approach this tricky passage by asking what good does come from it?

There are lots of answers to that, but my favorite is the spiritual example and lessons that she gives us, and every other Christian until Jesus returns. Jesus praises her faith, so let’s let her be our teacher.

One way we can learn from her is to put ourselves in her place. Imagine yourself as her in this story. It shouldn’t be hard to do, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced everything she experiences.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Weight: 14th OT 2017

My friend Chris went to Lourdes with a pilgrimage group. Being a man of notable and apparent strength, Chris naturally ended up as the go-to pusher of a wheelchair for another pilgrim, a nun. He served happily, but Sister was a hefty woman and Lourdes is a hilly place. The moment came when she was pointing
up at a church waaaaaay up a huge steep hill, and he was thinking, “there’s no way.” So he grabbed a few even younger guys, like high-school age, and had a little conference. He asked them, “I don’t want to make Sister feel self-conscious, but I’m really going to need some help getting her up there. You guys look like you’re in shape?” They said, yeah, they lift weights and spot each other all the time. He said, “great, we’ll do it like that. When I give you the signal, just help me out, just like in the gym.” So up the hill they started. He did pretty well. Got most of the way. Then, starting to give out, he silently mouthed to the guys, “help!” And they nodded enthusiastically, and got on each side of him, and started shouting into his ears: “Come on! Push! You can do it! You’ve got this!” All the way up the hill.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ascension 2017

The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, also by Luke, are sort of a two-volume story. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus from his birth to his Resurrection. Then Acts of the Apostles takes over and tells the story of what happened next.

The Church happened next. After Jesus ascended into heaven, Luke tells all about the coming of the Holy Spirit and everything that followed. The preaching of the Apostles and the spread of their message throughout the world. The debates and conflicts that had to be worked through right from the beginning. The appointment of more leaders in the role of the Apostles, like Matthias and Paul, continuing the Apostolic ministry. And the coming of Jews and Gentiles to believe in the name of Jesus, ready to serve Him by life or by death.