Friday, February 27, 2009

Beloved enough

Lent 1 – Year B

Beloved enough
to have an ark-large project capture your imagination
to have a rain bow stop storming at you
to have a shame-based entitlement divide your family

Beloved enough
to call G*D to account
to claim innocence and advanced learning
to shame those treacherous others

Beloved enough
to connect with previous generations
to see behind ritual to resurrection
to have pride of place

Beloved enough
to see a blessing crack in everything
to be sustained in a wilderness
to boldly appropriate a prophet's message

Thursday, February 26, 2009

1 Peter 3:18-22

Lent 1 – Year B

1 Peter 3:18-22

This passage would benefit from an earlier start – either verse 8 or 13, take your pick.

Starting earlier gives a much better context for talking about suffering. This sets it in the context of a blessing opportunity when mean and nasty things occur (intended and unintended). Otherwise we tend to get into theological and Christological debates with much sound and fury. It is to this blessing business we are called and suffering is a subpoint under that.

It is the blessing opportunity rather than the opportunity to suffer that allows us to engage with gentleness and reverence rather than grouchy retribution.

Start earlier - the lection committee will never know and if they do find out, they may change their plan.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Psalm 25:1-10

Lent 1 – Year B

Psalm 25:1-10

Compare verse 10 in the NRSV:
"All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
     for those who keep his covenant and his decrees."

"From now on every road you travel
Will take you to God.
Follow the Covenant signs;
Read the charted Directions."

Given that the Noah Covenant and some others originate from and are focused on what G*D will do, there isn't much for us to do to keep them as they are G*D's. We can however observe the Covenants made by G*D and use them in navigating life.

There is a feel of exclusiveness in the NRSV that fits well with a chosen-ness, a belovedness, but not so well with passing that blessing on. Even if you don't keep a particular covenant and decree, you are yet on your way to G*D.

So, what covenant signs do you recognize? Are doing more than recognizing them and actually using them?

Genesis 9:8-17

Lent 1 – Year B

Genesis 9:8-17

What do you use as a sign of a covenant between yourself and the rest of creation? G*D copyrighted the rainbow for universal covenanting purposes. This still leaves lots of other ways in which you can remind yourself that (positively) you are tied in with everything and that (negatively) you will refrain from being destructive.

My "Camping" model Swiss Army Knife does some of that for me. It reminds me of when G*D tented among us, my enjoyment of living creatures in their element, and tinkering with things to get them back to usefulness. I expect that won't do it for you, so what is your covenantal sign with the rest of creation?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mark 1:9-15

Lent 1 – Year B

Mark 1:9-15

In long years gone ago, while traveling to High School sports games there would be the opening of bus windows and loud singing –
     Everywhere we go people want to know who we are,
     so we tell them, we are MG [school name or initials], mighty, mighty MG.

Last week we were on a mountain top singing this same rowdy ditty transformed to a meditative mantra,
     Everywhere we are we still want to know who we are,
     so we say we are beloved, very, very beloved.

[The cadence changes an emphasis upon "we" and places it upon "are" – will have to consider whether this is helpful or not, but for now I'll let it stand hope someone will clean it up.]

This week, about as low down as we can get on the surface of the earth, we are still singing this love song. You are still singing it from last week, right?

When the dearly beloved was asked a week ago about listening to 38 years of my sermonizing she was quick to respond, "each sermon is new, and yet each sermon is the same." When further queried, the clarification was that each sermon was crafted for its setting, even when preached three times in a row on a Sunday morning, but that it always said the same thing, "We're beloved, now how are we going to transform the world."

Presuming there is more truth than not in such an affirmation, it is amazingly mysterious how many changes can be rung from such a beginning point. So, let's sing it again . . . .
     Everywhere we are we still want to know who we are,
     so we say we are beloved, very, very beloved.


Friday, February 20, 2009


Epiphany Last – Year B

First read a poem, signup for their daily email service, and then return here.

- - - - - - - -

Too much cannot be made of revisting the mountain-top experience of Jesus – repeating the baptismal introduction of belovedness. Imaginative people have tried to push that belovedness backward toward birth and generational genealogies. They have also picked and chosen episodes after to give evidence of such belovedness.

When all is said and done, belovedness is such an experience that one will let everything else go to have received it. While a bit of belovedness can be anticipated, it is the receiving, yes, the receiving.

Belovedness makes sense of the prophets of old and resurrections yet to be. It is spoken to the ancient ones and those about to walk forward. Belovedness has already been calling, in our day. May we partner with it as the crux of our life and extension of life.

"God is given two chances to speak, a great opportunity for any actor in any story, and God repeats the same line with only minor variations. This indicates either a remarkable lack of imagination, a monumental case of stage fright, or a powerful fixation on a crucial message that must be delivered. While each of these possibilities ought to be explored when developing a way to tell this story, the last seems most promising." [Richard W. Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller’s Commentary – Year B – The Pilgrim Press, pp. 129-132.]

If you were given a second chance to speak life to life, what word would you use?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2 Corinthians 1:18-22 and 4:3-6

Epiphany Last – Year B

2 Corinthians 1:18-22 and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

To stay in the realm of "Yes and No" is to veil ourselves – not veiling Moses, Jesus, or G*D, but ourselves.

There is the reality that there is always more information coming and our very decision to say either "Yes" or "No" changes the situation. And so we have plenty of excuses of which we might avail ourselves.

Our call is to let the "Yes" and "No" living within us loose. In this a clear "Yes" will brighten the darkness of a veiled "Yes/No" and a clear "No" will shine on nearby paths to identify the darkest down which we need not go. For generations we have tasted the knowledge of "Good" and "Evil". It is time to take that knowledge and put it to work with good energy.

Of course we will need to be gentle with those who get their "Yes" mixed up with their "No" and stick their head where the sun shines not. Likewise our compassion will be with those yet unable to leave the comfort of confusion and who enjoy the speculative play of forever pitting a "Yes" against a "No." Sometimes that gentle compassion will need to be directed toward our own self.

Through whatever fits and starts you need yet to come, let your light shine out of darkness. For my sake, please, shine. I'll do my best to return the favor.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Psalm 41 and Psalm 50:1-6

Epiphany Last – Year B

Psalm 41 and Psalm 50:1-6

Zion, perfection of beauty, is filled with those who consider the poor from the perspective of G*D. G*D does not keep silence about such injustice and neither do citizens of Zion.

This is a workable image, but there is still work to be done regarding sacrifice and recompense. I suppose there is an understandable amount of knee-jerk response to having been injured that desires to injure back. It is hard to imagine how poor those who cause poverty are – while having plenty of resources they are poor stewards and participants in a larger creation oriented toward the common good. It is probably also understandable how we would want to see ourselves, poor in so many ways, still part of a favored, separate but faithful group. When looked at with perspective, though, this attempt at forcing our way into an in-group, betrays the image in which we have been made – that was willing to live with such as ourselves as an image. This may be the place for the old line about not belonging to any club that would have me as a member.

Perhaps it is enough to simply end at the beginning: Zion, perfection of beauty, is filled with those who consider the poor from the perspective of G*D and do not keep silence about injustice. Welcome citizen.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Isaiah 43:18-25 and 2 Kings 2:1-14

Epiphany Last – Year B

Isaiah 43:18-25 and 2 Kings 2:1-14

Don't hold on to former things /for\ a new thing is springing forth. (Isaiah)

Don't stay behind /for\ double blessings lie ahead. (2 Kings)

With these two summaries (continuing the tension between Epiphany 7 and Epiphany Last) we find moments of transfiguration right on this cusp of past and present/future.

These moments are precious. They are call-moments, direction-setting moments that are within and without what has been seen as a religious context.

So, what does it take to be aware of these opportune times? Well, watching or perceiving. This is difficult work to do alone and just as difficult to do in community. The difficulties are different but equally trying. To put oneself to the test or to be put to the test by another takes audacity, perseverance, humility, vision, hope, and forgiveness (just a beginning half-dozen of qualities needed in an in-between place).

Enjoy your cusp moments today. You'll look back on them with even more joy than you had in anticipating them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mark 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-10

Epiphany 7 – Year B

Mark 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-10

We last left Jesus, having changed places with a leper, wilderness wandering. He has quietly returned to Capernaum. Eventually word leaked out that he was back and a crowd re-gathers to hear teaching, not receive healing. At this point, one of the folks who was either not present during Jesus' extended healing the last time he was in town or had contracted some paralytic condition between then and now was brought by faith-full, faith-active friends.

Emboldened by unnamed friends, Jesus asks us to hear beyond our words to the action of life. A better question than whether it is shorter or easier to say, "You're forgiven" or "Stand; walk" is whether you can hear and see and experience each in the other. This is astounding work.

You may be led to practice this new way of listening and speaking this week. It will be a translational challenge for you and those you interact with to speak divinely in regular life and to speak commonly in ritualistic situations. There will be those who will respond that you are taking a larger jump than they are able to do and, one way or another, label you a blasphemer or just crazy. You may get scared of the possibilities and back away. There will be those who will be thankfully amazed at being able to reframe their life. You may find a rebirth of action in your own faith.

Here are two additional thoughts:

For whom will you make a new backdoor to fuller life? For whom will you activate your intentions? Having identified someone or someones, what is your plan to participate in their healing and the blessing of those who are witnesses to it?

Contrast this scene with that of Job and his friends. On a scale of Job's Friends to the Paralytic's Friends, where do you fall?

= = = = = = =

At this point it dawned that we are not on the story of the Paralytic's Friends, but the Friends of Jesus (Moses and Elijah) who come to him to say the easy thing, "Stand up; Head to Jerusalem."

In the first story, the crowd is transfigured – amazed and glorifying G*D. In the second story, Jesus is glorified.

Now we have a three-way scale between Job's Friends, the Paralytic's Friends, and Jesus' Friends. Oh, it was so much easier when I was dealing with only one layer instead of trying this three-dimensional scale. Wouldn't it be easier to just have to deal with one pericope or the other and forget all this trying to hold them together in a both/and approach? I suppose, but not nearly as fun.

Friday, February 13, 2009

deeply moved

Epiphany 6 – Year B

deeply moved

If you want to . . . I'm ready, too.
If you choose to . . . that will make two.

deeply moved
all the primal emotions
jump to the fore
each seeking ascendancy

deeply moved
energy ebbs and flows
betwixt and between
finding commonality

deeply moved
a moment arrives
leaving questions

deeply moved
symbol and silence
meaning from moment

deeply moved
hearts forever entwined
change places
and change again

deeply moved
attractive glow
fearsome light
moved deeper

Thursday, February 12, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Epiphany 6 – Year B

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

In today's world, what does it mean to "run to win". Are spiritual steroids appropriate? Can one hire a Prayer Warrior to cover your back? What are the limits of using perishable means to arrive at an imperishable end?

While there is much to be said for Type-A, workaholic, intentional and disciplined people, the other side of the coin is good old grace. Paul, so into grace, not law, comes pretty close here to relying on the law when it came to himself.

Give yourself a break Paul, relax your hyperbole, just do your best. Jesus will reach out and hug you, paunch and all, the leper told me so.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Psalm 30

Epiphany 6 – Year B

Psalm 30

Verses 11-12 indicate how good news has a way of bubbling up. Not only does the arc of G*D bend toward justice, but toward beauty and other expressions of good news.

You did it: you changed wild lament
     into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
     and decked me with wildflowers.
I'm about to burst with song;
     I can't keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
     I can't thank you enough.
               [The Message]

As folks who are living toward being G*D, this becomes a part of our call – to change lament into dance. As you pay attention (but not too much) to the news of the day, there are many opportunities to identify lament and to address them with your presence. Pick one. Rip off your mourning hesitation and deck the halls with wild-flowers. It may be you will change places with a leper; it may mean addressing your own sorrow; it may find you simply smiling and humming through your day, making folks wonder what you are up to.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2 Kings 5:1-17

Epiphany 6 – Year B

2 Kings 5:1-17

"Two mule-loads of dirt, please."

Some pilgrims bring back a vial of water from the Jordan River and put a drop in the Baptismal Water as though this sort of sympathetic magic would make the baptism more special than, "This is my beloved child!"

Naaman has come a long way from his beginning sense of entitlement and later attempt to adequately recompense Elisha for his healing. He still has a way to go if he thinks that sprinkling "Holy Land" dirt around his constructed altar will make it more special than it would otherwise have been.

Relics of water, soil, bone, or shroud all are important markers along life's journey as we move from the concrete to the universal. Eventually, however, Naaman, like all of us is going to have to become the ground of G*D's love wherever he is. This is considerably different than standing at the right place, at the right time on some ground deemed particularly holy.

This is a significant issue in the Palestine/Israel area. Is it the stones or the living stones in the land that is most important? We have a lot of Naamans running around with their little piece of G*D. How might we put down a symbol of life that we might pick up our life and have it become a sign for others? What choice will you make?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Mark 1:40-45

Epiphany 6 – Year B

Mark 1:40-45

How hard it is to choose to keep a good to oneself.

L. If you choose, you can heal.
J. I choose.

J. If you choose, you can keep this to yourself.
L. I don't choose

Choice is a key issue in life. To what will we choose to be true? What will we choose to bring into being or help on the way out? How do we choose between just these two when they are in conflict?

Do you choose to follow the tradition wherein Jesus shows pity or that which has Jesus being angry about the request and not just sending the former leper away, but casting him forth as a demon would be cast out? Whichever choice you generally make, this is a good year to go the other way.

Here our preferred approach is through a translation that honors Jesus' anger. So, looked at through a lens of pity with an underlying tension of anger, Jesus sees the pitiful state of humankind. We have been run out of a garden, been raised up and let down, violence qua violence and retributive violence abound, we are caught without hope and an imagination too small. We don't even know how to claim a birthright of relationship and healing. We are left begging for these rights.

In responding to pitiful with pity, Jesus heals - knowing all-the-while that good-telling will eventually lead to bad-telling and put Jesus in the pitiful position of saying in another garden, "If you choose, you can let me off the hook. All I will have to do is keep you to myself. . . . Oh, I see, neither of us can do other than pity the circumstances and choose to be whole regardless of circumstances around us. I take it back."

Friday, February 06, 2009

be in on it

Epiphany 5 – Year B

secret prayer closeted
off in a dark wilderness
sets off a light
beaconing far and wide
let's go
invest broadly
get in on pleasure

pleasure to do good
pleasure in self
pleasure in others
pleasure beyond these

in a demand-free zone
flying beyond
expectational limits
deep within a fountain
of living water
we spring quickly
entering altiverses

real religious folk
and non- as well
high fliers and low liars
moralists and im-

enter other lives
entering our own
mix and match
this point of view
and that
til prayer is pleasure
and we're in on it

Thursday, February 05, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Epiphany 5 – Year B

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Given that you gotta serve somebody (click on the first "listen" triangle) there is a key question of what are you going to get out of such service. Will it simply be survival in the face of coercive baptism or other threat of death? How about some deemed sufficient amount of the coin of the realm? A promise of insurance, whether health or eternity? A degree of importance from celebrity or being a Friend Of ____?

Paul's reward of "pleasure" [The Message] from proclaiming good stuff is pretty humbling in light of all the conflicting desires we have. He claims that he doesn't just want to talk about a better way, but wants to be in on energizing it. His service is to model his proclamation in his living.

It is this issue of meaning of life or explicit vocation that extends Jesus' wilderness prayer regarding his perceived task. Instead of serving the sick in one location he expands his service to teaching and healing in a wider arena. For some, their prayer would move them in exactly the other direction – a particular ministry in a localized setting. It is not that one is right or wrong, as an ideal, but that one's prayer call be clear and followed – simply for the pleasure of it.

I wish John Wesley, when he stole a Covenant Service that over time shows up as the following, would have added a word about it being our pleasure to do another's pleasure (G*D or Neighbor) to these powerful words:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
     exalted for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

Our "pleasure to participate" is different enough from "freely and heartily yielding" to be noted. One thing adding our pleasure does is to square the pleasure – mine and yours.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Epiphany 5 – Year B

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

How wide a net do you need to join in healing the brokenhearted, binding up their wounds?

What resources and power do you need beyond what you already have to lift up the downtrodden, to cast the wicked to the ground?

How wide and how deep our experience of and participation in compassion are questions that are continually before us. They can get us down when we measure ourselves against compassion professionals or continually see the more that needs to be done. They are also questions that can be approached from a perspective based on how far we have come. Whether from a view of a glass half-empty or half-full, we can avoid denigrating or aggrandizing our part by joining in a company of outcasts who take pleasure in every success and are borne through every wearying worry.

The network of fingers at the end of your arm, the hook at the end of your prosthesis is a wide-enough arc for your compassion.

The energy you have is sufficient for your opportunities.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Isaiah 40:21-31

Epiphany 5 – Year B

Isaiah 40:21-31

Let's back up a bit to verse 18: "To whom will you liken G*D, or what likeness compare with G*D?"

Whatever you have chosen to listen to, to attend to, sets the relationship between yourself and G*D, yourself and Neighbor. Our tendency is to set our sight too high or our expectation too low. We give G*D credit for more than G*D would do and we discount G*D's presence in our routines and patterns. And so we aggrandize ourselves as G*D's special agent and interpreter or experience ourselves as disregarded and lost.

To be called out to play with Neighbor G*D, to soar and dive, invites us to face our realities and throw out the high and low bids for recognition and simply pick up the ball of life rolled to us and toss it back. It is always the right time and space to play catch, even when what we perceive as a Nerf ball tossed our way turns to a raw egg half-way here or our return of a wicked backhanded sliced tennis ball morphs into a badminton shuttlecock. The funner the game the less weary we be. Calvinball lives where eagles soar, kids run, and the faint walk on.

As Mary Poppins puts it: "In ev'ry job that must be done there is an element of fun – you find the fun and snap! The job's a game." And here we have been Jane and Michael finding every excuse for not doing our tasks. Remember the Doxology has been sung – so, Play Ball!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Mark 1:29-39

Epiphany 5 – Year B

Mark 1:29-39

In Jesus' setting and Mark's emphasis upon cleanliness, touching a woman, even for healing, leads to uncleanliness. Imagine the residue of uncleanliness that has accumulated through the night with wave upon wave of sick people come to Jesus. Is it any wonder that Jesus was up very early in the morning and away to pray?

In this darkness may be found an extension of Mark's shorthand version of Jesus' post-baptismal temptation. Here the temptation is to locate, to heal and heal again. Here, Simon, as later, personifies a tempter that would have us settle for a little good that matches his expectation rather than a larger good we have been called to.

How do you measure the calling of others to you and a calling or vocation from what you understand to be G*D? Are they close the to the same (G*D and Neighbor) or are they ranked in some fashion?

Where and when is your time to prayerfully sort out your next step? Here the word is that I will be retiring from full-time pastoral ministry in an institutional church setting this coming July 1. I expect I will be working on this pericope in a variety of ways over these next months and will appreciate any wisdom/prayers you might have regarding opportunities, tasks, and temptations I'll be facing.