Monthly Archives: January 2016

Liberating Words

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell, you no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.'” (Luke 4:23-24 NRSV)

What was Jesus thinking?  Better yet, what was Luke thinking?

Jesus has just read to his hometown people the words from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hear.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:18-22 NRSV)

Jesus had the synagogue in the palm of his hand!  And what does he go and do?  He annoys them.  He gets in their faces with words like, “Don’t tell me to heal myself: I’ll do this ministry with God in charge, not you.” His hometown friends and neighbors become so incensed that they run him out of town and try to push him off a cliff.  They can’t touch him, though.  He simply slips through their hands.

What was the problem?  Mark and Matthew depict this same scene, only the townspeople are angered because Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  Luke changes things up a bit.  He allows the people a moment of pride:

“I was his Sunday school teacher.  Such a willing student!”

“You should have seen him at Youth Fellowship meetings!”

“I remember watching him with his father as they headed out of town for a carpentry job. They were so companionable together.”

“Yep!  That’s our Jesus.  ‘Can’t wait to see what he does for us here.”

Jesus knows these folk.  They were his teachers and mentors and friends.  They know everything about him up to the point when he left Nazareth.  How can he speak words to annoy them? And why would he want to? What happened to proper etiquette, like “mind your elders” or “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing.”

Apparently, his ministry has begun and he has accomplished much in and around Capernaum.  The Town of Nazareth, a poverty-stricken community with barely a mention on a Roman map, could use a man like Jesus.  There are sick to be healed.  There is work to be done to try and build up Nazareth.  Nazareth could well have a long list of what they need from him.  And hardly any of it is on God’s to-do list for the kingdom.

Did Jesus try to explain prior to worship on the Sabbath?  Were his words an attempt to gain their attention; to make them listen to him?  Perhaps.  All we know from our reading is that he is clear about his ministry.

First, this is God’s mission, not Nazareth’s or the Roman Empire’s.  The Temple in Jerusalem will have no authority over him.  God is in charge and Jesus has already proven that he will not live by bread alone.  The Nazarene people will not be able to tell Jesus what to do and when to do it.

Second, as proud of him as the townspeople are, they would be ready and willing to offer Jesus a few hints and tips on his ministry.  “You know, son, you want to be careful how you speak to your elders.  This in-your-face style won’t go down well.  Tone it down a bit.  You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.”

Third, they will not have a say in the scope of Jesus’ ministry.  To bring his point home he reminds of the Widow of Zarephath.  All those widows in Israel struggling with famine and Elijah goes to the Gentile territory of Zarephath and provides food for her and her son until the drought ends.  Elijah even brings her son back from death.

Of all the Israelites with serious skin diseases, the prophet Elisha chooses to offer healing to the General Naamon from enemy territory.  In other words, God’s ministry is not only for those in the backwater town of Nazareth; nor the area known as Galilee; not even limited to Israel.  God’s ministry is for all.

So for those living on the edges of society, Jesus will reach out to them.  Different faith traditions, enemies, those with whom we don’t want to associate.

Why are they so angry?  Well, let’s bring this in to our modern times.  God wants to reach out to our enemies.  God would have us offer healing to a child from Iran.  God would have us reach out to feed the undocumented worker who lives down the street, trying to stay under the radar.  God would have us offer fellowship to that same sex married couple living nearby.

About thirty years ago a family member hurt me very deeply.  Over the years, she continued to do so and I failed to do anything to stop her.  In the past few weeks I’ve decided to end this pain and move on with my life.  The problem is: I can’t forgive her.  She hurt me repeatedly and my family stood by and allowed it.  She behaved badly and I would rather see her suffer than offer her forgiveness.  What she did was mean and cruel.

Jesus came for the likes of her: two-faced and self-centered.  Jesus came for the likes of me, unforgiving and hurting.  And when I think on these things, I can feel some of the anger of the Nazarenes who tried to push him off that cliff.

God is at work in me to sweep out the hate and unforgiving spirit within me.  And I trust that I’ll be free from it all some day.  And that’s why Jesus had to leave Nazareth.  Because his ministry would only work if he remained totally connected to his Father; his ministry would only work in an atmosphere of trust.

He came for the likes of those we know to be sinful and those we know who are making unwise, even dangerous decisions, and yes, even you and me.  We’re in need of good news to our poor starving hearts that are worn out by stress and hatred.  We’re in need of release from unforgiving spirits or addictions.  We’re searching to have our eyes opened to new truth that will continue to set us free.  And we’re all constantly in search of new beginnings.

I don’t want to be one of the hometown folk who tried to run Jesus out of town.  Yet, I know that there are moments when I’m part of the lynch mob.  Thanks be to God that Jesus slips through the midst of us and shows us an even better way.

All glory and honor be to God.




Transforming Hope

“Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (Luke 4:14-15 NRSV)

Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.  But several things had to happen before he was ready.

Enter an elderly priest Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth.  It was his turn to enter into the Holy of Holies for the annual incense burning.  It was a holy undertaking, and this particular episode would be the beginning of something new.    An angel appeared to him for  a long talk: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah,, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13 NRSV)  Zechariah found this hard to believe (who wouldn’t?) He questioned God and so remained silent for the next nine months.

That silence was a time of preparation for Zechariah.  Rather than a punishment, it gave him a certain solitude as he went about his duties as a temple priest.  So that when John was born, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to speak.  “Bless God for remembering Israel and our captivity.  Bless God for raising up a mighty savior for us.  We will be saved from our enemies and God will show mercy.”  (Luke 1:68-72 my translation.)

It was the Holy Spirit who would come upon Mary and the child she carried would be holy: the Son of God.

When Joseph and Mary took the newborn Jesus to the Temple for the purification.  Who should be there at just that moment?  Simeon and Anna.  Simeon had learned by way of the Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death.  He took one look and recognized who Jesus was.  And then prayed what became a famous blessing for Christians everywhere: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 NRSV)

The Spirit remained at work as John grew up and moved into the dessert to prepare for his ministry.  His  ministry was to call people to change their lives from the inside out.  For John, loving God meant that you take care of your neighbor.  Not just people you like, but anyone whose lives you touch.  Filled with the Spirit, John preached this change with courage and determination.  His preaching pointed to the Messiah.

His preaching made a difference.  He had followers who came to be baptized.  Filled with the Spirit he spoke to all who needed to change and repent.  Including Herod.  That got him into trouble. but he never shirked his duty.

Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized as well.  When he came out of the water we learn that “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” (Luke 3:21b-22 NRSV)  As he prayed, the Spirit came upon him.  And then that same Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted.  He fasted for 40 days and learned what his ministry wouldn’t be: magic tricks and seeking self-serving ways to be top dog.

The Spirit remained at work as Jesus began his ministry.  “Filled with the power of the Spirit…”  He would preach and heal.  He would rebuke and extend love.  He would retreat alone to pray.  He would retreat with his disciples.  He played hard and worked hard.  His ministry of love that was meant to care for stranger and alien as well as friend spread far and wide.

Filled with Spirit, we too become courageous to say and do the hard things.  Filled with the Spirit, we pray alone and with others.  Filled with the Spirit, we recognize those people that God has put in our path and we care for them with relationship, food, clothing and words that heal.

I love the words of Rev. Robert M. Brearley, “The Holy Spirit comes when we have something to do for God and a time to do it.  Following this Jesus means accepting his mission and his time.  What would change in our lives and in our churches if we stood in the pews on Sunday morning and declared to God and to one another, ‘God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and new beginnings to all who have failed’?  Jesus went forth in the power of the Spirit as an agent of God’s m

ercy to the downtrodden, and so do we.”  (Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspective.  Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Year C, Volume 1 page 288)

How is the Spirit at work in your life?  How do you use your day to bring good news to the poor and release to those held captive?  How can you bring sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed?  How does the Holy Spirit work in your life to be in relationship with those who cross your path?

It begins with getting to know Spirit, recognizing that she is with you at all times.  Be in solitude with her.  Speak if you’re used to being silent.  Be silent if you’re used to speaking.  Fast from food or an activity that will help you understand sacrifice.  Allow her to bring you closer and rely on her words to you in the simple activities of your day and the complications of living.

Nothing happened until Spirit got involved.  Nothing happens today without her.

Walking with her into an unknown future is our call as Christians.  We begin in prayer, listening with discernment.  Then with a measure of courage, a heart full of compassion and a hint of chutzpah we move out.

And that’s when the amazing happens.

All glory and honor be to God.





Abundant Life

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” (John 2:1-3 NRSV)

Weddings are important events.  Bridal couples spend months preparing for the big event and they want everything to go well.  Yes, sometimes we find someone who goes overboard on the demand for perfection.  Yet, weddings are an event for setting the bar high for a memorable celebration.

In ancient days, the bride and groom would prepare for months, as well.  Their time was spent putting together enough food and wine for a seven-day celebration.  No honeymoon for them; they had guests in the groom’s home for a week!  Hospitality is everything in that part of the world.  To run out of wine is to lose face,

So the mother of Jesus (the gospel of John never mentions her by  name) turns to Jesus and comments, “They’re out of wine.”  In the middle of the celebration they run out of wine.  Disaster.  The wedding is ruined.  Will the groom ever live up to it?

But there’s more.  This is the Gospel of John, a book packed to the brim with symbolism.  In the Jewish scripture wine is a symbol of grace and joy and abundance.  The wedding hosts have run out of grace.

Jesus is reluctant to reveal his glory, but he does, anyway.  This begins his ministry and he does it without a lot of fireworks.  He tells the servants to take the 6 stone water jugs and fill them to the brim with water.  Then he has them draw out a sample for the wine steward to taste.  The wine is the best ever.  The equivalent of cases and cases and cases of the best Cabernet Sauvignon that money can buy.

Jesus supplies grace and joy and wholeness in overly abundant amounts and hardly anyone knows who’s responsible for it.  The bridegroom gets all the credit.

How have you celebrated in such a fashion?  When has “Cana Grace” taken up your life and transformed it to joy and celebration and wholeness?  I see it when our congregation comes together for a potluck.  The metaphorical wine runs free with laughter.  Members and friends catch up on the news and share pictures of their grandchildren taken on their smart phones.  Cana Grace takes place when friends gather in the backyard for a bar-b-que and laugh and talk well into the night.  Cana Grace occurs when any group of people get together to enjoy each others’ company and Jesus shows up.

Yet, sometimes we run out of wine.  We run out of joy and grace.  Families torn apart by illness or other circumstances run out wine.  People living in homes with leaky roofs and iffy electricity eventually run out of wine.  Where is God’s extravagance in these moments?  Where is the Mother of Jesus nudging God, “They have no wine”?

When is it time for us to nudge God?  When do we feel God nudging us?

“Jesus, they have no wine.”

“Yes, child.  I have the wine.  I need your hands and feet to distribute it.”

“Jesus, I’m not sure I’m enough.  In fact, I’m sure I’m not enough.”

“You’re right.  You’re not enough. But with me all things are possible.  Here’s the wine.  Go now and distribute Cana Grace.”

All glory and honor be to God.



Lived Out in Prayer

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:21-22 NRSV)

I’ve come to the conclusion that Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism is the most compelling. John is the reason. In Matthew and Luke John preaches to the crowds, calling them a “brood of vipers” (3:7) Yikes! Modern-day preachers have lost their jobs for far less!

But, it’s Luke’s version that allows the crowds to ask him, “What then should we do?” (3:10). It’s a fair question. Apparently John agrees, for he gives them good answers:
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” In other words, love and care your neighbor.

Tax collectors come to him with the same question. These men who lived on the fringes, colluding with the Romans could have been told by John to find other work. Wisely, he doesn’t. He says, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” In other words, stay put in your job where you can do your Jewish people some good.

Even the enemy, Roman soldiers, ask him.  He tells them to love your neighbor by stopping the extortion and threats and false accusations. And be satisfied with your wages.

People listened and followed him and wondered, “Could this be the Messiah promised by God?” John, sensing their question, gives them a, yet again, straight-forward answer. John not only isn’t the Messiah, his job is to point to him. John baptizes with water, but the one to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Could he be pointing to the Pentecost event?)

The baptism of Jesus isn’t described as it is in Matthew and Mark. It’s reported in the past tense: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized…” (vs 21) That’s it.

But, why would the Son of God have to be baptized? Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. When we baptize today, our liturgy clearly states that we are to repent of sin and try to live holy and joyful lives in Christ.

Again. Why did God incarnate need to be baptized?

The answer is, he didn’t need it. He did it for us.  When Jesus entered those waters, he entered it as a sign that he had come into the world to be with those tax collectors and soldiers and you and me and other sinners and saints. God had penetrated the world and this was his way of telling us that he had come to meet those of us who needed him most.

God’s creation is amazing. But, humanity has managed to find ways to distort it. Sometimes tragic things happen. Sometimes kings turn into despots; anger comes in contact with a weapon; greed and jealousy take over good intentions. Sometimes we make choices fully realizing the consequences of those actions. Sometimes, we make choices with no idea of its effect on others.

As Jesus comes out of the water, he begins to pray — something he did regularly. In prayer, God speaks and he is revealed to the world as the Messiah: the One promised by God.

His ministry is about to begin. Sadly, we read, though, that John’s ministry is coming to a close. Herod has arrested him; he’ll die by the request of a spoiled step-daughter’s request to a drunken, lusty King.

When Jesus stepped into those waters, he understood all of this. That while John languished in jail, his ministry would grow. That while Jesus chose his disciples and grew his ministry, John would pay the price of his own choices.

And it wouldn’t be long before Jesus’ choices would bring criticism: he would be accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he ate and drank with undesirables. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In all too short a time, he would be brought up on trumped up charges and face capital punishment.

So what do we do today? Recognize those who have been torn apart from a world that has an agenda different from God’s.

And as children of God, look around for evidence of Jesus’ entrance into the life and lives of those around you.

All glory and honor be to God.



Faithful Praise

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” Ephesians 1:3-4 NRSV)

God had a plan.

Before the the beginning of time; before he brought light and stars and moon and sun; before dry land appeared; before vegetation and fishes and animals to roam the earth; before humanity came into being; God had a plan.

That plan was for us and about us. We did nothing to earn it. We knew nothing about it until God was ready to give it to us. God did it for no other reason than divine desire and will. That plan was to bring us to God. The plan was to offer forgiveness for our trespasses, to break down that wall of sin that keeps us from intimate communion with God.

The plan was to adopt us and make us God’s children. A whole new identity. Belonging to God; receiving wisdom and insight so that we could come to know God better and more intimately.

Out of God’s good pleasure and lavish grace we received the most perfect gift of all.

How do we praise God for this gift? Some of us need music with simple words repeated over and over again. With hands held aloft we praise God and remember all that God has done.

Some need quiet for contemplation. I’m one who needs a good pipe organ and an Isaac Watts hymn. Okay, so I’m old fashioned. It works for me.

I wonder, at times, do we fit into God’s plan or do we shoehorn God into our own plan?

Bad news always abounds, but as 2015 comes to a close, we’re feeling the fear and worry about events more deeply. Gun violence, terrorist attacks, political infighting, unrest at every turn. We praise God until we tune into the news. After that, what can we do?

Jesus told us to love our enemies. It seems more expedient to drop a bomb on them. Jesus blessed the poor in spirit. We’d rather go shopping. Jesus blessed those who take on persecution and slander. A punch in the nose would offer a more instantaneous solution.

Yet, if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then disciple we must. How do we drop that shoehorn and fit ourselves into God’s Plan?

Praise comes in many forms. It can be worship, devotionals or singing or prayer. Perhaps praying with the newspaper open in front of you is also an act of praise.

“O God, your creation is torn apart with war and terror. Children and victims are struggling to find peace and safety. Yet, we know that only you have the final plan for peace. Only you can bring peace to our nations, your people and your creation. You’ve sent your Son, your only Son. Help us to be a part of that plan. Show us where we can be your Son’s hands and feet and voice in our world that we can see real peace some day.”

“God, you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. You have lavished us with grace and you make known your mystery to us through your wisdom and insight. Use us to be a blessing to others. Show us how to use your wisdom and insight to really listen to those with whom we disagree. We ask this that we might praise you in this broken world. We ask this so that we can see the fullness of time coming near.”

“God, we praise you that we can see evidence of your activity in the world.  We praise you for all of the nations who have opened their doors to welcome Syrian refugees.  We praise you for the churches who have welcomed them, regardless of their faith tradition, with one question, “What can we do to help?”  Help us to see your activity in the world and use us to make your creation a bit better than when we arrived.”

I wish I could write these words more eloquently. God deserves better. Yet, I also trust that God can use my words to bring home God’s point. In the midst of brokenness and fear; war and terrorism; and all the other ‘isms, can we dare to see where God wants us to fit into God’s plan?

Every time we turn to reactionary violence, we just might be trying to shoehorn God. Every time we use cruelty to win an argument, we’re attempting to create God in our own image.

God won’t be recreated. God won’t be shoehorned. God is and was and will always be…God.

So, where will you allow God to fit into the plan? As Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

All glory and honor be to God.


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