Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pentecost +8 - Year A

Matthew 14:22-33

With everyone fed it was time to get back to the agenda of Jesus dealing with John's execution. Thousands were send home healed and fed. The disciples were put in a boat and sent to the other side.

Whew. Prayer time. And it was evening, preparation for days to come. And it was night with the chaos of sea churning again. And it was morning with waves still riding high and Jesus somehow present among them.

What was the result of evening prayer and midnight storm and a morning walk? It was to hear great desire, to encourage the same, and to keep it alive when trembling.

I wish to walk beyond my current limits. Invite me forward.

Simply put, "OK. Come on."

What more need be said? Nothing. Those words are still echoing, waiting for your response.

Yes, the wind will still be blowing. Unexpected currents are to be expected. Second thoughts will likely arise. A steadying hand is still needed.

After this foray into desiring forward, a harbor with reduced wind is helpful for consolidating what was learned.

Was not leaving Jesus alone a time of worship? When asked what you have done for Jesus today, don't forget to say, "I stayed out of his way!"

Was not sailing toward another mission a time of worship? Don't forget to call travel time as important as encounter time.

Was not experimenting with desire a time of worship? Imagine how much more worship is available that what we have come to call "worship".

Was not acknowledging fear an important part of "growth" (another word for worship).

So what is this sense of "worship" so limited to "Son of G*D" language and a sense of miracle, when everything is miraculous.

May your prayer lead you to better listening, encouraging, strengthening.
May your worship rejoice in everyday growth.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Romans 9:1-5

Pentecost +7 - Year A

Romans 9:1-5

And how reliable is the conscience of a sociopath? And how reliable is my conscience? And, might I ask, why wouldn't I understand that my conscience is confirmed by a Holy Spirit?

Having great sorrow, pain, or anguish is no confirmation that an intention is pure. Suffice it to say that we wish the best for folks. It is not necessary to writhe because they are not living up to what I see as best for them (particularly if that is not currently what they would want done unto them). My pain is not a final selling point for a particular perspective on living. What I can do is legitimately live the way I understand is best for me and do so with integrity, without putting the burden of my pain upon someone else as an additional pressure point in their life.

Read on a moment or two more and there will be a statement about G*D showing mercy where G*D desires mercy (and where wouldn't that be?). So why the angst here? Might this simply be a day to proceed without making a big deal out of it? Hope so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Psalm 17:1-7, 15

Pentecost +7 - Year A

Psalm 17:1-7, 15

All those who acknowledge G*D's right hand will find refuge there. Those who don't, won't. This is very convenient when we are convinced that our cause is just, our good looks quite sufficient, our perspective on any given issue at hand - accurate down to the last detail.

Because of our special relationship, G*D is as good as a trained hunting dog - ready to sic our point and fetch whenever we identify our prey, our enemy.

This is so comforting to us and so dangerous to others. Can you imagine Jesus operating in this fashion when he has a great need to get away and can't. Listen to the Psalm through a Jesus lens instead of a Jacob/Israel lens.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Genesis 32:22-31

Pentecost +7 - Year A

Genesis 32:22-31

When afraid I won't be treated with compassion, but recompense, it is easy to fall into a headset reflective of a fearful heart. I plan and plot how I can jigger the system to at least let me skim by. Assurance of an abundance of compassion fades in the realism that I'm not going to escape having to face a judgment against which I have no defense, but if I can parse things closely enough I may yet skate by.

This is similar to the state that those who put doctrine first keep running into - for every rule they impose there needs to be loophole for them to be able to access. Since they are the ones who set up the rules the out is not visible to any but themselves. Result: others bear the brunt of what the rule-setter will be able to slide out from under. They are consummate bargainers, finding just the right button to push when push-comes-to-shove and they can side-step G*D's justified anger with them or reality-based experiences that deny a neat systematization.

In this story we need to pay attention to Jacob's fear that his trickery has caught up with him and his response to that. After attending to this reality we might catch a glimpse of a different level of rule that has nothing to do with being able to figure things out ahead of time - A surprising mystery that we still have a new name to get used to. Every time we strive with G*D or Neighbor or One Another or Self or Enemy we are open to a new name, a new understanding beyond our previous limit of knowledge.

What new name have you sensed rising up? An old one reinvested with later experience? One given by others to you? One that is just there, as in a Never-ending Story? One that comes out of the blue to bless you and to become a blessing for others?

Try this one on for size - I am Penstock. I am a gateway for living water to multiply life and love and loaves 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Matthew 14:13-21

Pentecost +7 - Year A

Matthew 14:13-21

Compassion fatigue is real. Compassionate action is still possible even when fatigued.

Jesus hears of cousin John's senseless execution. His reaction, like yours and mine, was to head off to get his head and heart back on. How is one to make sense of this other than to know our own day of demise is growing closer and closer?

Unfortunately halos the size of Jesus' are difficult to hide. [One of Jim Post's songs has a line in it about Jesus' halo - "nobody else wears a hat like that".] Word got out about Jesus and alternative routes were located by which many, too many, people gathered and Fire Marshall Disciples were upset at the overcrowding.

Coming out of his response regarding John, his need for compassion to be shown to him, Jesus is compassionate and saving/healing/reorienting went on for many who came asking for such. Compassion fatigue is being compounded, no matter how much good is done, so much more is needed.

Those Fire Marshall Disciples thought they saw Jesus' compassion coming to an end and, knowing they still needed theirs, they stepped in to disperse the never-ending story of needed care - "Send them away, compassionately, of course."

Jesus attempts to engage their compassion as an alternative way of responding: join-in, rather than send-away. Their response, "Who? Us? We've got nothing. It's all about you, Jesus."

So a compassionate one simply shows them that they have much more than "nothing".

This may be a choice of the day, decade, eternity - compassion or intolerance. It will not only say something about us, but about what we believe. Does compassion fall within an abundance model, or not?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Romans 8:26-39

Pentecost + 6 - Year A

Romans 8:26-39

Let's see - we "pray", not knowing what we are doing, and so some "Spirit" senses what we don't know and groans. However this Spirit also isn't up to "praying". Result, some G*D we may have intended to be praying too, reads the mind/spirit/heart of a Spirit to find out what we had intended to pray for without knowing it the half of it.

This seems like a full-employment process that needs everyone to not do what they might so a hands-on G*D can continue to be needed. It helps, of course, that this G*D can also be efficient in only paying attention to those attempting prayer who had been preselected - talk about your non-double-blind study!

So what are we to say about these things. Hooray for us, if G*D is for us. Boo to us, if G*D is against us. Are you among the elected, chosen, elite who are going to get everything because you are the teacher's pet? Are you going to be fired from your job as creature?

I very much appreciate the assurance that is available with this passage. In the same way, I appreciate the assurance behind Revelations - hang in there when things are tough.

I very much don't appreciate the partiality and limitation of said assurance.

Historically, this is one of my favorite passages. I've needed its assurance that even my difficulty won't keep G*D from loving me - of course I've needed to overlook the possibility that I am not of the elect and am therefore out luck and any assurance I thought I had was for naught.

These favorites need more looking at than not. A gift of assurance is probably not one that can be taken back and can trump any attempt at dismissal through control or confusion even by G*D (though G*D's "representatives" in this world often give it a good try).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

Pentecost + 6 - Year A

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

Covenants and prophecies are only confirmed by their deeds. Here we have a perspective that says a particular understanding of cause and consequence have conspired together to affirm a prior stating of a covenant. And so the appropriate response is, "Praise the Lord" or "Amen" or "So be it".

In the meantime there are other covenants and prophecies that are contended between by those whose world would shake, and for some collapse, should there be a disconfirmation of their particular understanding. Of course there is no need to acknowledge that one's viewpoint has been from a spot built upon a fault-line.

Other psalms bemoan an experienced loss of covenantal or prophetic hope. There are those times when we don't seem to be able to recover from a lack of anticipated victory and give ourselves over to imploring our holiest-of-holies to wake up and come charging to our defense.

One of the questions this psalm raises is that of sufficient evidence that a past understanding is confirmed. Is it time to continue standing in its light or time to turn out that light so some more helpful glimmer might be glimpsed? So, time for a second thought about our underpinnings - on what are you basing your next action - A past covenant? A newly received prophecy? An openness to either yet to arrive?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Genesis 29:15-28

Pentecost + 6 - Year A

Genesis 29:15-28

With a passage like this we could go riding off in all directions. There is no prioritizing of one theme over another. While appreciating a trickster getting tricked, this year I am more interested in a review of what it means to be "wifed".

(21) Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife . . ."
(27) then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

To be wifed is more than to have been "gone into". Leah had been gone into without being acknowledged as a wife. Child bearer, yes; wife for Jacob, no.

To reduce a relationship to the genitals, as the United Methodist Church as done to define away a gay or lesbian relationship, is to reduce love for Rachel to sex with Leah or one of the maidservants. This is certainly not a story that translates well into our time and place. None-the-less, it is helpful to aid us in not limiting our discriminatory inclinations to simply one style of culturally regulated sexuality.

"Wife", in a relationship of any orientation, is a word loaded with tons of over-tones. It is not a subordinate role or a director-ship. Consider the many ways you have been wifed or you have wifed another - this is not a sex term - it is a relationship beyond gender or role.

Rachel was Jacob's wife more than 14 years before he went into her. For more years than either anticipated, there were no children. Neither a ceremony, nor sexual partnering, nor children make a wife. Rejoice and make a parable out of this story - How would Jesus retell this story to make it come alive again? And you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Pentecost + 6 - Year A

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

A bit of this, a byte of that, and pretty soon there is a world-wide system of tubes that allow HOLLERING into and relating within. Lives are destroyed and new life begins. Mustard as weed and parable shines a light on both.

A presence of G*D shows up as a seed in Eden and also east of Eden. This presence also shows up in yeast, treasure-bearing field, and a pearl.

It might be said that everything is a revelation of the presence of G*D and everything can be used to cover said presence. So it is that folks who have a desire, if not yet the experience, of an expansive and expanding presence of G*D, train around the very issue of discernment.

This day will have bits and pieces of everything floating past. How to apply which today, when we might have applied it differently yesterday or will tomorrow, is a key question in a day too easily assigned to a petty pace. By the end of the day you could have a whole moleskine filled with old and new insights freshly applied to the circumstances today offers.

So, pens ready; paper ready; record your parables of life after you have actually applied them to a present opportunity.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Romans 8:12-25

Pentecost + 5 - Year A

Romans 8:12-25

Paul seems to have forgotten the parable of wheat and tares. Somehow he sees what he thinks is a way to separate spirit from flesh. Such utopian attempts have long been made in every religious tradition.

It was laborious to separate the cotton from the seed until a gin (engine) was invented for that purpose. Paul seems to think he has invented an equivalent to separate the spirit from the flesh, the wheat from the weed. The Spirit of G*D calls to the spirit of you and perhaps me. In this call only our spirit responds. Pretty neat.

There is still something, though, that reminds Paul (some “thorn”?) that he was still waiting for some adoption of his weedy parts that would redeem them. And so, finally, Paul’s wheatie Grace and weedy Law was going fall back upon hope rather than some technologically neat theology that G*D could and would only be praised by spirit.

Even creedal repetition of “Abba! Father!” is grounded in hope rather than guarantee of this being an “Open Sesame” mantra. And so we continue to labor and groan with wheat and weed and self and other and new creation and hope and, and, and.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Pentecost + 5 - Year A

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

When searched and known - weed and wheat seem to be present. Being known doesn’t change the wheat/weed ratio. This combination is visible no matter what the lighting level is or the context within which it is being noticed.

When searched and tested - weed and wheat are still there. If the question is, “Is there any weed in me?”, the response most likely is, “Yep.”

One response to this is overcompensation noted in the elided verses. I loathe any semblance of weed in another. It helps take the searching off myself. Distraction of G*D is a worthy attempt at face-saving, but (see above) it is caught everytime. We can’t shift the blame and get away with it over the long-haul.

We keep wanting to change the test. So instead of wresting with our wheat/weed ratio, we find ways of turn anyone else’s ratio into a 100% conviction rate of their smallest weedy part. Somehow, we think, our perfect hatred of them will excuse our wheat/weed ratio and hide it behind the enormity of another’s wrong.

How pluck the weed from the wheat when they are so intimately bound? Perhaps working on one’s own weeds instead of another’s will offer some hope. What do you think? Will this take genetic modification?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genesis 28:10-19a

Pentecost + 5 - Year A

Genesis 28:10-19a

Were Jacob to dream tonight he might not have a static ladder in the background, but a movie visual of a time warp. With all those once predictable stars or angels whooshing by there may still be a moment of foreground revelation that this particular instant is as important in hyperdrive as a starting and ending place.

In this moment there is assurance available - no matter what, we are not alone.

And so we bless the stones in our lives. No matter what form the blessing takes or by what name it is later known - once and forever, a blessing occurred. Whether speeding by or sitting zazen, blessings can be missed - both being recognized and scattered.

May you receive the assurance you need to mosey on to the next part of your journey, strewing blessings along the way, no matter what stone or weed might yet be stumbled over or need to be removed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Pentecost + 5 - Year A

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Again with the explanations! For the crowd that loves explanations - particularly explanations that can be used as a weapon against particular personal identities, who sowed Adam into an early garden? Somehow, while Adam was asleep, a weed grew - Eve. See how easy it becomes to blame women, the weeds of the world.

I’m intrigued with the image of an “enemy” that does the dastardly deed of sowing weeds among the wheat in the dark of night and slips silently away. Every identity issue comes with this same sort of “enemy” that can never quite be identified, but is always on the other side (for G*D is always on our side).

As you look back over a variety of identity politics such as class, race, gender, orientation, aliens, ... pay attention to the shifting excuses that are used to keep the weedy other in their place. More closely identifying this guerilla enemy would more easily help us see that we are talking about ourselves and not another.

The presence of G*D is clarified a bit when we intend to sow good seed and find there are unintended consequences that arise alongside. It is not a matter of some decision to allow the two to grow together, there is no option. This seems to be built into a universe, even one where we attempt to give G*D all the power and wisdom and goodness that is available. From James Weldon Johnson’s poem “Creation”, after G*D has created all the fiddley bits, we hear:
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down —
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

. . .

This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image....

And still a self-image is as shadowy as an undefined enemy. And still G*D is on the side of our best intentions and some enemy must be involved with the blowback from our intended best (however it might be disguised from ourselves).

There seems to be no out here regarding explaining or not. Should we risk not going to an explanation, simply leaving it with a parabolic image, the dangers of being misunderstood or leaving folks confused, open to distilling an unhelpful response, will rise up and cannot be avoided by trying to come up with a univalent explanation. Should we risk giving the latest excuse in a long series for how we are going to cut this Gordian Knot, we will find, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that an impending flood has only been sped up.

Blessings on “Let It Be” and not being able to “Let It Be”. You’ve paid your entrance fee, might as well take your chance.

Friday, July 08, 2011

learning abundance

Pentecost + 4 - Year A

learning abundance

to fisherfolk
farmers are crazy
and vice versa

for fisherfolk to listen
to a farm story
chuckles begin

a sower
sowed everywhere
what a foolish farmer

a sower sowed
on a highway
expecting ocean smelt

farmers - what can be done
with such stick-in-the-muds
but be comic relief

a sower sowed
on rocky ground
hoping for trout in the sea

yes farmers cause us
to lift our face to the wind
and laugh and laugh

a sower sowed
on thorny ground
looking for salmon in a bathtub

oh my farmer friend
monkeys can type a masterpiece
you’ll get it yet - guffaw

a sower sowed
on good soil
a proven fishing ground

finally a farmer finds fruitfulness
whew, couldn’t have taken much more
poor farmer but we’re OK

sheep vs cattle
fisher vs farmer
Esau vs. Jacob

G*D vs. Adamah
Cain vs. Abel

priest vs. prophet
nature vs. nurture

and later asea
no fish today
a rocky day

nets tore again
caught in weeds
all too empty

haunts our way

our laughter
comes back at us
asking for a new way

no condemnation
for fisher or farmer
trusters both

this old story
got abundance right

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Romans 8:1-11

Pentecost + 4 - Year A

Romans 8:1-11

If everything that has come into being has done so through Jesus, aka. Christ, logos, how can there be any condemnation?

A spirit of life sets us free from condemning to death or being incapacitated by condemnation.

Any number of obsessions might delay arriving at behaving as though a spirit of life were important to us. These obsessions won't condemn us, just slow us down. They show up in all manner of legalisms, of cutting one another off, of focusing on the unimportant, of pleasing self through an artificial consistency.

In a recently concluded church trial we found that those trying to condemn had to reduce a life orientation to one physical part of the body - the genitalia. This lack of life spirit does not condemn them for attempting to condemn, but does slow down a whole process of G*D re-wrapping creation about G*D. Where once G*D condemned an archetypal Adam and Eve, slowing creation down, G*D is raising all creatures and creation back to life. Some are still stuck on condemnation, G*D’s and their’s, but since Christ is in all, all will be raised.

This is a good time to do a refrigerator chart. On a simple sheet of paper draw a line down the paper to provide two columns - a condemnation column and a raising from the dead column. Periodically jot down the number of times you thought, said, or acted in a manner characterized by one of these columns since your last review. After a couple of days, see if there is a pattern. Do your bio-rhythms affect the chart, the quality of your sleep, the healthiness of your diet, the meditation discipline you follow, the people you spend time with, etc. While the goal is to join a spirit of life in raising new life, the usual pattern is to gently move in that direction, with a step backward every now and then, but generally moving forward. Don’t give up.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13

Pentecost + 4 - Year A

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13

Since we have a potential break after verse 8 or a start up at verse 9, we might wonder about who the “You” is at the beginning. If you start with verse 1 you might be tempted to claim it is G*D. If you were to hand this to someone starting at verse nine, they might think it was about them.

Try reading 9-13 as a reference to yourself. Here is the Common English Translation:

You visit the earth
and make it abundant,
   enriching it greatly
      by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
   because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
      leveling its ridges,
   you soften it with rain showers;
      you bless its growth.
You crown the year
with your goodness;
   your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
   and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
   the valleys decked out in grain—
      they shout for joy;
      they break out in song!

Have you decided something other than to provide for the earth and people?
What then might your decision point to?
How’s that going for you?
Have you recently heard a shout for joy regarding your decisions?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Genesis 25:19-34

Pentecost + 4 - Year A

Genesis 25:19-34

There are folks struggling within every denominational polity. Our usual characterization of them is “left” and “right”. A church body has every right to join Rebekah in wondering how it is going to make it.

When Rebekah or the church searches for a larger perspective on what is going to come of this internal struggle, the easy and predictable response is that there is a division coming. A shift from rural to urban is anticipated. A shift from patriarch (Isaac) to matriarch (Rebekah) is already underway. What shift today do you see as building on these shifts of the past?

What do you consider your birthright to be - beloved? assured? - and what is it worth to you? Perhaps the question of Matthew about what sort of seedbed you are, may here be looked at in terms of what kind of seed you are.

At what point do you think Isaac rued having prayed for children by Rebekah? He seems to have gotten more than he expected, which may be as great a difficulty as getting less.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Pentecost + 4 - Year A

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

After a year and a half of significant work on the Witness Team for Rev. Amy DeLong,, and the relief of a restorative justice decision by the trial court, I found myself exhausted and amazed. Now it is time to see if I can get back in the swing of consistent lection comments (that they come regularly, not that they are consistent, one comment with another).

= = = = = = =

A parable explained is not a parable - it loses it parabolic arc when squoze down to an explanation and ends up a mere analogy. This is still a good, but no longer a better.

Here's another way of coming at the story, from the point of view of the storyteller. This from Provoking the Gospel of Matthew by Richard Swanson:

But the moment that catches my ritual eye most is the moment in the story when Jesus reports the harvest produced by the seed that falls on beautiful soil. Some seed produces a hundredfold. I imagine that the audience laughs at this point. Any farmer in the audience would have known that, if this seed is wheat, no wheat in the ancient world could produce a hundredfold. So, after the chuckle dies down, Jesus says: Well, then, how about sixtyfold? Another laugh. Sixty fold is still too high. Again the chuckle dies down. Again Jesus takes another try, and this time names a yield that would (at least nearly) lie in the realm of possibility.

. . . Now all that remains is to figure out why he's telling stories about farming when he is sitting in a boat with a shore full of fishing folk in front of him.

In that sort of incongruous setting, here is a parable of the lesbian pastor found at Crossing the Lines blog by Tyler Schwaller:

She was one of those liberated folks, one of those people who knows and trusts the love and grace God brings into her life, even in ways that others don’t expect. But this one went too far. She was nourished by love for, from, and with another woman, and this was against the rules. You know how those United Methodists are about their rules! The rule keepers asked how she could do what was not lawful and still remain in the church.

She answered, “The church was made for humankind and not humankind for the church.”

Then, as she stood within that church, two women approached her. They had been harmed by the church before, but through the grace and mercy shared by this spirit-filled pastor, healing began. Because they believed in God, they sought the blessing of the minister for their holy union.

The pastor asked those who would stifle her, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm in the church, to save life or to kill?” Though she was grieved at the hardness of hearts in the United Methodist Church, she extended a hand of blessing.

Who might the audience be? Will they laugh in solidarity, recognition, impossibility?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Romans 7:15-25a

Pentecost + 3 - Year A

Romans 7:15-25a

So many fractures in life.

death - life
sin - good
mind - flesh
spirit - body
law within - law without

No wonder Paul finally exclaims - I'm Wretched.

I recommend a book by RW "Obie" Holmen, “A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle” wherein much good contemporary scholarship is conveyed in novel form. It will get your thinker going again.

Where is the going on?

From the cross Jesus cried out, “I commend my life.”
In Paul’s last days we might hear him finally say, “Catch me.”

In these two we find parentheses, fore and aft, of lives well-lived - From grace to draw near to G*D as a life’s work to finally allowing grace to simply proceed in the midst of all the contradictions and paradoxes and blockages of life. Wherever you are on that spectrum, rejoice.