Monday, June 30, 2008

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Pentecost +8 – Year A

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I not only like it when things go as I expect, I demand that they do. Elseways I am not able to keep my entitlement quotient where I am comfortable.

Outcomes be hanged, I am only interested in having intentions with plausible deniability. This keeps my ability to demand in good shape from having been exercised so much.

So let us give thanks for all those times when everyone is wrong in their anticipation of being justified. There is an opening here giving hope that we might yet rest from living out of speculation and appreciate actual deeds all the more.

When not trapped in our own speculative expectation, or those of others, we find a reenergizing that comes with dropping that huge burden.

The burden of expectation is not easily identifiable as either being present or a burden. It is simply the water in which we swim. One way of looking at how Jesus was able to be so connected with G*D is his ability to not get caught in the usual expectations with which our cultures surround us. Be freed from expectations and vision is cleared to be able experience the presence of G*D.

Friday, June 27, 2008

from here to eternity

Pentecost +7 – Year A

hold on to your winged feet
life is mercurial
found only to be lost
in the finding

in such expected loss
new possibilities open
while past sensibilities
are sacrificed

how long rings the cry
'til the lost is found again
and lost again
'til a gain is simply gain

so let us not be exercised
regarding some specific
model of freedom
for life complexly is

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Romans 6:12-23

Pentecost +7 – Year A

Romans 6:12-23

There is an old saying, "Out of the frying pan, into the fire." Usually that is not a good way to go. But, if we begin to play with the fire of Pentecost we are only seven weeks away from, this can speak to us of the freedom of G*D. Pentecost involves us again with other people, strangers, even.

We need to learn to reframe our language for our own larger living. This reframing also lets us listen better to others that we might accurately understand their perspective. In listening we also become authorized to speak their language and to help reframe it.

As long as we avoid this business of sharpening our thinking and living out of a values code that contains an appreciation of ambiguity, we will find our freedom continually reduced to less than a mustard seed worth of it.

By seeing a freedom beyond our current intolerable situation we can step out of the situation we are in by looking inward and begin to move beyond the dead end of a frying pan. Jump now into the arms of a larger community and a multitude of sanctifying gifts - many of which are different than yours.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Psalm 13

Pentecost +7 – Year A

Psalm 13

In the face of steadfast love there is but the moment.
"How long?" can only be responded to with a variation on the old children's game, "So-o-o-o long."

Through the depths and heights, joys and sorrows, time and yet time again, forgotten and remembered, we have this portion of "So-o-o-o long". It is just long enough to raise a glass in toast and to raise a voice in song.

Come from mud and moving to dust we join in another chorus from St. Woodie:
     So long, it's been good to know yuh;
     So long, it's been good to know yuh;
     So long, it's been good to know yuh.
     This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,
     And I got to be driftin' along.

So Abraham is set free from having to sacrifice. Isaac is set free from having to be sacrificed. Lovers of fathers and mothers and lovers are set free from their co-dependency. Righteous folk and thirsters after righteousness are set free from creedal restrictions on their actions. Angels are set free from having to tote sheep to high places.

     This dusty old dust is a-getting' my home,
     And I choose to be kind as I go driftin' along.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Genesis 22:1-18

Pentecost +7 – Year A

Genesis 22:1-18

There's a song popularized by the Mills Brothers:
     You always hurt the one you love
     The one you shouldn't hurt at all
     You always take the sweetest rose
     And crush it till the petals fall
     You always break the kindest heart
     With a hasty word you can't recall
     So If I broke your heart last night,
     It's because I love you most of all

What strange things we project onto love. Can you really love sinners without really simply loving sinners. Can you love G*D and go all the way to hurting a loved one in your heart (if not in deed – stopping one ram short of sacrifice).

"Love me more (and more and more and more)" is an appeal to betrayal of other loves.

In an Edenic garden no slack was given, G*D sacrificed G*D's own image. At the beginning of this story, still no slack is given, Abraham is to sacrifice his own image. This is either profound counterintuitiveness or its just dumb. What have you found about losing your life for the sake of another? What have you found about the cost of not losing your life?

Have you found the shifting point that moves from "prove your love to me by betraying another love" to "stop that"?

= = = = = = =

Here is a slightly modified comment from one of the lists I follow (Midrash). Thought you might be interested:

…a caution.... we can get all kinds of self-righteous about the text (and yes, it is a horrible story - it is supposed to be!), but at some point don't we want to see what it brings, instead of reading ourselves into it? (Have you ever noticed how quickly mainliners and progressives can turn into Biblical literalists?)….

It does no good to require of Abraham the sensibilities of a 21st century, college-educated social worker. He lived 3,000 years ago as a primitive tribal chieftain at the edge of pre-history, where … child sacrifice was not uncommon among other peoples in the area. Here's an ancient piece of oral history, told and re-told for a reason. Probably to discern who God is - and turns out God is NOT the one who demands child sacrifice. … it illustrates an evolution in our understanding. Seems to me Abraham is not the one who says "No", but God is the one who says "No." … Abraham had it wrong, and God intervened.

How is that illustrative to us? All the ways we still sacrifice our children, even down to sending them to war for what turn out to be questionable reasons. Does God not still say, "No."?

This story pushes me into the territory of personal heresy, because if it is true and remains true, then God's intention in sending Jesus among us was NOT substitutionary blood atonement, but that we might listen to him and be reconciled. And the accepted doctrine that Jesus had to die for our sins turns out to be a strange twist on a sad set
of events. What if, what if, we were to say that God became incarnate in Christ Jesus, the Word became flesh, and (like Abraham) we misunderstood and killed the messenger, the reconciler, instead? And the Resurrection was God's way of saying, "NO! Stop it!" (?)

And instead of killing the Son through whom the future was promised, we back away from the knife, the Cross, and come down from the dark mountain chastened?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Matthew 10:37-42

Pentecost +7 – Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

"Who do you love more?" is one of those imponderable questions. Parents can be quick to affirm they love all their children equally. For them it is not a question of more or less, but how they will evidence their love in this circumstance, with this child.

Trying to parse out degrees of love, qualities of love, always runs into further debilitating debates of worth and deservedness that further divide us.

Do you love G*D more than Neighbor, self more than "one another", and any of these more than an enemy? For every ranking there is a loss. This leads us back to the mystery of one and all. If I don't love one uniquely more than another, how can I love any other? If I don't love all more than this one, how can I love this one at all. This unrelenting slide along a continuum can be a most false and soul-wrenching ride or a most life-giving reception of the depths of joy.

Hear Eugene Peterson's much clearer statement of the intertwining of lives alongside one another rather than the competition of above and below a cut-line:
     "Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice."

The smallest amount of love (given or received!) is large enough to open a way for more.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kindness beyond limits

Pentecost +6 – Year A

To what end are you living? This is more than a purpose statement that its not about you. Whether you use G*D language or something larger, for what will you stand in the face of others telling you to sit down, to be bluffed into silence?

There is not a way to take ourselves out of this equation called life. Whether we are images of G*D or have become same, whether children of Ishmael or Isaac or another tradition entirely, we are to be on one another's side as we grow up together in this and every wilderness.

So, look one another in the eye and show kindness – the kind of kindness that revels in living beyond the limitations handed us and expands what we know as family.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Romans 6:1b-11

Pentecost +6 – Year A

Romans 6:1b-11

While appreciating plays of concepts on several different levels, this passage is particularly dense. Issues of death and resurrection, baptism and sin weave and interweave until it may sound as if the only bottom-line available is that we are baptized into death rather than into resurrection and that sin needs to die rather than be baptized and resurrected.

Consider Hagar whose vision of a well may be her equivalent of baptism and how it leads to life in a new land or an entering into a new country of unexpected grace (using some of Eugene Peterson's imagery). Consider the disciples invited to live so openly and beyond their tribal past that the derision of the cross would become inevitable for them.

Certainly there are those who arrive at this position and understand that their beginning spot was focusing on their sin in order to do it in, to overcome it, to reduce it to naught. Their driver is death of sin. Baptism comes as a flood of grace.

Certainly there are those who arrive at this position and understand that their beginning spot was focusing on new life where none seemed possible - to revision the world, to undergird it, to bring forth new relationships. Their driver is resurrection past the sin of others. Baptism comes as a crack of grace in a cosmic egg (reference to an interesting book by Joseph Chilton Pearce).

Do we need to set sister against sister against brother against parent against all others to chose one of these? Will the "end of death-as-the-end" have to play itself out once again as Christianity comes to another opportunity for definition?

So what do we do in the midst of such language that seems lawyerly enough open more loopholes than it closes?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Pentecost +6 – Year A

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

This psalm was probably selected with an eye to Hagar, extending her complaint in the wilderness.

There is a sense of this Psalm being more about shaming than survival. The reason I desire to be rescued is to put it to those who put me in harm's way.

All the buttering up of God is to get what I want – revenge.

Although difficult it is probably worth the exercise to listen to our actual language and our intentions for same. The seeds of hypocrisy are sown in this divide within ourselves of flowery language for base motives. Usually this is very difficult work for someone to do alone. Therefore the importance of a community of honest friends who will reflect to us our internal disconnect.

How goes it with those you are listening to? How goes it with those who are listening to you?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Genesis 21:8-21

Pentecost +6 – Year A

Genesis 21:8-21

More with the divisions between us being stronger than what holds us together. The power of the blood tribe is "strong", just like the state of the nation. Embarrassment at not being first, when all the promises and work were mine, is also strong. It doesn't take much for us to feel that we are underappreciated and protection of our perception is certainly worth a life or two.

As we travel along we keep forgetting it is the second kid, the last kid, that seems to have a line of the future running through them. Second-born Isaac remains second born and a line for the Hebrew/Jewish tradition to follow.

It will be important to follow all of the Ishmael/Isaac encounters to catch a glimpse of reconciliation and working together at Abraham's death and to take their respective honored places when generational leadership came to them.

So who is the good and the bad here? Sarah protecting her own and giving up another? Abraham giving a skin of water, so little against a large desert? Hagar for lifting a voice in weeping even if departing without a confrontation? Unnamed Ishmael another nimrod who anticipates Jacob's teasing? Isaac so young, so symbolic?

Of these six archetypes, which most closely approximates your past? your present? your desire? Note that each is a mixed bag and so this question is not about ideals on one side, but the mixture of motives and actions that is you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Matthew 10:24-39

Pentecost +6 – Year A

Matthew 10:24-39

How sad when we get caught in the position of being determined by another. Whether this determination is by person, institution, or god, it is always a set-up for revolution. The seed of destruction of a positive value is found in its attempt to claim ultimacy or requirement of obedience.

Have no fear of those who are not in on the joke of creation. They can do damage while stumbling about containing laughter, but eventually even they will come see sparrow and head hair and peace-offerers as sisters and brothers of their own time in paradise and chuckle at both the similarities and differences.

With that aside, back to being determined. Is Jesus really so limited that he has no choice but to promote those who pat him on the back and demote those who challenge him? How about yourself? Is that a teacher at work or a ideologue program trying to test students into improvement?

An argument can be made that this statement attributed to Jesus runs contrary to his larger vision of taking up a cross, regardless of how others respond. It is at this point that a choice is put before us. Will we continue in some judgment process or some faithful action process?

So, whether we are currently up to it or not, this is practice time to move away from hierarchies of student disciples and teacher messiahs or of differing economic strata.

The practical implication here is that it is more important to act from what we understand in whispers (an expansive and expanding love is our key insight) than what others are shouting after us (do "this" and I'll come; do "that" and I'll give).

Friday, June 13, 2008


Pentecost +5 – Year A











Thursday, June 12, 2008

Romans 5:1-11

Pentecost +5 – Year A

Romans 5:1-11

What begins as compassion might end as reconciliation. While there are many bumps along this road that can detour our journey to such a destination, reconciliation is contained within promises of healing and simply promises.

Compassion has its genesis in the midst of things gone wrong, promises delayed to the point of seeming impossibility. Here in a problematic zone we might see more clearly what needs to be rectified. One of these places of clarity is when facing an "enemy".

In such locations reconciliation both rises to a greater need to be experienced and costs the most to offer. Sometimes we find ourselves talking about the cost of sacrifice to come to a place of compassion and reconciliation. What we reflect on less is the cost of resurrection, a much deeper and expanded source of compassion and reconciliation. This resurrectional approach looks for a change not only in the one offered compassion and re-opened to a possibility of reconciliation, but a change in the one offering such gifts.

Here we are offered a new picture of the limits of sacrifice qua sacrifice – it doesn't make it to resurrection and so compassion is short-lived or soon-left in the face of fatigue or a next need that tugs at our heart. Resurrectional compassion allows us to stay and stay – like The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) stays long after the first wave of compassion-givers has come and gone to a next event.

This puts into play both a ranking of compassions (hard-wired humanity, sacrificial, and resurrectional) and a gift of compassion given on many levels (short-term emotion vs. longer-term intentionality, band-aids and systemic involvement).

May you boast well of your place in the keeping of promises made and the keeping-of-promises-made alive.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Pentecost +5 – Year A

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Oh how we like to be acknowledged. Because my voice has been heard, I’ll go ahead to the next testing time. And woe be to the god that disappoints, that does not acknowledge me.

What is life, but one great series of trust tests? a sequence of tits for tats? when you scratch my back, I’ll return the favors?

Into this reality, there eventually comes a question of what I will do with or without trust. Well? To what are you going to be true? Will you remain in relationship when the trust test falters and fails? For every 10 times you have been responded to, does the respondent receive a get-out-of-disappointment card?

Is this process translatable to what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so that you might also accumulate forgivenesses and opportunities to try trusting again?

Without falling prey to issues of abuse, what are your current boundaries of compassion and how would you contrast and compare them with previous boundaries and hoped for boundaries? In responding, don’t forget to consider this from the perspective of being on both the giving and receiving end of compassion or trust.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Genesis 18:1-15

Pentecost +5 – Year A

Genesis 18:1-15

“Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” said the White Queen to Alice. I don’t believe the Queen laughed much, though. What is the use of such belief if it is not tied to laughter?

The Queen had the disadvantage of living backward, while we are trying to live forward. It is this forward focus that turns promises into laughter. The denial of laughter is a step toward the prison of fear.

I yearn for more laughter in the world that comes from an unrepentant response to such a vision as the presence of G*D coming on earth in the form of such as myself! or you! or us together! Can’t you see it now, entering our next childhood! Such a silly picture as “second childhood” can be putting a best spin on the aging process. But beyond that limited use, isn’t life laughable – what we will become –what will come forth from us.

It might be said that acting compassionately is keeping a larger hope alive – both within ourselves and within others.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Pentecost +5 – Year A

Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

What might be the good news of the presence of G*D? We hear about proclamations and healings, but the good news standing behind them is that of compassion for folks who are harassed and helpless, confused and aimless.

The field in need of compassion is huge, larger than one would hope. It takes all the compassion I have, and then some. It takes all the compassion a village has at its disposal. Villages that raise compassionate children, still find the need for this gift to be too big, never-ending. A danger is compassion-fatigue and so it is important to travel with support (as mentioned elsewhere as being sent two-by-two).

So, really, Jesus sends those who had experienced his compassion out to be compassionate. The way their compassion was acted out and reported on repeated the external tasks of witnessing and making whole, but the real good news was simply folks being present with folks in a compassionate manner.

Of course compassion is a political act and counter-cultural act in today’s world (beware of those claiming to be compassionate too glibly) and so one does need to keep alert to the resistant forces. This is not to shy away from them, but to judiciously decide where to engage and where to wait (both being compassionate responses when paid attention to).

Truly, when we are acting compassionately we are in the presence of an incarnation of G*D, a beloved one, and it turns out to be us. In this presence the code language comes true, the “Son of Man” has come again. Go forth to be compassionate and let the rest fall where it may.

Friday, June 06, 2008

caller callee

Pentecost +4 – Year A

just toddling along
oh so merrily along
along came a caller
calling uncallable folk

what a tangled web
was woven flexibly
between warp and woof
grace and mercy

patterns cease to matter
caller becomes called
only to be called again
and to call

frowned upon officials
privileged officials
the sick and dead
callers and are called

can you use the word call
in a sentence this week
can you listen past calling
to hear another call

caller and called
fast and feast
overalls and silk blouse
shape a life's quilt

just toddling along
open to the moment
amazing amazement
flows merrily along

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Romans 4:13-25

Pentecost +4 – Year A

Romans 4:13-25


Three different relationships.

How do you rank them?
Which do you live out of most?

In which do your own actions make a difference to a perceived outcome? Can your works change a promise? covenant? contract?

In which might someone else's actions make a difference to a perceived outcome? Can Jesus' "sacrifice" change a promise? covenant? contract?

If a corollary to Promise is Trust, what are the corollaries for Covenant and Contract? For the moment, playing with Obedience and Responsibility, what might this thought do to such an old standard as "Trust and Obey"?

In today's world we are politically driven to issues of verification in treaties. Presume that "Heaven" is on its way to "Earth", does verification remain an issue for those who are disposed toward promise? covenant? contract?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Psalm 33:1-12

Pentecost +4 – Year A

Psalm 33:1-12

"Praise befits the upright." (NRSV)
"Right-living people sound best when praising." (The Message)

So do you start with the praise or the people? Where would you put the emphasis?

"He (sic) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the 'Lord'." (NRSV)

"He (sic) loves it when everything fits, when his (sic) world is in plumb-line true." (The Message)

We still feel constrained by the tradition handed down to us. Literalism carries the burden of the past into the present.

One of the barriers to righteousness and justice, fit and true, is the weight of tradition that is mighty and will withstand much on the way to learning a new thing. Wherever a small change can be introduced, it is worth the effort. Here we raise doubt about an overemphasis upon maleness and personalness of that which is generally indicated by the too-small word, "God". One small word or refusing to be limited to one small word can lead to a new understanding and structuring. Regardless of how daunting the task to get past the traditions blocking the very righteousness and fitness they claim to desire, it is worth the effort. Hopefully you have a recent experience of seeing your faithfulness as a source of praise..

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Genesis 12:1-9

Pentecost +4 – Year A

Genesis 12:1-9

Jesus called and was called. Abram and Sari and Lot and others were called and call.

Call is closely allied to blessing. Blessing is where a call is intended to lead. Blessings are available to and through the one(s) called.

In fact call and blessing are so strong that they often overshoot the mark. We catch a glimpse of the extra energy that comes from call and blessing when Abram and the lot make it to the land of Canaan, have it acknowledged that this is the place that was the goal, and then find themselves unable to stop the journey, the call, the blessing and moved on from there to east of Bethel and then south to the Negev.

One could always argue that these subsequently named places are all part of some "promised land" and Abram was but staking out various part of it. But if we read but one more verse we find Abram all the way into Egypt. There is a sense of bait and switch here with Abram seemingly promised good things to come and ending up in a famine that pushes him on beyond Canaan. Promises delayed is going to be theme for awhile (still).

You may want to track this in your own life of calls and blessings overshot and delayed. While we usually focus in on just the pericope at hand, in this instance it is helpful to go the extra mile and read a bit beyond the appointed stopping place.

A later reflection on the "overshoot" phenomena suggests that call and blessing can easily be sidetracked through a mechanism of pride. It appears that call and blessing do not live easily with humility. A struggle, rather than cooperation, between these gifts can delay each of their benefits, both for self and others.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Matthew 9:9-26

Pentecost +4 – Year A

Matthew 9:9-26

While it is fun to eternally play with the "Why" questions of life that will seemingly never be settled, even with cute retorts about physicians and bridegrooms, the larger parenthesis of this passage is that of action.

We begin with a not-so-innocent bystander minding his own tax forms and everyone's, who is called to action – "Follow" – and he does.

We end with caller being called. "Follow", says another official to Jesus. And follow Jesus does. Even with delays along the way Jesus follows. He follows into a present past and then leads to call again from an unexpected future.

Between calling and being called there are those fun questions of "Why?" For the moment put them aside for if they are not able to be treated as poetry they will eternally trip us up and divide us.

Another take would have Jesus learning the mercy he claims G*D desires. This mercy shows a new way of doing business – a caller is ready to be called. It is so easy to claim that a caller has priority over the called. It is a mercy to not be trapped into a position, even one as exalted as Messiah. Hear again how Jesus is called away from teaching to living his teaching with his action. Mercy entails life changes in the face of other plans that had been made.