Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent 2 - Prepare the Way

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'". . .  "I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; . . .His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."  Matthew 3:1-2,11-12

This week, the world lost a great leader, Nelson Mandela – something of a modern day prophet.  He was a man not afraid to stand up and speak out for what he believe.  And even though he served nearly 30 years in prison, he was able to effect great changes in South Africa, was primary in ridding the country of the travesty of Apartheid, and served as their first black president.  He was not afraid to pay the price to prepare the way for a better life for the people of South Africa.  This is not unlike what John the Baptizer was doing in his day.

John the Baptizer proclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord – make straight his paths.”  This means to go out and make the road smooth; get rid of the potholes and the rocks.  Straighten out the curves.  This is what you did when you knew the king was coming – you prepared the road for his arrival.
John is using this metaphorically – the path that the Lord wants cleared, is the road to your heart.
The ministry of John was a bridge between the Old Testament prophetic word and Jesus, the incarnate Word.  The Word of God, once uttered by prophets, now lived in human form.  John’s call to repentance precedes Jesus’ call to new life.  It’s about getting rid of those things in our life that separate us – that draw us away from God.
You might be able to think back to various storms, hurricanes that leave piles of debris all over your yard and in your driveways – tree branches, parts of houses, lawn furniture, other belongings; that is quite often what the road to our heart looks like – littered with the debris of our life. 
 That debris might be the stings and arrows that have assaulted us – abandonment and betrayal are two of the big ones – being so hurt that it affects our whole life.  And then there are the rocks and potholes that have caused us to stumble and fall – the addictions and temptations we have given in to.  The human condition – self-centeredness – is being so involved in ourselves and our own problems that we fail to reach out to others. 
In the last verse of our Gospel lesson today we hear John speak of Jesus saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear the threshing floor and will gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  Too many people have a simplistic view of this and see judgment, either you are wheat (good) and get into heaven, or you are chaff (bad) and you burn in hell.  But I don’t think this is at all what John is alluding to.  If you look at the elements of this story you will find evidence that John means something different. 
It starts by understanding that wheat and chaff are both part of the same plant.  Wheat is a small grain, the fruit of the plant, and the chaff is the light covering that covers the grain.  The chaff is stripped off the grain by beating it or tramping on it, leaving both lying together on the threshing floor – most often the open ground.  This winnowing fork has been translated by various versions of the Bible as a fork, or a shovel, or a fan.  It is an instrument used to toss the mixture of grain and chaff into the air allowing the wind (or a fan) to blow away the light chaff leaving the heavier grain to be gathered for storing until it is used for making bread.

The chaff and the wheat are part of the same plant and I am now given to understand that they represent two parts that make up every person.  The wheat represents that which is good, that part of us that is holy and godly, that connects us to God.  And the chaff represents that which is less than holy, that which separates us from God.  It is that debris in our life that needs to be purged from the pathway to our hearts. 
That which is not of God cannot exist in the presence of God – There is something good in every person – but in all people, that good exists alongside that which is not of God.  Jesus has come to ignite a fire within us that will help us cast off that part of us that cannot exist in the presence of God.  It will be blown away like chaff from the wheat.  Removing the chaff from our life is necessary for us to be able to stand before God.
We are in the season of Advent – it is a season when we are preparing our hearts to receive Jesus.  Pray with me, “Lord, what are the things that you are purging from my life?”  What are the things that I need to let go of, in order for my heart to be ready to receive Jesus when he comes?  Lord, help me to prepare the way in my life, in my family, in my heart that I may with gladness welcome you and rejoice at your return.  Amen.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent 1 Meditation - Tuesday

From today’s reading:  Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer.'  Matthew 21:12-13

So, how do the daily office readings during Advent actually relate to Advent?  When I read the lines above I think of preparing for Christmas – most of us are cleaning house and getting special decorations out to ‘deck the halls.’  We often complain about the commercialism of Christmas, lamenting that Christ is often nowhere to be seen.  But for us Christians, even if we don’t see Christ, we know that’s what it’s all about.  And we can liken the cleansing of the temple to sweeping the house clean and know it’s also cleansing our hearts to prepare a place for Jesus.   And as we are decorating the tree and hang the wreaths and lights and bows, set out nativities (or Christmas villages), we know we are making our homes welcoming for visitors.  We can make our hearts and our homes a visual prayer to welcome our Lord Jesus when he appears.  Amen.

Advent 1 meditation - Monday

From Monday’s reading:  Make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  2 Peter 1:5-7
What a list: Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love.  Peter tells us that without these qualities we are short-sighted and fall short of the grace of God.  God, our cheerleader, is anxious that we all come into grace through Jesus Christ.  God gives us what we need, but we often ignore the messages God sends us.  It all begins with divine love and after that, anything is possible.  Live into God’s grace today by remembering to call on the Name of Jesus when you are sad, when you are happy, or when you need help.  His presence will be the guiding grace for the life you live.  Amen.

Advent 1 - Sunday

From Sunday's lessons:  “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."   Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  Matthew 24:36, 42

In the end, Christ will bring peace - peace in Jerusalem, peace in the world.  This is the message for us: to keep watch - each with our own work.  Prepare yourself to meet our Lord when he comes.  Spread the gospel message that Jesus is alive and that he is coming and that he offers us hope of a better world.  He offers us those things that the world cannot give us; fullness in our hearts, peace in our minds, joy in our souls.  He offers us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.  He offers us stability when our world falls apart around us.

And this is the good news of the Gospel for Advent:  
Jesus came to us as a little baby.
Jesus came to us humble of heart to heal and to save.
Jesus still comes to us in Spirit and guides us and stays with us when we most need him.
And Jesus will come again in power and glory to claim us and take us home.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two promises for All Saints Day

Luke reminded us in his gospel that in order to follow Christ we must  - Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us.  That is a tall order - very counter-cultural - and one that is (if we are honest with ourselves) sometimes very hard to follow.  The world around us tells us that we don't have to put up with bull from anyone - and it almost sounds like Jesus wants us to become victims.  But that is not at all what this means.  In this lesson, we are given a way to approach the world around us, and the unpleasant things that sometimes happen, with a positive attitude and gives us a response that keeps us connected to God and prevents us from being victimized.

In this life, we are not promised happiness, riches, health, love, or any other thing that many people desire in this life.  The promise we have from God is that regardless of what happens to us, regardless of what state we find ourselves in – God will be there with us!  That is his promise for this life – our life on earth.  God will be with us – to encourage us, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to fill us, to love us.  That is his promise for our life here on earth.  When we are going through tough times – when we are in pain, when we are alone, when we grieve, God is there with us.  He is there with us in both the good times and the bad times - because through the life and suffering of Jesus, he understands.  He laughs with us, he cries with us, he rejoices with us, and he grieves with us.  He is there to share with us.  We don’t see him, but we can feel his presence.  His Spirit lives within us and we are never alone.

God's first promise to us is that in this life, God will be will us - we will never be alone.   The second promise that is given to us is this… in death, we will be with God.  In Genesis we are told that we are made in the image of God and when the "ruah," the breath of God was breathed into us, Spirit of God came to live within us.  We are connected, now and always.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Comparisons and false illusions

Two men went to the temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector.  Now we need to understand – both men are Jews – only Jews were allowed inside the temple.  The Pharisee and the tax collector are as far apart on the social ladder as you can get in the Jewish world.

The Pharisee is the leader who is looked up to – the perfect example of what it means to revere and follow their God whom they call Adonai.  They are the teachers of religion and the law.  They spend their whole life studying the scriptures and discussing the things of God.  They pray, they tithe, they fast – and they did this so that the Jewish people (as a whole) would be found acceptable before their God.  The Pharisees, along with the priests and Sadducees were the ones who stood in the gap to mediate between God and man – they were the heroes of the faith.

The tax collector on the other hand is seen as a traitor – the lowest of the low.  They have consorted with the occupying forces and have gone over to the enemy.  They collect the taxes from their own people for the Romans, and most of them collected more than is owed to the governors.  If they could collect more, they got to keep the difference.  Some of them got rich that way, and they were all despised by their fellow Jews.

So the listening crowd would be thinking “yea Pharisees!” - “boo tax collectors!”  And the Pharisee stands up and prays a typical formula prayer.  “God, I thank you that I am not like other people; thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  Yep, he’s saying, “Hey God, look at me - I’m better than all these low-lifes."

Then he recites a list of all the things that he does – he fasts twice a week – that’s more often than is required by the law or tradition.  He gives a tithe of all his income, not just the required portions. In other words, he goes the extra mile – he does more than he is required to do.  This is no more than is expected by the people hearing the story, but he is also boastful, prideful and to make sure God understands, he compares himself to someone he considers less worthy.

Then we see the tax collector – he doesn’t even approach God closely…  He stands apart – far off – and he doesn’t really know how to pray.  He doesn’t dare to lift his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast as he prays.  This prayer is a simple plea for God to have mercy on him – and Jesus says, “and he went home justified rather than the other.”  This was a man who knew his sin, and who was humble before God.

How much of this is human nature – this need to compare ourselves to others?  People do it all the time.  It seems to bear out of our need to have something visible to measure ourselves against – so that we can know how well we are doing.  This is something that we learn early because it’s fostered by our school system.

There is a particular mark that is considered good enough – and if you don’t attain that mark, then you have to repeat that grade until you do.

The minute we attach grades to our learning process and reward those who make better grades, we foster a competitive nature in children.  When we evaluate schools and grade the school according to how well their students do on standardized tests, then we foster competition between institutions – just as if it were a football game.

I have a friend, call her June, who has come to me for counsel from time to time. She was estranged from her spouse and they were rather at odds with each other about any number of things.  She did not respect him because his behavior did not inspire respect.  She would say things like, ‘well, at least I don’t do so-in-so like Jim does.’ and various other statements along the same vein.  My question to her was why are you comparing yourself to someone you don’t respect?

That’s exactly what the Pharisee was doing.  Do people do that (compare themselves to others) because they are insecure and it is the only way they can feel good about themselves?  Quite often it doesn’t work – it gives a false sense of illusion about who and what we are.  It is born out of pride – and from any angle – positive or negative - pride is destructive.

One preacher said don’t go out of here glad you aren’t like the Pharisee, because if you do, you’ve just become the Pharisee.  And don’t go out glad you are like the tax collector – same problem, you’ve just compared yourself to someone else – and that is borne out of pride - a desire to be better than someone else.

Each and every one of us has a path to follow – one designed by God.  And each path is as individual as we are – no two are alike.  Our path is tailored for us by God.  We can choose to walk in our own path, or we can try other paths - but other paths will never fit as well.

When I started my journey with the Lord, I had no idea where he would take me.  But I walked out in faith and I told God that I would step through any door he opened.  The flip side of that is – if the door doesn’t open, I can’t force it, and I can't regret it.  I am simply called to move on to find the door God does want me to take.  No comparisons – just walking out in faith, to do the job He wants me to do and to be the person He wants me to be.

I would encourage each of you to take a look at the path that God has placed before you and without regret or gloating to fulfill that responsibility.  And without comparing yourself to others, past, present or future, step out in faith, to be the best you can be.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Becoming the "me" that God wants me to be

From today's reading:  For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,   his favor for a lifetime.  Psalm 30:5

I can understand this verse very well.  I know how mad I could get at my kids when they were growing up.  And I also know that those transgressions that riled my anger so much at the time are no longer remembered.   But regardless of those incidents, my love for my children will never wane.  Thank you, Lord, that you are a loving father whose anger does not last.  

As a parent myself, I know that anger stems from disappointment - disappointment in my children's choices - and a deep desire to see them succeed and become all that they can be.  God feels the same about each of us - a desire to see us become the best person that we can possibly be.  

Lord, help me to overcome those desires and stumbling blocks that keep me from being the very best image of you that I can be.  Inspire me and encourage me by setting the goal of my heart firmly before me that I may become the very best me that is possible.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Kittens, Lazarus and the Rich Man

From Sunday's gospel:  Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table;  Luke 16:19-20

This story of Lazarus and the rich man is the story of a man who ignores a problem that God has placed on his door step.  We want to take his to task, but how many of us often ignore the man or woman who stands on the street corner begging for what few coins might come their way?

Last week was a difficult week.  We started the week facing Sam's pending heart cath getting blood work and doing the pre-admittance work.  On Tuesday, I received a letter from the insurance company telling me that certain work needed to be done on the house and the completion date they gave me was Sunday 9/29. I managed to contact a contractor who came to submit a bid. In the midst of all this, a feral cat moved her kittens into our garage during a rain storm.

So on Thursday we left the house at 5 am and I didn't come home until 9 pm.  Sam's day procedure had turned into a two day procedure and they kept him overnight.  Got a few hours sleep, cleaned up and was back at the hospital by 6 am on Friday.  The procedure on Friday was longer.  I went back to the house mid-afternoon and was confronted by the unmistakable stench of dead animal.  I got our son, Andy, to go look for it as I headed back to the hospital.  He didn't find anything. Ii started going in and out the front door  to avoid the stench while i looked for someone to come to take care of the problem.

I brought Sam home about noon on Saturday and finally had time to pay attention.  When i finally got out to find out what has going on, I found two live gray kittens laying on the body of their dead sibling.  I rescued them and then found another kitten in another part of the garage.  My friend, Leah, came and took the kittens to mother them a bit.  One died later, but the other two are doing well.  When Chris from GuardTech came on Sunday, he found the mother cat dead under the house.

The thing is, I should have twigged a lot earlier to the cat problem, but I was distracted by the many things going on around me.  I ignored a potential problem even to the point on going in and out another door to avoid it.  I understand how easy it can be to ignore a need that is at your gate.  I was preaching on Sunday and found this all to be very pertinent to the gospel lesson and therefore excellent sermon material.

I'm glad to say this week is looking much better.  Sam is up and moving around very well, at least two kittens survived, and the contractors are supposed to begin work today (weather permitting.)  God does provide, even when we flounder around, - - and life goes on.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Prayers for Everyone

From Sunday's reading:  First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  1 Tim. 2:1-2

I don't stick my nose into politics very often, but I truly believe this is where a lot of "Christians" get it so wrong.  Instead of praying for the politicians in power that they don't like, they complain about the poor job they perceive that they are doing.  Those people who do nothing but complain and rile up others need to read these two verses.  Instead of bashing Obama or Rick Perry or whoever, pray for them, that they may make the right decisions to keep us safe and for the benefit of the nation.  Prayer is a much more powerful force than complaining ever could be, because in God's economy, the positive influence of prayer will always trump the negative complaining spirit.  Let the light shine in the darkness to overcome it.

Lord God, I pray that you guide and direct those in authority over this nation so they may make right decisions and just actions for the peace and welfare for us all.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Search diligently for the child

'Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.'  Matthew 2:8

We all know this passage - it gets read during the Christmas season.  These are the words of Herod - tongue in cheek, because he has no intention of worshipping the child born to Mary.  But today I would like to separate it out and take it at face value.  Go and search diligently for the child.  This is something that we are all invited, encouraged, even admonished to do - to search for Jesus.  And when we find him, spend time with him, to understand what his presence means to our life.  And then take word of him out into the world so that others may come also.

This Sunday is Invitation Sunday - this is the time we are invited to go out and to tell others and to invite them to know Jesus also.  Don't go out as one determined to "save others," but go out as one who desires to enrich the lives of others.  Go out as one who has found a depth of meaning that informs and enhances your everyday life.  Go out as one who wants to share the wonder and glory that we have seen through Jesus Christ.    

Lord Jesus Christ, be with us and reside in us that we might know the depth and breadth of your love and wisdom.  Instill in us the courage and desire to go out and to invite others in; to be willing to share the fullness of your love and grace with at least one other person this week.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Imprisoned for Christ

I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;  Phil. 1:12-13

There is one thing that we can definitely say about Paul - he made the most of every situation.  When he was imprisoned, he saw it an opportunity to teach his captors about Christ.  In today's world, most people see an imprisonment as an opportunity to talk about injustice and oppression, but not Paul.

I ran across a quote this morning by Bill Meyer, "Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don't count on harvesting Golden Delicious."   Attitude is nine-tenth's of the struggle we face in life. Our attitude controls how we see ourselves and what we are ultimately going to get out of this life.  Episcopal Priest Martin Bell wrote a song called "Walls and Things;"  The first verse says:  

I'm always running into walls and things.
I fall down a hundred times each day.
But I'll pick myself up, dust myself off.
I've decided that life is just that way.

And I create the world I live in -
By each and every choice I make today.
And when all is said and done, I'm the only one
Who can make the world a better place to stay.

I think it has a lot to say to us today.  We can't always control the things that happen to us and the world quite often throws dirt up in our face.  Too often, people in today's world  behave a victims - either blaming others for their trouble, or expecting someone else to "make it right."  But we are the ones who choose how to respond, how to behave in any given situation.  Paul saw those situations as opportunities and through both word and action he was able to influence his environment.  He took what was intended to be negative, and turned it into a positive for the Lord.  And it all starts with attitude and the choices we make.  

Lord, help us to be like Paul, choosing to allow God to work in us and through us rather than complaining about our circumstances.  Help us to be a positive influence in the world around us and an example of Godly love.  Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Proper 18 - Psalm 139

Psalm 139

1   LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
     you know my sitting down and my rising up; 
     you discern my thoughts from afar.
2   You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
     and are acquainted with all my ways.
3   Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
     but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

There are people who live a secret life - one they find hard to share with others - not because it's a bad thing, it just is.  My mother was a very private person and I tend to take after her because that's the way I was raised.  But it probably has more with my insecurities than anything else.  I used to say that I was shy and then I learned about being introverted and I latched onto that concept.  It is true, I am introverted, but that's not the whole story.  It is fear that keeps me bound - I'm afraid that I don't have anything to say that anyone wants to hear.  That might seem to be an oxymoron because I can get up and preach without that fear.  But when I'm preaching I'm delivering God's word, not my own.  Anytime I see it as "my words," I fall flat on my face, and that happens more times than I want to remember.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me - So, Lord, since you know me so well, abide with me in all my ways.  You know when I've fallen and been less than you desire.  You know when I have failed to listen and failed to respond.  You know when I have strayed from your ways and blundered into an un-charted path or muddled around in a swamp.  But still you love me and hold me.  So guide me and direct me that you may be the guiding light that I follow - free from fear, free to be myself, just the way you made me.  Amen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


From today's reading:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Acts 1:8-9

Imagine what it must have been like to be on that hill side with the disciples as they watched Jesus being taken up from their sight.  I cannot think of the Ascension without thinking of the mural at Church of the Redeemer in Houston.  "Christ of the Working Man" by John Orth is a powerful vision of the Risen Lord coming in the clouds of glory.  Preaching under this mural for 4 years reminded me every time that I was indeed a witness for Christ each time I open my mouth.

When we have been touched by the Risen Lord and that power of the Holy Spirit that he instills/inspires in us, each and every one of us is a witness to Christ in our daily life.  We may not even mention His name, but when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, His light shines through in everything we do.  What kind of witness will you be today?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Lord is my Shepherd

If we look at today’s psalm, we get an idea of what a shepherd is expected to do – God’s expectation/promise – not our own desires.  

1    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.  --  this doesn’t mean that God is going to give us what we desire – but he will provide for our needs.

2     He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.   --  Sheep can’t drink from running water – they need a still pool of water - so God provides for both our physical and spiritual thirst.  

3     He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.   --  the barren hills outside Jerusalem are crisscrossed with paths, many of which lead nowhere, so God leads us to the correct paths where he wants us to go.

4     Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.   --  we can trust the Lord even in times of dire need.  His promise is true, He will be with us in times of our greatest need as well as in times of joy. 

5    You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil,  and my cup is running over.   --  God's promise was not that I would have a perfect life or that no trouble would befall me, but that God would be with me and would provide for me even in times of need.

6     Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.  --  We can trust in God's goodness and mercy, and through that trust, God will bring us at last into the fullness of His joy and His presence.

Friday, March 29, 2013

What is Truth?

"What is truth?"    This is the question that Pilate asked Jesus 2000 years ago.  A number of years ago, a gentleman named  George Parks visited Grace, Alvin.  He put on a 'one-man' play called, "And what is truth?"  The only character was Pilate, a number of years after the crucifixion, talking to an unseen visitor about the events that occurred in Palestine on that fateful day.  And in this play, Pilate is still asking the question, "What is truth?"

It is a question well worth asking.  What is the truth about what happened in that small province, in the eastern portion of the great Roman Empire?  What did that truth mean then and what does it mean to us now?  In our human view of the world, very few people see the same 'truth' in any situation.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the light."  In the gospel of John,  Jesus said, "I tell you the truth..." 26 times.  It is very important, our very life depends on it, that we seek out the truth that Jesus brings to us and seek out the truth concerning his death and resurrection, and seek out the truth of his place in our life.
Pilate had a very difficult job.  He couldn't help feeling slighted to have been assigned to such a backwater province, trying to keep the peace among such a odd people with their strange god and ridiculous customs.  And in this case, he found himself caught between the proverbial "rock and hard place."  This rag of a man who stood before him didn't seem worth the time and effort that he was having to expend.  A king?   Now that was a laugh.  Why did these people want him dead?  He was obviously no threat.  But still they pressed.  Pilate tried to free Jesus, but they wouldn't let him.  They kept yelling and shouting - and then they threatened Pilate - threatened to go to the emperor - so Pilate gave in to their desires.  For Pilate, the truth was that this man did not deserve to die, but to keep peace among this people (and to keep from being reported to emperor as unfaithful), he gave in to their desires.

What is truth?  For Caiaphas, the high priest, truth was much more serious.  As high priest, it was his job, not only to perform the sacraments and rituals of the temple, but also to defend the faith as he knew and understood it.  Here was this Jesus who was challenging every belief that Caiaphas held to be truth.  Here was a man who was gaining popular support, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the land.  Here was a man who was perverting the faith, the laws, and even the prophets as Caiaphas understood them.  Caiaphas, in his role as high priest, was also the acknowledged prophet of the faith.  And as with all who are anointed to a position of authority under God, he fulfilled that role as prophet, even unto this prophecy about Jesus.  When the Sanhedrin met, they said:  "What are we accomplishing?  Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  Caiaphas spoke up to the Sanhedrin and said, "You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."  Caiaphas prophesied truly in the power of God, but he misunderstood the meaning of his prophecy.  Truth for Caiaphas meant that, if this Jesus continued to gain the support of the common people and caused rebellion, the Romans would come in and destroy them and their temple.  It was imperative that he be stopped.

And there was Peter.  What was truth for Peter?  Peter the fisherman, the first called, the staunch defender of the faith.  Peter, alternately praised and reprimanded by the teacher and master he had grown to love and trust.  When faced by armed men in the garden, Peter drew his sword and was ready to lay down his very life to defend Jesus.  After being made to lay down his sword and leave, far from running away, Peter followed at a distance, right into the courtyard of Annas, father-in-law and advisor to Caiaphas.  For Peter, Jesus was truth.  Jesus was every good that had ever happened, and yet, three times during that long night watch, Peter denied the truth.  

And Judas?  We will never know what Judas saw as truth.  The one thing that is almost certain,  Judas never intended for Jesus to be crucified.  Maybe Judas thought that if he could just get Jesus and the Sanhedrin together, that they would be persuaded to believe Jesus.  Maybe Judas had grown disillusioned by Jesus pacifism and wanted to force him into action.  Whatever the reason, Judas' visions had not been realized.  And the truth of what actually happened drove Judas to despair and self-destruction.

In today's society, we are quick to find someone to take the blame for the ills that befall us.  We are told, "Never admit culpability."  Even in looking back 2000 years, we want to find a villan to blame.  But this idea of fixing blame is nothing new.  It began in the garden with Adam and Eve.  Adam defended himself before God saying, "It was the woman." and Eve defended herself saying, "It was the serpent."  In that same spirit we look for someone to blame.  It was Judas, it was the Jews, it was Caiaphas, it was the Romans, it was Pilate.  Yes, all these played their part, but the sin was not theirs alone.

The final player in this story is the victim,  Jesus.  What did truth look like for Jesus?  Truth was knowing God's plan, and knowing that regardless of the cost, that plan must be fulfilled.  Truth was redemption for all the sins of all the people in the world.  Truth was following God's will, through the pain, through the suffering, and even into death.  Truth is embedded in every fiber of this story.  But to understand the truth, we must first understand the difference between a free-will offering and a miscarriage of justice.  Did Jesus have to die?  By human standards the answer is "no".  Did Jesus deserve to die?  Again by human standards the answer is "no".  Jesus could have stopped Judas, but instead Jesus told him, "What you must do, do quickly."  Jesus didn't have to be arrested in the garden, but he told his disciples, "Put away your swords."  Jesus went freely and willing to trial and death.

Was this a miscarriage of justice?  Again the answer is "no".  Justice was carried out that day, but it was not the justice earned or deserved by Jesus.  It was the justice that rightfully belongs to every person who ever lived or ever will live.  In our sinful nature, we are not worthy to enter God's presence.   The sacrifices offered by the people to atone for sin were not enough.  Therefore, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb.   Jesus took upon himself, every sin ever committed by humankind:  every murder, every theft, every hatred, every greed, every pride, every lie, every envy, every covetness, every unkind word, every uncharitable act, every neglect.  He took all this and more, and he carried it to Golgotha.  When he fell on the path, it wasn't from the weight of the cross, but from the weight of our sins.  He allowed himself to be spit upon and ridiculed for our sake.  He freely accepted the punishment for our sins, yours and mine, and for all the sins of the whole world.  He allowed those sins to be nailed to the hard wood of the cross with him.  The scourging and death that we deserve, Jesus received unto himself.

What is truth?  That unless a man, a man without sin or blemish, freely and lovingly went to his own death, the world would remain in the same state of sin as it had been since the fall in the garden.  To heal the wounds of the world, perfect man must take the sins of the whole world on himself and present it as a free offering before God.  But there was no perfect man.  So, God sent down his Word, as a Son, to become that perfect man.  Jesus is God incarnate, the Word made flesh.  His perfect birth, perfect life, and perfect sacrifice gives us the right to be called sons and daughters of God.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He paid the ransom for our sins, and he laid down his life for us.  It is only by his action, that we now are made worthy to stand before God and enter into his eternal joy.  

This is truth.

By The Rev. Nan L. Doerr

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do you wash my feet?

When I was in seminary, I got an email from my daughter who asked me, "What's the etymology/history of implementation of Maundy into Holy Week?". (She was studying theology at St. Thomas University where she was a student.)  Well, I didn't have a clue, so I had to look it up.  This is what I found out:
Maundy comes from the Latin phrase "mandatum novum" which means new commandment.  It comes from the gospel of John we just read, chapter 13, verse 34, when Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another."  And in the 14th and 15th verses Jesus "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Travel back with me to a time two thousand years ago.  The upper room in a villa on the edge of Jerusalem.  The walls are a type of white plaster with some fresco paintings and embellishments.  There is a large table in the center of the room - and around it are the lounging chairs that allow Jesus and his disciples to eat their meal reclining as was the practice of the day.  

When the first Passover meal was eaten, according to the institution of Moses in Egypt, it was eaten standing up, fully clothed with staff in hand ready for traveling.  But that was more than a thousand years in the past and now the people eat this meal like they ate other meals, reclining in the more contemporary Roman fashion.  I know this is true because in verse 23 (which we didn't read) it says "One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him."  

As the meal progresses Jesus does something that is very ordinary.  He motions to the servants to bring the jars of water for the ritual washing of feet.  This was not required of the host to provide for the washing, but was a common courtesy offered to guests - especially when you are reclining at table and your feet are likely to be in someone's face - it's nice for them to be clean.

But when the water was brought - he did something quite extraordinary.  He got up and took off his outer garments.  He tied a towel around his waist and he poured water in the basin.  Then he went to the feet of the nearest disciple and began to wash his feet.  After washing his feet, Jesus wiped them dry with the towel at his waist.  Silence hung in the room as the disciples tried to grapple with the meaning behind Jesus' action. 

He continued in this manner until he got to Peter - and Peter couldn't stand it.  He sits up and breaks the silence.  "Lord, you don't have to wash my feet."

"You are right, Peter, I don't have to do this.  I want to do this.  It is my gift to you."

"No, Lord, I can't let you do this."  (You see, there were any number of things going through Peter's mind at that time.  Peter never had wanted to accept what Jesus was all about.  He was first to claim, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  But his concept of what that meant was skewed.  He was always bucking Jesus - no, you don't have to die, you don't have to wash my feet, let's stay on the mountain…  Even later this night, it would be Peter's sword that cuts the ear off the high priest's servant.
This act of service that Jesus is performing is below Peter's concept of what Messiah is all about.)

Jesus tries again and basically tells Peter this: "Peter, if you don't let me do this, you can't be my friend."

Peter is really insecure, just like many of us.  And when Jesus says this, Peter is terrified of losing favor with Jesus and being sent off.  So once again he goes overboard - "well, then, not just my feet, but also my hands and head, everything."  You see, Peter is trying very hard to be on top, and he figures if a little bit is good, then a whole lot has got to be better.  

And Jesus tells him, "Peter, you just really don't get it.  I am offering each one of you a relationship.  It's the kind of relationship that accepts the gift offered, without question and without asking for more.  For if you can't accept this gift now, how are you going to be able to accept the gift I offer later - the gift of my life?"

He washes Peter's feet and the other disciples - even Judas.  Each disciple is offered the same gift of relationship.  It's the same gift of relationship that Jesus offers to each one of us.  And just like the disciples in that upper room two thousand years ago, we each have to decide if we want the kind of relationship that Jesus offers.  It's the kind of relationship in which we can sit at a table together, and we can serve each other, and we can allow ourselves to be served by the other.  

This was the original "Pay it forward".  Jesus says, "For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you."  The correct order is this:  First you receive, then you can give.   One of my favorite songs is the "Servant Song".  The words of the first verse express exactly what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples that last night.  It says, 
"Won't you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you.  
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too."  

That's what Peter had to do - he wanted only to serve, but Christ insisted that he also receive.  For we cannot pass on what we have not received.  Those of you who would like to have a share of the Lord Jesus in this way, Jesus invites you to come,                                                                                                           

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We wish to see Jesus

From today's reading:  Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  John 12:20-=22

In this reading, even the Gentiles are seeking out Jesus.  That is the sign for Jesus, that his ministry on earth is coming to an end.  It is poised, ready to spread once his death and resurrection is accomplished.

In almost every example of Andrew that we find in the Bible, he is bringing someone to meet Jesus.  A great example of what we are to be about.  
Can we, like Andrew and Philip, Bring before Jesus those who are searching and in need of grace and mercy?  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A son who strayed

From today's reading:  But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.  Read Luke 15:11b-32

In today's gospel, Jesus tells the last of three stories about being lost and found again.  The first story is about a lost sheep.  The second is about a lost coin, and the last one is about a lost son.

There are actually three levels of being lost here.  Jesus starts off with a simple lamb who strays away - the kind of straying away that, I’ll have to admit, a lot of us do.  It’s not unusual for young people to stray away from church and from God during their late teen years.  I’m one of those.  It’s not so much that we are being rebellious – in my case it was that I just had other things to do and – sleeping in seemed good on a Sunday morning.

Out of these three parables, the one that really makes sense and is easy to identify with is the second one about the lost coin:  The woman who sweeps the whole house until she finds the lost coin.  Turn that into your billfold or purse or car keys and we can easily relate to searching frantically and rejoicing and being totally relieved when we find it.

But in the third parable, the son is another matter.  In this parable, the son's leaving is a willful act.  In this parable, the younger son doesn’t just stray away, but he asks for his inheritance – an act tantamount to saying, “my father is dead – I have no family.”   This was the ultimate rejection. 

 Notice that the father doesn’t go running after the son.  The son should know better – he has the ability to reason.  The father lets him go.  I don’t care how convinced you are that something is Biblically, fundamentally, or socially wrong – telling someone, hounding a person about it, is not going to convince them that they are wrong.  

One of my students in Huntsville complained that this young man is not remorseful and doesn’t deserve to be taken back.  But the father takes him back anyway, and this is the message to the scribes and Pharisees – the father cares for all people - even the ultimate sinner who has rejected him.   The father doesn’t lecture him, he doesn’t scold him, he doesn’t punish him in any way.  He simply wraps his arms around him and takes him back.  

And then we come to the elder son.  In our second lesson we are told that God is reconciling thge world to himself.  The elder son represents those of us who never stray, who want to see justice and revenge in the world.  The father goes to the elder son and loves him just as he loved the younger.  He lets him know that he is loved also and invites him to come in.

And whether we are the younger son who has strayed away with a frivolous mind, or the older brother who has stayed at home with a hard heart - We are all invited to come into God’s kingdom - to be a new creation in Christ – and eventually the old will pass away and the new will flower and bloom.   And in the meantime, God will cover our sin with the righteousness of Christ until we are brought home to stay.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

In Imitation of Paul and Christ

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  Phil. 3:17

The children were outside playing and the proud mother noticed that they were playing ‘church.’ A little while later they came in soaking wet and all scratched up.  She asked, “I thought you were playing church.  What happened to you?”  Little Jill answered, “We were, and it was great until Jack decided to baptize the cat.”
We’ve often heard it said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There are all kinds of imitation products on the market and there are people who live imitation lives – sometimes movie stars or popular musicians.  Their life might seem exciting and glamorous, but in reality it is more often a road to destruction. 
Children pretended – they play act – they emulated the adults around them, or made up stories based on their favorite heroes.  I used to pretend I was Jane (of Tarzan and Jane).  There were three trees in my back yard than made a perfect tree home and I would gather “food” – the berries from the Chinese tallow tree and the seed stems from the grass to make dinner for Tarzan when he came home.  Sometimes I would line my dolls up in my room and play school – I always wanted to be a teacher.  I usually didn’t have anyone else to play with so I could just make it up and do what I wanted to do, imitating heros and adults I knew. 
So when Paul invites the people of Philippi to imitate him, he means that they should try to pattern their lives after what they see him doing.  When some of the Thessalonians quit working and just hung around waiting for Christ to come back, Paul reminds them that when he came among them, he earned his own way by working as a tent maker.  He encourages them to imitate that.
I think maybe where we miss out is in not imitating Paul, but imitating what we think he should be like.  In his first letter to the Corinthians – Paul says:   “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.” 1Cor 9:19-23
Paul didn’t set himself apart from others – he didn’t hold himself above others.  He put himself in the middle of whatever situation he found himself in – so that he could talk to people without them taking offense - so that he could talk to people, and have them listen and to open up and talk back freely.
When you sit above others, and never put yourself on their level, how are they going to relate to you?  I read a scenario of people in a bar once – one there trying to drown his sorrows of a broken relationship, one walked through handing out Christian pamphlets, one of a woman looking for her lost sister, one looking for a drug connection, one was a young enthusiastic missionary telling people of the evils of alcohol and trying to get them to leave. 
To tell you the truth, I envisioned another person at the bar, one who would sit with the man with the broken relationship, and listen to him without condemnation, and become his friend, and gain his confidence, and then lead him out of there.  “I become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, I might save some.”  You can preach to hordes of people, but I believe that lives are transformed one at a time in particular circumstances. 
When God is ready to begin the process of transformation in a person, God will send the right person to the right place to light that spark and get the fire going.  It is a personal relationship on a level that can be heard, whether it's in a bar, on a basketball court, at the park or in your office. 
Paul invites us to not simply behave, but to look at the meaning of all we do in relationship to a much larger power and reality.  Transformation is the faith life in process.  No, we are not there yet – but we are invited to continue in the process.  We are invited to be real people, in real life situations, so that we might be able to win some for Christ. 
I think we also have to remember that it is Christ – through the Holy Spirit – who does the transformation.  We are at best a conduit – but more often simply the vehicle that brings the person into the presence of Christ. To Him be all glory, now and forever.  Amen.


Friday, February 22, 2013

What does God require?

From today's reading:  So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God . . . for your own well-being.  Deuteronomy 10:12-13

This passage from Deuteronomy is one that I have repeated several times during the past week.  It starts off sounding so much like Micah 6:8 and it says much the same thing.  And then I remember that Micah is simply reminding the people of what God has already said.  It is essentially the same message that Jesus Christ brings; it is our relationship with God and with his people that counts.  I was listening to the Renovare conference last night and they talked about making disciples by teaching people to live their life for today, not for when they die. 

The ten commandments are not to keep us out of hell, but to help us live our life here on earth to the fullest.  The first four commandments teach us how to live with God: love God, don't worship idols, don't take his name in vain and spend time with God.   The last six commandments teach us how to live with the people around us: honor your parents, don't murder, steal or be unfaithful, don't get others in trouble by lying about them and don't desire what others have.  It's even easier than that - treat others the way you want to be treated and honor God is all things.  That is what God requires of you; today and always.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not to condemn, but to save

From today's reading: 'Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:17

So - I skipped right over the most famous verse in the Bible in order to look at the next verse.  He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.  Even the name of Jesus says it, "Ye'shua" - "God saves."  Those things that condemn us come from the "prince of lies."  When we step out of God's will and way, the Holy Spirit will convict and correct, but never condemn.  It is always God's purpose to save.

Lord, thank you for your love and your grace and your mercy and your Son, Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

lifted up in the desert

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  John 3:14-15

This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture.  When we arrived at Mt. Nebo in the summer of 1999, I was delighted to see the serpentine cross as we approached the summit.  I was to do the meditation at Mt. Nebo and had drawn from the image of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert and here I had the perfect visual in front of me.  

When the Israelites were bitten by the snakes that filled the camp, all they had to do was look up - and gaze at the bronze serpent Moses had made.  Likewise, when we as Christians have been bitten by the 'serpent of sin,' all we have to do is look up in repentance and place our faith in Jesus hanging on the cross.  Jesus went to the cross to pay the price so that we could be forgiven for our sins.

Dear Lord, when I look up and see Jesus hanging on the cross, engrave on my heart the depth of love He had for me to pay the price of my sin.  Amen.