Friday, October 30, 2009

Not Far . . .

Pentecost +22 - Year B

All is well while we keep Jesus in a Jewish context. The great commandment vignette comforts us. Imagine, though, one of the Magi passing by on the track of another star while this disputation with Jesus was going on and heard all this talk about a first commandment that was extended to two. Might this Magi have dared to ask a question since his tradition was not that of the Jewish scriptures.

“Jesus, might you not say the most important commandment is that we can please Ahura Mazda through virtuous deeds?”

Could Jesus respond, “You are not far from a presence of G*D.”?

If the Magi had come a bit further away perhaps the question would be, “Jesus, you expanded a first commandment to two commandments. Would you also agree the most important commandments are to discern suffering, to live virtuously, and to meditate?”

Would Jesus still respond, “You are not far from a presence of G*D.”?

Presuming Jesus is time neutral, the Magi might ask, “Jesus, are not the most important commandments to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakat, to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so."

Will Jesus still say, “You are not far from a presence of G*D.”?

However you put your current understanding of life, its focal point, your loyalty, are you ready for Jesus to say to you, “You are not far from a presence of G*D.”?

For Jesus, for whom the presence of G*D was constituent, seeing the presence of G*D everywhere he looked and with every person he encountered (including Judas Iscariot and thieves) would be his standard operating procedure. Jesus would not want to stop with just a naming of commandments, but the living of them into a next stage of maturity?

As you meet folks from a variety of perspectives, may your first response be, “You are not far from a presence of G*D.” Of course you will not say this condescendingly and await their conversion to your belief structure. In your meeting, may you also hear that your response is “not far from a presence of G*D.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hebrews 9:11-14

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Hebrews 9:11-14

“There are many ways of helping people to this confidence [that they are a people loved and forgiven by God]. Hebrews offers one very complicated way. The idea that a sacrifice or a symbolic reminder of blood kept God in touch with the validity of love might strike us as odd if not bizarre, but it must have worked for some. We are not committed to using the same methods, but we are committed to the same message - if that is our faith. We are today more sensitive to different religious traditions than our author, but we also need to come to terms critically with our own. We might even seek to emulate the level of creativity our author has shown when we face the challenge of speaking this same message to people in our day who live in a different symbolic world but face substantially the same needs.” [from William Loader]

I appreciate the challenge for us to speak of love and forgiveness in a creative manner in our context. For the physicists among us we might speak of Jesus giving up his Higgs boson. For others of us this brings a big, “Huh?”.

When it comes to the blood sacrifice imagery, I am in the “Huh?” category. If Jesus can bypass the sacrifice of goats and bulls, why limit him to a simple blood substitution as though Jesus was religiously type O-negative. In today’s world we might also wonder about hematopoietic stem cells being a new image regarding Jesus’ on-going experimentation and creativity rather than repeating a past out of touch with today’s and tomorrow’s realities.

Perhaps it is enough to ask what the “new covenant” is and how it might be symbolized. If it is redemption from the past, then we may need to find images that will walk into a new future rather than repeat past patterns.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Psalm 146

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Psalm 146

What is the greatest commandment?

First, don’t trust political/military/industrial/educational/religious complexes to put anything but profit first (well, maybe, power - which may only be a spelling difference).

Second, trust, even if it seems impossibly distant, that the arc of creation bends toward justice and, in that trust, act as though your freedom to lift the bowed down was already mature.

Are there any more questions about these commandments than those Jesus cited?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ruth 1:1-18

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Ruth 1:1-18

When looking at the rest of the Hebrew scriptures we find Moabites at odds with Israelites. When looking at this particular tale, there is no tension.

In the midst of bumper-sticker and 10-second sound-bite politics, the harangues of pundits of every stripe provide classic examples of stereotyping, straw arguments, and excluded middles (and so much more - pick a logical fallacy and you’ll find it in their enthusiasm to be right), the blessing we yet hear and know as still possible is that, on the personal level, two disparate people can still find one another as beloveds.

When the discouragement of “news” and rumors/realities of war get you down, remember Mahlon and Orpah, Chilion and Ruth, Ruth and Naomi, and Ruth and Boaz. Love in the midst of other differences makes all the difference. In this story that shows how poorly conceived are tribal differences we find hope that as the laws against miscegenation fell, one-by-one and all together, so shall the laws regarding same-gender marriage.

We can even cast our hope wider so it is not just individuals, but whole nations, that can pledge hesed (loyalty) to one another by way of a larger picture where everyone benefits more through peace than our status quo. A recent paper looks at the UN in this light. The last paragraph reads: “In short, what is required is a complete revolution in our values and ways of living. It is not at all surprising to me that the UN and its initiatives spark controversy and fear among many in our society. The thought of a world in which all people live happily and contentedly is, on the surface, a very nice idea, but in practice a hugely difficult thing to achieve for those of us who are accustomed to live with privilege. And yet, if we are willing to revise our vision, we will see giving up that privilege, if it leads to a more peaceful world, might just be worth it. On this UN Sunday, I would encourage us to follow the model of Eleanor Roosevelt, roll up our sleeves and support the radical work of the UN.”

Instead of putting the roles of Ruth and Naomi off on Eleanor, how might little ol’ you pay attention to both the personal and public parts of your life? In part it is a choice of loyalties. May you grow into a larger loyalty to expansive and expanding love, no matter what privilege the rest of your cohorts cling to.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mark 12:28-34

Pentecost +22 - Year B

Mark 12:28-34

Right theology is seldom the point, though it is helpful in easing an arrival at harmony between one’s insides and outsides.

Folks with an abominable way of understanding G*D can and do come through with compassion.

Folks who are right on target with their articulation of the expansive and expanding love of G*D can and do falter in living their conviction.

What additional question can be asked or responded to in the face of this great mystery: “Good answer; now are you going to live it?”

A happy week of congruency to you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Healings of the blind distinguished

Pentecost +21 - Year B

Mark has two stories of healing sightless people: Mark 8:22-26 (unnamed - a test object) and Mark 10:46-52 (named - a hope engaged). In some ways they parallel the difference between Job 42:1-6 (living by rumor) and 42:10-17 (living a full life). Here are two retellings that resist a conflation of the incidents.

= = = = = = =

Mark 8:22-26

let’s test this healer
blindness personified
brought to the city square

Jesus changes the test
shifting perspective
moved outside the walls

spit and hands
weave their spell
and we await results

first try brings walking trees
spell rewoven
clarifies human nature

don’t return to the testing ground
avoid group think
make this experience home

- - - - - -

Mark 10:46-52

a voice cries
pity - mercy - blessing
from a road’s margin

a voice cries
come - courage - blessing
from a broad way

a voice cries
hurrah - at last - I come
a journey begun

a voice cries
what - when - where
do you want

a voice cries
life - now - here
I want

want joined want
ipso facto

voices walk
a new broader way
the margins

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hebrews 7:23-28

Pentecost +21 - Year B

Hebrews 7:23-28

And why is a permanent high priest needed? In most ways Jesus is anti-king and anti-priest. This whole priesthood thing seems to be more in keeping with our desire, Adam-old and Saul-deep, to avoid responsibility and set up someone to blame. When this eternal high priest is established we have taken our desire to the n-th degree. Jesus is not only perfect man and perfect god, but a perfect out for our maturing. Go Jesus! Speak up for us, save us!

It would be helpful to hear the author of the Letter to the Hebrews respond to Jesus’ question, “What do you want from me?” This section would seem to say that we want a buffer between humanity and G*D, that we don’t want to see any further to our heritage.

Until this restrictive view of participating with G*D changes, we won’t hear those challenging words from Jesus, “Go on your way!” May you be well on your way today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Pentecost +21 - Year B

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Verse 2 speaks of the lowly, the humble, those for whom things aren’t going well (TANAKH, NRSC, MESSAGE, respectively).

Verse 6 continues these references to the lowly, the poor, those in a tight spot.

The “lowly” translation notes this to be the equivalent of those who are dependent upon G*D. This seems to be the most helpful approach in a Wisdom Psalm. It best helps us move from the strange ascription regarding madness as a coping device to the central verse (11) teaching lowliness - a relationship with G*D that allows freedom in the midst of any of the many afflictions that come with life (19).

Evaluate whether this direct approach to freedom through the wisdom of dependence is more helpful than having to retranslate “fear” in our heads to get to holy freedom. If so, we may be able to better attend to the task of living without actual or faked crazy.

Anything in particular bringing you to the brink of madness these days? How might dependence upon creation-gifts free you to participate directly with life’s afflictions rather than adding an internal layer of crazy on top of situational happenstance?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Pentecost +21 - Year B

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

The humanity of Job (dust and ashes) brings us ambiguity of what is being recanted, despised, relented by one who is suffering. This doesn’t address the divinity of Job (made in G*D’s image) that calls to be encountered on that level. A note in The Jewish Study Bible suggests verse 6 “may be a prosaic notice that Job feels this way while he is mourning on a dust-heap”. Once off said dung-heap, Job’s response may be different. How like ourselves.

In some sense all the poetry ends with Job vindicated against his “friends” who are caught falsifying the character of Job and the character of G*D. Likewise the prose ends with G*D vindicated against “The Satan”. All the sturm und drang of Job vs G*D begins to take a back seat against these other level-playing-field debates.

Perhaps we need only focus on the debates we have with our family and friends regarding what we see as the nature of creation - a basic goodness begun. To expect privilege in a goodness-oriented creation is to expect too much and thus the importance of simply not blaspheming creation. We remember our beginning and know that we must stand firm in calling G*D to account - whether a desirable response comes forth or not. When so many false arguments about the worth of the least, the outcast, the closeted, the poor, the uninsured swirl around us, it is good to cut through them all with a clear perspective of basic goodness.

Job’s daughters are a sign of what a new world we are in when we attend to clarity of goodness in this world. The women are named (not the sons) and given rights of inheritance - both contrary to usual patriarchal patterns. What sign will you give, will you be, of the value of this world?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mark 10:46-52

Pentecost +21 - Year B

Mark 10:46-52

“Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.” Calls went out at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Here, as Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, yet another call goes forth to a blind ( _____, your name here) Bartimaeus.

The request from Bartimaeus is not to sit at Jesus’ right hand in some future time, but simply to see in the present. This is more than enough.

Fisherfolk and blind, calls come. In every stage of life - from unknowing to expectant - calls have come. Calls to proceed; calls to back off; calls to wait.

Even at this late date, a new call is coming your way. A call to keep on; a call to a new direction; a call to patience.

It is not so much the last call that defines us, but the next.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Pentecost +20 - Year B

Job and James and John
in the face of uncertainty

Jesus and Buddha and Others
Who you askin’ what?
Silly old bears, they be!

such desire
is never secret
such response
is never believed
and we go around again

antidotes include
being wrapped in light
making friends of wind and flame
diving into deep waters
celebrating a bigger picture

now we share
and differently desire

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Advent Reflections

In the for-what-it-is-worth category. This year's Advent Reflections by the Wisconsin United Methodist Federation for Social Action (WUFMSA) uses my last series of comments from 2006, Advent - Year C. It is available in both PDF for printing and can be bookmarked for daily reading online. If you are interested in this sort of use of this material you can view it at the WUMFSA Advent 2009 page.

WUMFSA now has 9 years of Advent reflections and 10 years of Lenten Studies available at their WUMFSA Reflections page.

Additional information about WUMFSA is at their home page.


Hebrews 5:1-10

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Hebrews 5:1-10

In your baptism - “You are my beloved, I celebrate you” - is your appointment to being a “high priest” (as if priesthood is really hierarchical - remember it is an appointment, not a ladder-climbing profession).

A priest worthy of their appointment brings G*D to others, brings others to G*D, and is gentle in both directions.

There it is, three simple tasks. Enjoy your priesthood this and every day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 34c

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 34c

There is much to be grateful for. Go ahead, continue counting the ways.

Had Job and James and John (and even myself and yourself at times) played in the garden of Psalm 104 (no matter how a lection committee cuts it up), there wouldn’t be this striving against a personal sense of injustice and entitlement in quite the same way. As we continue standing up for others and volunteering to take a back seat, at times, we will do so with more grace, alacrity, and compassion for ourselves and others.

My yoga teachers have consistently let me know that a result of the discipline is a moving gracefully through the day as well as in the moment of practice. I suspect the psalmist of being a yoga instructor.

Consider the wind as you proceed through whatever is left of the day. Its flow is shaped by what it meets and its power shapes all that it touches, a bit at a time. May your flow and power be graceful and creative this day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Verses 1-7 can be compared with the Gospel pericope. Listen to the tonal difference between the response Job got for basically the same question James and John asked.

Things get equally interesting with verses 34-41. Imagine Job hearing that, yes, he could do these but of more import is whether he will do what he can to care for creation (the servant thing) regardless of whether he is prospering or in the midst of travail.

And then even more interesting material arises as we move away from verses from the Bible and into your Life and mine. In what way are we G*D-like, Jesus-like? In what way are we not (hint: this is not a qualitative difference, simply content based on particular opportunities). In our similarities and differences there is one important direction to be headed - to sing together with joy by caring for one another and all. The ways in which we do that will vary, but the direction is the same.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mark 10:35-45

Pentecost +20 - Year B

Mark 10:35-45

“Heads I win; tails you lose.” So we desire it when we express our desires to G*D, whether directly or through some intermediary such as Jesus (the desire is not his to grant).

James and John are thinking about some future glory; Jesus is all about present doxa (challenging what seems to be accepted belief and promoting the glory and good of realized eschatology or Crossan’s sapiential eschatology [A difference between John the Baptist and Jesus can be summarized in this way, according to Crossan: "In apocalyptic eschatology, we are waiting for God to act. In sapiential eschatology, God is waiting for us to act."]{what a nested interlude this turned out to be}).

The issue presented to us is whether we are with G*D, or not. Positioning is not relevant - whether right or left or before or behind or above or below or within or beyond.

If we are with G*D we will be with one another and all of creation. The question of special privilege is spurious.

What it comes down to is heads we all win; tails no one loses. We’re pulling for you.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Disciples as Children

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Children are conniving, manipulative little literalists. They use that trait to explore the world and to play dumb. No wonder Jesus called his disciples, “children”.

The disciples seem to periodically look for wealth and power through backing the right Messiah. It’s not so much that they can’t understand the rich ending up empty, it’s that they don’t want to hear this for it would change their relationship with one another, with visitors/guests, and with Jesus.

It is real easy for kids to stall by looking perplexed. Perhaps a next instruction will be more to their liking. Might as well stone-wall the unexpected, uninvited, and unwelcome perspective of Jesus. It really is hard to see how hard it is for the rich to enter a beautiful realm. We have imagined ourselves in their place, forever. Now to hear we have been barking up the wrong tree is more than discouraging. Let’s just not “get it” and maybe news more to our liking will come about our entitled perks and when we get rich we will be able to simply glide on in.

Still, there is a loop-hole, loop-hope, “with G*D all things are possible”. When I get rich I’m sure I’ll do that well and G*D will give me a fortress wall entryway into heaven for me and my camels. If I’m a Jesus follower and rich, I’ll receive a hundred gazillion time more than I will have invested. The Prosperity Gospel has been with us for a long time.

I think I’ll just ignore that last line about the first being last and bet on a heavenly lottery that I won’t be among the many so, but will be with the exceptional, not-impossible, few of the many. Too bad about you.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hebrews 4:12-16

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Hebrews 4:12-16

Image the effect of a laparoscopic “word of G*D”.

Perhaps closer to our sensibilities is a Star Trek Tricorder.

In either case, bedside manner is still important. Our weaknesses do need sympathy as well as excision or diagnosis.

When we can put together a doctor priest with good medical and people skills, we are emboldened to proceed through whatever trial is present to find the mercy and grace available there, whether or not curing occurs.

Those who claim Jesus is their access to this kind of care are also claimed by others as their access. This passing-it-forward process is hard to beat. Keep at it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Psalm 22:1-15

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Psalm 22:1-15

How many different ways can you say, “I’m not feeling well, my expectations have been dashed.” If you only have the F- or MF- or S-word available to you, you are not able to communicate the depth of your despair. Psalm 22 can add to your lexicon of descriptors of your woe. Just being able to bring so many different metaphors and similes to bear helps.

This is a case where expanding the expression of experience actually deepens the experience.

One of the interesting phenomena involved here is that using a multitude of images begins to build in such a way that by the time the Psalm ends (you’ll have to look it up) we shift gears and can see our situation from a different perspective - one that will help us move on rather than be stuck. This ability to use so many different allusions begins to cut through our initial illusion of being trapped in a particular circumstance. I can’t think of a better reason for expanding an imaginative use of experience descriptors than this - it is clarifying and healing. Building so many wonderfully concrete pictures begins to put a new picture in place. Literacy is liberating.

Here are two montages to illustrate the many descriptors giving new meaning to a one-dimensional picture:
Bush and Soldiers Killed in Iraq
Jesus and a Congregation

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

What must I do to inherit something better?
What must I do to get a fair hearing?
What must I do to get out of the trouble I’m in?

These questions deal with a mystery, an invisible force, and a quandary. It turns out that what we are looking for turns on different questions than we have known how to ask. This leads us to appreciating an openness of the future so we will have time and space to modify our questions in light of the non-response we are currently getting from them.

Inheritance is less an issue than investment.

Fairness pales in the face of simply standing firm in the best decisions one can make at the time and modifying that stance in light of new data.

Trouble continues and so it is not a matter of getting out of trouble as much as it is to find the right trouble to be in and diving into it with all one has.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mark 10:17-31

Pentecost +19 - Year B

Mark 10:17-31

Our tendency is to ask what will come our way without any work on our part. What is our due and when will it arrive? This is the built-in temptation with inheritance and why John Wesley and other saints say that it works against our spirit.

“Inheritance” language works in two contrary modes.

Spiritually, inheritance is a subcategory of hope. It is what our picture of a better future is all about.

Literally, economically, inheritance is an illusion. A 100% inheritance tax would reclaim money earned at the expense of others and return it to the commonwealth that basically made it possible to earn so much. All other taxes may be able to be done away with if we saw income as a public issue, not a private one. It is penny-wise and dollar-foolish.

John Wesley wrote of the folly of saving for your children/heirs in his sermon, On Money:
“Do not leave it to them to throw away. If you have good reason to believe they would waste what is now in your possession, in gratifying, and thereby increasing, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; at the peril of theirs and your own soul, do not set these traps in their way. Do not offer your sons or your daughters unto Belial, any more than unto Moloch. Have pity upon them, and remove out of their way what you may easily foresee would increase their sins, and consequently plunge them deeper into everlasting perdition! How amazing then is the infatuation of those parents who think they can never leave their children enough! What! cannot you leave them enough of arrows, firebrands, and death? not enough of foolish and hurtful desires? not enough of pride, lust, ambition, vanity? not enough of everlasting burnings? Poor wretch! thou fearest where no fear is. . . .”

The better way is to travel with Jesus and turn the question from inheritance to investment. Invest in the poor, in the community as a whole. Here you will find your hope brought to life. Here is the greatest return.

Friday, October 02, 2009

another circle of life

Pentecost +18 - Year B

another circle of life

and disconnect
and disconnect again

and test
and test again

and walk
and walk again

and mature
and mature again

and play
and play again

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Pentecost +18 - Year B

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

G*D’s articulation of intent has improved over time. What was episodic and variegated has come clear in the life of Jesus. An important focus here is the temporal circle of G*D => Prophets => Angels => Creation => Humans (sufferers) => Jesus (grand sufferer) => Jesus (mature/completed) => G*D.

Fred Craddock, in his Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections on The Letter to the Hebrews in The New Interpreter’s Bible reflects:
     “From the outset the reader is reminded that the subject of the Christian faith is God. It is a regrettable fact that theocentricity is absent from much Christian teaching and preaching. To be sure, writing and speaking about Jesus Christ in a community already firm in its faith in God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer is appropriate. Such is the case with early Christian documents written from within or addressing Judaism in which faith in God lay at the heart of a long history. But when those writings are taught or preached in cultures for whom faith in God may not already be present, beginning with christology is beginning too late. The appropriate starting point is “In the beginning, God . . .” even if the discussion will eventually focus on Christ or the Holy Spirit or the church. The writer of Hebrews does not forget this, and by stating rather than assuming the centerpiece of Christian faith reminds the church to be discerning in what it can and cannot assume about the culture to which it speaks. It could be calamitous to get people attached to Jesus without any faith in God.”

Consider the culture you are in. How might you speak G*D back into being without being covered up by Church and attached to Jesus?