Friday, September 28, 2007

Well, anyway


My prayers for instance
poor impoverished
simple things
sometimes that’s how my prayers are
not enough.
But there is a hope that sets all to right
For there is a God who hears

A prayer can be simple or complex
sound or silly
but what unites them all
Is that “amazing grace” our Father in heaven hears
and helps
our inarticulate whispers
our fumblings and mumblings
and our silly, not enough prayers
become in heaven
things of glory
perfume rising before the Lord

Sometimes there is no prayer
we cannot speak a single word
our tears have gone too deep
our hearts are like a frozen sea
black and bleak
but know that it’s those who cannot pray
that Jesus came to save
when silence is a shackle
and despair wells within
the Holy Spirit intercedes for us
with sighs too deep for words
And God hears
God hears the soundless cry
of those whose spirit is broken
“Blessed are the poor in spirit
“Blessed are those who mourn”
Oh yes, yes, my friend, the promise is for you
for you the comfort, the very kingdom of heaven come

And when in our pilgrimage
the way seems long
the answer far away
know that in the darkness
our Lord leads the way
and soon the kingdom coming
will dawn a glorious day
“Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death
I shall fear no evil
for thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me...”

Friday, August 31, 2007

Leading a bible study in Israel, just after swimming in the Jordan
(not too muddy once you got in deeper). My mouth makes a funny shape when I am preaching! Down vanity!!!

A Pink Cadillac--Jesus Didn't Have One

In the gospel of Mark, chapter 6, Jesus comes home. For eight years I lived in Avon, South Dakota; the hometown of Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern. In fact, he was born only a few houses down from where I lived. When Avon’s centennial celebration rolled around, I was thrilled to see McGovern leading the parade; sitting in an open convertible he smiled and waved as we cheered him from the sidewalks. It was very much a happy homecoming. Jesus’ homecoming to Nazareth is happy too, but the crowd almost immediately begins to question, “ Where did this man get all this? What might works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not also his sisters here with us?” And we read shortly thereafter, “they took offense at him.” It looks as if Jesus’ triumphant homecoming has gone south. What should have been a cheering section has turned into a disgruntled mob.
Let’s try to see it from the perspective of the Nazarenes, by putting the situation in a modern day context. My hometown is Chicago. The great basketball player Michael Jordan is an abiding presence in that city. He and his friends and family still live in and frequent the area. But what if Michael Jordan’s mother was seen driving 1988 Toyota Camry, frequenting Penney’s and mowing her own grass? What would happen then? People would get suspicious. They would start to whisper, “Couldn’t MJ get his mom something better than a used Camry? Why is she still shopping at the Dollar? Hmmph...I guess MJ can’t be all that,” they would conclude. It’s a reasonable analysis, the same sort of analysis that is going on in Nazareth. “If Jesus is all that, a miracle worker and such, how come Mary his mom is still going to the well every morning with the other women? How can this man be so great since his brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon are still just working joes like us? Hmmph...” But the hometown crowd has forgotten one thing. Mary is not driving around in a pink cadillac because Jesus is the suffering servant. You see, God has decided, in his good pleasure and in his mercy to heal the world. How? He will heal death with death, he will heal our burdens by burdening his son, he will heal our wounds from sin by allowing his son to be wounded This is the REAL plan of salvation. Jesus can’t give his mom a pink caddy or the first century equivalent because he is the man of sorrows, meek and lowly. Jesus’ glory is not a gold Rolls Royce or bling for his friends and family but a wooden cross and the death of a criminal. The hometown crowd has the wrong idea and they are hostile toward Jesus, but Jesus’ glory is to take away our wrong ideas and to reconcile us to the Lord, while we are yet grumbling, hostile and hateful to the Lord of love, by whose stripes and in whose humility we are healed and lifted on high.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Big Words--"Justification by Grace"

What do we mean by the words, “righteousness” and
“justice?” Sometimes we use these words but what do
they really mean? Their definitions in, say,
Webster’s Dictionary are also hard to understand. But
what if we look for their definitions in the Bible?
Now, certainly we can’t page through it as we would
Webster’s and expect a definition and yet, I think the
true meaning of “righteousness,” “justice,” and
“salvation” are perhaps ONLY found in the Bible.
There the answer to “What is justice?” is simple and
direct. Justice, righteousness, is the Exodus. God
told the children of Israel, “Stand still and you will
see salvation...and those enemies behind you, you’ll
never see them again. Things were bad for Israel at
this point. The Jewish people have faced so many
sorrows and horrors but the Exodus was different.
Israel was not just facing a massacre, not just a war,
but total annihilation. Had the Egyptians in their
chariots been able to overtake them that would have
been the end of Israel forever. All were gathered
together on the banks of the Red Sea, none had been
left behind in Egypt. When the Israelites look behind
them they saw correctly not the death of a portion of
Israel, however large, but the wiping away of Israel
from the face of the earth. At a Passover meal the
family and guests do not say, “Thank you Lord for
saving those other people, way back when” but rather
“Thank you Lord for saving me, for saving us.”
Because quite literally there would be no feast, no
guests were it not for God’s actions at the Red Sea.
And these actions, as we learn from the Bible are
justice, are righteousness, salvation. If we want to
know the definition of that rather long word,
“righteousness” now we know where to look. It’s when
Moses stretched out his hand and the sea parted and
the children of Israel walked through on dry ground.
The chariots followed after but the Lord told Moses to
stretch out his staff again and the waters closed over
those Egyptians. When Israel, standing on the bluffs,
saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians, they believed in
God and in his servant Moses. All of the above,
that’s righteousness.

In this same way we can understand “justification by
grace." When Jesus died on that cross on Golgotha,
he makes a “way out of no way,” an exodus for you and
me, one by one we are being freed, and one by one,
seeing this salvation we believe in God and in his
servant Jesus. All of the above, that’s justification
by grace! Simply put, justification is the Exodus,
the Exodus through Jesus. God makes a way out of no
way by dying and rising for the sake of the world.
The waters have parted and our enemies are kaput.
“Justification by grace” seems like something hard to
understand, and we can’t depend on Webster’s for the
definition, but if we look to the Bible story the
meaning is opened to us. “Justification by
grace”--God carrying out his plan from the beginning,
to bring the world, “the nations that sat in darkness”
to the table of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that all
might be heirs, children of our Father in heaven.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lessons from Joseph

A few years ago I got a chance to see a school
production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat. I remember really enjoying it and saying
to myself “How wonderful!” It was also food for
thought. For the first time I asked, “Why did Joseph
pretend not to know his brothers? Why did Joseph
accuse his brothers of being spies? Was it just to be
mean and vindictive? Did Joseph hate his brothers?”
As I returned to the Biblical story, I found the
answer to be a resounding “no.” Joseph loved his
brothers, witness his tears and what he does for them
all in the end. Neither was Joseph cruel and
vindictive. Rather, Joseph was showing his brothers
their sin. When Joseph accuses them of being spies,
not hearing their pleas for mercy or their
protestations of innocence, he is revealing their
transgression against the young Joseph. Just as
Joseph cried and pleaded from the pit into which his
brothers had thrown him, so now his brothers' pleas
are not heard. The eleven realize all of this from the
first, saying to one another as they are being
threatened by the incognito Joseph, “We are truly
guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the
anguish of his soul when he besought us and we would
not hear, therefore this distress has come upon us.”
Even when Joseph threatens to take away Benjamin, this
too serves a purpose. The eleven brothers understand
for the first time what it meant to their father Jacob
when Joseph was taken away, the grief they have loaded
on their papa’s aged head.

This is a good lesson for us. God like Joseph
sometimes brings us to grief in order to show us our
sin. For instance, sometimes in church when I hear
the beautiful music or when I am preparing a sermon, I
realize how good God is and how merciful and at that
moment I feel sorry and grieved. I feel sorry for my
sourness and selfishness and self-pity. This is
because at that moment I know that unlike me, God is
loving and selfless, giving his only begotten son for
our sakes and I want to be better. You see, church is
not just a place to come to feel content about
ourselves. Rather church is a place where God strikes
to the heart, convicting us of our sin. It is true
that the Lord loves us and is faithful to us while we
are yet sinners. God loves sinners, so much so that he
sent his only son. And yet, he does not allow us to
remain in our sin. He is the Great Physician,
sometimes cutting and grieving us to the heart in
order to rid us of the cancer of our iniquity. Thank
God that he does not just let us alone. Rather, Jesus,
like Joseph, is our dear brother and he loves us and
shows us the truth, giving us wholeness and peace.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some Little Poems

The Red Sea

The Lord led Israel out to the Sea
He wanted those slaves to be happy and free.

The Israelites were scared, they thought they were stuck!
But the Egyptians instead, got stuck in the muck.

The Israelites were saved! They stood on the shore!
But the cruel Egyptians were no more!

And then in God and Moses they were believin'
Because of the wonders their eyes were seein'


Jonah was mad 'cause God was so kind
"God would forgive those Ninevites?" "Was he blind?!"

So out on the sea Jonah set sail at once
"No! I won't prophesy"
"I'm no dunce!"

But our good Lord had other plans
A storm was brewin' to beat the band

And the prophet Jonah was thrown into the sea!
He sat in the belly of the whale
days, one two and three!

And when he got out,Jonah was sent
To warn the Ninevites, they had to repent.

And the Ninevites did, both great and small.
And Jonah learned something about God's love for us all.

The Call

Fishermen, fishing on the sea
But Jesus said, Follow me!

When they heard his voice, they followed him then
He would make them fishers of men.

Jesus Rules the Sea

The waves of the sea crashed up and down
The great storm made a horrible sound!

The disciples were scared,"We're going to die!"
And to Jesus asleep, they did fly.

And Jesus awoke and heard their plea
They didn't know: God rules the sea!

Then Jesus stilled the storm, made the wind cease.
And all around was perfect peace.

Jesus, Our Friend

Jesus came down to the seaside that night
And helped the disciples in their plight

No fish they had caught, they were lost indeed
Silently they prayed, "Help us, please!"

And Jesus came and stood on the shore
"Cast in your net, you'll find fish galore!"

He gave them breakfast there on the sand
And told them all about his good plans.

That all the world might be happy and free
It all started there, on sea of Galilee

God's Throne

God's throne sits on a crystalline sea
He watches over us all, for he loves you and me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Matthew 28: Some Doubted

It is no great concern to us that some of the disciples doubted when they saw the resurrected Jesus on that mountain in Galilee. And yet it is of great concern when people outside the church doubt or disbelieve. That's what's called a double standard, and a damnable one! Somehow it's okay for the "in group" to disbelieve, but those on the outs "will die and go to hell!" No, rather, it's serious, and a great sin, no, the symptom of THE GREATEST sin, when we disbelieve or doubt, whether we are seminary students or people who have never lives darkened a church door. But notice, is the wrath of the Lord on those who disbelieve? Does the ground give way underneath them? No, not because their sins and troubles and diseases are not great, but because God is so good.
When Jacob disbelieved that his son Joseph was alive, what did God do? Did God, rain down fire and brimstone on the despairing, faithless Jacob, Jacob whose life was filled with hard knocks, wanderings and travails, but who was also not a blameless man, but a trader "with false balances," a trickster and in his faithlessness and lack of confidence, even a thief in his youth? The answer is no. Instead, God overwhelms Jacob's despair and faithlessness. When Jacob heard Joseph's message, the words that Joseph meant especially for his longsuffering father, when Jacob saw the rich caravan that Joseph had sent for him, Jacob's spirit revived and he says, "It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive; I will go and see him before I die."

In other words, we must not say, "those who disbelieve or doubt will go to hell." That's like saying in the moment before his spirits revived "Jacob will die in despair not knowing the grace of God who brings his beloved son back to him." It is, at the very least, short-sighted. We CAN say, quoting Revelation 21 that there will be none of the "cowardly, the faithless, the polluted etc.," in the New Jerusalem. But we cannot say, "those who disbelieve will go to hell" Why? because we do not know what the next movement by God will be. God is free to overwhelm the despairing and hopeless with good news. God is both willing and able to overwhelm all faithlessness, just as did with Jacob, just as he did with the doubting disciples. Not even death can limit the power of God. The gates of hell crumple before Jesus. Therefore, let's leave it up to God's mercy and goodness, not presuming to know the mind of the Lord, remembering that his thoughts and plans are very different from our own, giving thanks for the gift of belief, that sure sight, but also remembering that even "when we are faithless God is faithful, for he cannot deny himself."

Matthew 9:9 No Puppets

Jesus says to Matthew the tax collector, "Follow me." Is Matthew a sort of puppet? Jesus pulling the strings and Matthew rising and following him? I asked myself about light at the very beginning. Is light a kind of puppet, God flips the switch and voila? My father pointed out to me that this question becomes clearer when we consider the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. We must ask ourselves, is Jesus, as pictured by Isaiah in the above mentioned chapter, a puppet? The answer is no, of course. Isaiah does not want to get across to us that Jesus is a marionette jerked around on strings. Instead the picture we get is one of freedom. Just before Jesus commands Matthew "Follow me," he says to the paralytic, "Rise and walk." The Bible is not presenting a picture of the paralytic as a puppet but rather as a healed man, freed, in fact, from his long infirmity. In the same way, Matthew is now a free man when he rises to follow Jesus. It may be that light is made free when God commands it.

The usual idea about freedom is that free will is the ability to say, yes or no. Bonhoeffer contradicts this when he says that our freedom is only found in obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our imprisonment and slavery is found in disobedience to God. Like Barth who corrected Rousseau's "I think therefore I am" by saying "I am thought on by God, therefore I am," Bonhoeffer corrects and tempers our philosophy of freedom.

Our ideas about freedom, like every other philosophy, are tempered, guided and turned on their heads by the Bible.