Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Genesis 32:22-31

Year A - Pentecost +8 or Community Practice 8
July 27, 2014

Into the midst of trepidation that all we knew was coming to an end, our past had caught up with us and there was to be no choosing of doors to escape, Jacob has a dream realer than real.

A wrestling ensues. The battle was lost with a broken hip and no way to leverage any foot upon a strong foundation. There was only limping around an altar of past success.

The contest had gone on long enough that evening was becoming morning. In the end there is an end to wrestling. In this end is neither victory nor defeat, but blessing.

We are renamed, reoriented, reanimated. Imagine what it would be like in your world if word finally came to you, “you have striven with G*D and Neighb*r, and have prevailed.”

In prevailing we, too, would want to know a name to rename. Though a name is not revealed here, Charles Wesley later penned a poem, “Wrestling Jacob”, turned into a hymn, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (386 and 387 in The United Methodist Hymnal of 1989). Here Charles’ conclusion is, “thy nature and thy name is Love.” Though not included in current versions of the hymn, the 14th and concluding stanza runs:

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
hell, earth, and sin with ease overcome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
and as a bounding hart fly home,
through all eternity to prove
thy nature, and thy name is Love.

A challenge to us in these days of discouragement of wars and rumors of war and great community splits happening and threatened, is to reveal in our life the nature and name of Love that will not let us go nor escape our grasp, even should the night darken or the morning come.

- - - - - - -

You are encouraged to read Thy Nature & Thy Name Is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue, Edited by Bryan P. Stone & Thomas Jay Oord.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Matthew 14:13-21

Year A - Pentecost +8 or Community Practice 8
July 27, 2014

One unrealistic expectation of a lectionary is that folks will know what comes before and after a particular passage. Having only a slice of the larger story leads us into a literalistic approach to the words selected. A pericope comes with an implied moral.

As we hear the transition words that begin this segment,“On hearing this. . . .”, we need to remember what has just gone on: Baptizer John has just been beheaded.

In the concluding action we can hear a reprise of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism. With no bread around he was tempted to turn stones into bread and did his Jesus judo by saying we don’t live by bread alone and that he had “bread” unknown to others. Now, with “nothing” to eat for 5,013 men (no “women and children first” here) the disciples respond “we have but enough for ourselves”. 

It is not until we get down to not having enough for ourselves that we begin to trust an alternative reality. The Disciples hadn’t hit bottom yet, they were just on the fringes of wilderness, not immersed in it.

Can you hear Jesus saying a different blessing than the expected one, “The Body of John has been broken for us, let us break into a fast in remembrance of him.” And the five loaves and two fish were taken to all. And the people, one by one, remembered they had sustenance previously unknown. [Note: this does not speak to those amazing details of multiplication or eating or left-overs, only to a blessing beyond standard blessings that reframes where we are, who we are, and what might yet be possible.]

From here we can go on to a dry place with water all around and an invitation to “Courage” and a bidding to “Come”.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Romans 8:26-39

Year A - Pentecost +7 or Community Practice 7
July 27, 2014

We plant weeds in our own prayer and life. No wonder we don’t know how to pray. We get all mixed up about what it means to work toward a larger common good.

Take a look at today. If today is what was predestined from a hundred years or generations ago, surely something has gone awry. It suggests that even a sighing Spirit has a spotty prayer record.

So what can be said about the parables of life? Not much. Discernment about which one to use when is still an important task. Nonetheless, we do put down markers that reflect what it is we trust or are convinced about. In our better times, we live up to the hope they imply.

What are you convinced about? Your value? Your part in larger pictures? Just showing up is nine-tenths of the job? You are not as lonely as our tendency to separate would lead us to believe? Love wins in the end, even if you die rejecting that premise? Mustard happens?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Psalm 105:1-11, 45

Year A - Pentecost +7 or Community Practice 7
July 27, 2014

imagine praise of another 
as sowing a small 
mustard seed 
of encouragement 
into their life

in time 
will grow 
to welcome strangers
from another realm

with them
comes fertilizer
to grow
into further

each to the other
will cede
to the other
a new

Genesis 29:15-28

Year A - Pentecost +7 or Community Practice 7
July 27, 2014

Jacob’s life is like Leah that Laban sowed in Jacob’s life.

The Presence of G*D is like expectation that rises whenever Rachel is thought of. Her grace and beauty leavens all of Jacob’s life.

Tomorrow’s Promise is found and hidden in Today, in Rachel. Jacob invests twice to be with his treasure. He would have done it a third time had that been necessary.

Our Goal is worth the circuitous search for it. When our “Rachel” is found, we gladly sell any time we have to have a moment.

Eventually  every Leah and Rachel enters our life. In their presence we recognize that both are part of our story and we cannot consign any part to a fiery dust-heap of a sanitized history. Everything will be made whole or well again.

Jacob and you and I are in training for Tomorrow. Our gift box of treasures is quite varied. Sometimes we pull out a cautionary tale and sometime one of great unimagined surprise.

Jacob’s life of new and old, tricks that push forward and hold back, rascal children and thoughtful, rolls on in his time and continues to invite us into the kind of intentional and happenstance experiences that make up a life.

Now, how would you identify a key moment in your life and have that be an example or parable of the Presence or Freedom of G*D?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Year A - Pentecost +7 or Community Practice 7
July 27, 2014

It was just a moment ago we heard that a sower sowed “good” seed and someone else sowed “weed” seed or invasive species. The wisdom of that moment was to let them both grow until harvest and to then separate them.

Here it seems a sower sowed mustard in their own wheat field. What sense does it make to sow mustard among the wheat?

Well, remember this is a parable and we only compare them to one another within the closing rubric of this pericope: we are to bring out of our treasured experiences that which is new and what is old according to the situation at hand. Attend to the situation to reduce the misapplication of a favorite saying. 

For now rejoice that even a weed can be a symbol of the presence of G*D. In some sense this story is a direct challenge and counter to the privilege of mighty cedar trees. Here a mustard holds birds just like a cedar. All flighty persons are welcome to settle. That is you and me and all.

The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says the mustard in question is “almost certainly” Brasica nigra (the black mustard) with a seed about 0.1 inches in diameter that in ideal conditions can grow to 15 feet tall with a stem as thick as a human arm. Of course parables don’t need to deal with “almost” certainties to make a point. If they were it would have to be recognized that in usual circumstances, the plant’s tendency to go limp in the heat of the day wouldn’t be an ideal nesting place. The certainties would also get us into the sexuality of the plant wherein the flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant is self-fertile. This wouldn’t play well with the “one man, one woman” crowd but does opens up a whole new understanding of “heavenly realms”.

For the moment, imagine the presence of G*D portrayed as a humble garden herb instead of an imperial tree already mighty, high and lifted up. Here is an opportunity to add flavor to life, not to overpower it. May we go and do likewise.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Romans 8:12-25

Year A - Pentecost +6 or Community Practice 6
July 20, 2014

Yesterday there was to have been a meeting hosted by the leadership of The United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table and the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops that invited 3 groups advocating for a release of mission and ministry in The United Methodist Church by removing the fearful language that categorically discriminates against LGBTQ United Methodists and 3 groups attempting to maintain and strengthen the current restrictive legislation. Additionally there was 1 group invited that represents the 100 largest United Methodist congregations.

The result was that the only  the first 3 groups arrived (Love Prevails, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network).

The agenda was pitiful and still was tried to be carried out when less than half of the invitees bothered to show up and they were all folks who had had to gird their loins to be present, one more time in the face of those who desire their exile and will go to any lengths to achieve purity at the expense of another’s very life.

If you want to focus on groaning currently going on, that can be done at quite a distance with news about shooting down a public airliner or a ground invasion of Gaza. For those in The United Methodist Church, it will be important to attend to your groaning sisters and brothers and a variety of gender identities lest your concern for those far away is undercut by your lack of concern for those near by. In other situations the undercutting would go the other way, but today, in The United Methodist Church, the delay in honoring our baptized LGBTQ siblings affects every part of the denomination.

Join the groaning that there is so much trickle-down fear and cowardice from church leadership and the need is so great for trickle-up courage from everyday folk. Attend to this video report after the above fiasco of a meeting where absence was yet another face and form of violence.

Then you might appreciate this reflection by on the video report by Jeanne Knepper, one of many LGBTQ saints, that speaks to a watchful and waiting hope: 

Trickle up, trickle through, trickle, trickle moves the water as it undercuts, as it undermines, as it overwhelms the dam, the damn dam. And when the water gushes through, when the Spirit flows, the dam believers will wonder, "Why didn't we see this coming??" Because, fearful friends, you were afraid to go near the water, the water of Life, offered so very freely, for so many years. Love Prevails.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Year A - Pentecost +6 or Community Practice 6
July 20, 2014

Given the parable of the wheat and weeds, does G*D search us to distinguish our various parts and judge one against another? To hem us in, fore and aft, would seem to be an attempt to de-weed us.

That question is one starting point to further question a deistic formulation of a divinely controlling busy-body. How easy does the gospel lesson lie with this psalm?

It would seem to be more comfortable in relationship to the ladder image in Genesis. The ascending and descending going on wherever the ladder might be planted is indicative of it being located at all points and we just periodically notice it.


Are angels constrained by OSHA constraints on angles?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Genesis 28:10-19a

Year A - Pentecost +6 or Community Practice 6
July 20, 2014

Where the “ladder” is set is a place of wheat and tares, seed and weed. It can be meta-geographical location—a previous Garden of Eden, a present Garden of Your Life, or a next Revelational Garden. Wherever set, it gives shape to the ascending and descending aspects of life.

What do you image as the work of ascending or descending such a metaphoric ladder? A usual response might entail something about sin or prayer, but for the moment consider a simpler and more complex dynamic of an on-going creation larger than sin or prayer.

You are invited to take this ladder with you wherever you might go—“Know a creative process we shorthand as G*D is with you wherever you go. It will not leave, no matter how we try to escape our part in it, and will continue to trouble us with a word or a sign.”

Susan Werner - Did Trouble Me
Found on her CD: The Gospel Truth

Monday, July 14, 2014

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Year A - Pentecost +6 or Community Practice 6
July 20, 2014

Because the presence of heaven come on earth is so elusive, there is parable after parable to try to clarify how much of it is present and how much yet to come. It is almost as if such a state were a constructed new element, present for a moment but O so evanescent. It is as elusive and temporary as John Wesley’s sense of “perfection”—here but for a moment before knowing that even a mature wholeness presages yet more to come.

So, once upon a time there was a sowing and in days yet to come there will be a harvest.

In the meantime we don’t go about purifying the field for to do so will leave it barren. Those who attempt the impossible task of stopping growth will ultimately be disappointed for the impetus of creation is always onward.

It is worth a moment of time to reflect on healthy and unhealthy seed—that which we differentiate by “seed” and “weed”, though both come from seed. In today’s church there is no more important overcoming of differentiation than that of that seed called “sex”. This gets us into an important category of “us”.

In every expression of sex there are healthy and unhealthy behaviors. It is a false split to name one expression healthy and another unhealthy. This is an attempt to turn relationship into technique and is bound to eventually be seen for the falsity it contains.

When we finally get around to the healthy/unhealthy distinction we will find our definition of who is in and out is broadened. It will have an effect on all the other discriminations of gender, race, culture, language, national origin, signage (cross, crescent, star, yin-yang, etc.), and the like. Regardless of who won the first World Cup or that latest, we can learn a larger “us” of soccer fan beyond support of any particular team.

High on the list of important scriptures hidden inside larger units is verse 30a: Let both of them grow together. This runs the short-run danger of weeds entirely choking out the non-weed seeds. It relies on a promise that health and wholeness will come through.

Without getting into the burning, which is not ours to do this early in the harvest game, let’s focus on being the best seeds we can be regardless of our degree of male, intersex, or female genitalia or affectional preference within any of those physical realities. How can we be the best seed available within whatever racial, cultural, national, language subset we happen to begin in. This is what we have to work with, not judging harvests.

Blessings on growing together—within yourself and between yourself and another and others.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Romans 8:1-11

Year A - Pentecost +5 or Community Practice 5
July 13, 2014

A seed sown and eaten by a bird will go through that bird and become fertilizer for another seed at another location. Not a very efficient system, but consistent with profligate sowing.

How is this like Jesus’ teachings running through you?

Seed sown on rocky ground does a bit of growing before failing and yet that very failure is added to, seed by seed, until fertile soil overlays the rock. Not a very fast system, but consistent with a natural evolution of an environment as well well as natural life processes of an individual.

How is this like Jesus’ teachings slowly growing within until their evidence is unmistakable?

Seed sown amid tall and virile weeds has the toughest job of all. It is safe from predators gobbling it quickly and shaded from desiccation. These very mechanisms that might seem so ideal are eventually seen as unhealthy constraints. Cultures focused on safety from particular dangers bring their own death. Not only can’t birds sneak into a weedy patch, but the weeds block needed sun and suck up needed water with deeper and wider roots. The result is the same, though different. From too much sun to too little; from no water to water available but not accessible. 

How is this like Jesus’ teachings that clarify the dangers of too many laws springing up?

These variant readings complicate Paul’s attempt to simplify relationships and thus do an injustice to the dynamism of Spirit. Christ simply sows and seeds even when the results seem so lacking. To measure things dualistically (...you are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit ... no Spirit, no connection....) is to miss the mystery of resurrection, the power of pentecost, and the joy of everyday everydayness where everything is interconnected, not separated out.

I suspect that what folks see as failed seeds tickles G*D’s fancy as a different scale is used—being sown vs. cultural success. Here abundance in the sowing is far more evocative than even a hundred fold increase of some portion of the planting. To set our minds on the things of fleshy seeds and how they serve even in dying is a process to raise Spirit and decrease privilege.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Psalm 119:105-112

Year A - Pentecost +5 or Community Practice 5
July 13, 2014

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Hearing echoes of past mercy, experiencing opportunities to pass it on, and anticipating a more expansive mercy than can currently be lived, are seeds promising abundant growth far beyond the limits of this day.

I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I see the wisdom of and confirm the process of sowing seeds of steadfast love regardless of how they are received. This is a helpful guide to life.

I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
In this process I am grieved that it is a process and not a guaranteed technique leading to ease. For now this reminder leads me back to engaging life with a gentler hand.

Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your ordinances.
I am also grateful for a reminder of a larger perspective that pulls me toward a healthier relationship with difficulties.

I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
I am ready to dive deeper into the contingencies of life as a remembrance of a yet better way to come shapes and reshapes current boundaries.

The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
There is a strange and curious attractant that requires clear discernment to wend one’s way through the snares of those who will never love us and yet are those whom we should love.*

Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
No matter how I try to wiggle out of it, the sowing process is real. Better joy in the heart of reality than certainty in a land of speculation.

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.
And so I commit myself, once again, to a creative impetus that knows no end but a continual investment in life.

* “Forgiveness” by Susan Werner on her CD Gospel Truth 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Genesis 25:19-34

Year A - Pentecost +5 or Community Practice 5
July 13, 2014

In light of the parable of the sower we would claim the problem was that Rebekah was some blackbird she-devil, ultra-frigid, or shallow beyond belief. Obviously barrenness is a situation that calls out for a prayer that will call out G*D. 

If we were to take a second look, beyond our culture’s male privilege, we might see low motile sperm that did not have vitality traced back shock to a newly hormonal Isaac all but sacrificed. His body’s reaction, “I’m never going to try that with a child, no children for me.”

Here the storyline is that such that Isaac had a conversion experience to wanting a child or at least wanting Rebekah to not be embarrassed by not having a child and a prayer was more than answered. It was as if G*D says, “OK, you want to play games around conception, here’s a trick for you.”

In usual circumstances sowing millions of sperm get you a yield of (1) one. Here it doubled that, but still pretty profligate sowing. If it was prayer, perhaps we can say (1) one prayer yielded a yield of (2) two. When “division” is factored in, we may be at a final yield of (1/2) one-half.

So where does all this silly playing around get us, beyond a doctoral thesis? First, that parables are tricky when applied to a particular situation. Second, we still attribute qualities to physical characteristics (ginger ruddiness) or situations that call forth a nickname (Jealous Jacob).

From almost sacrificed Isaac we get Jacob, whose sons almost sacrificed one of their own. And how much further have we grown in our divisions and sacrifice of one another? Consider the schism talk in The United Methodist Church and its sacrifice of LGBTQ persons.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Year A - Pentecost +5 or Community Practice 5
July 13, 2014

What a great day! I think I’ll get me a few rays here on the beach.

Whoa! Where’d all these folks come from?

Hey there, what’s up?

You're hungry for another story? 
Oh, not a bedtime story, but a waking up story. 
Well, OK. 
Let me think.
Try this one. “Once upon a time, a sower went out to sow. . . . Let anyone who wants to wake up, listen. 

Here’s what’s real, there is no guarantee in life, no technique that will work every time. We are messy people in the midst of a messy world. Everything is still developing. Some things work and some don’t. Engage anyway.

Some of your work will go down a dark hole. Some of what you attempt will seem fruitful at first, but fade over time from lack of your own trust in it. Likewise some of your attempts will fade because of external factors out of your control that indicate you sowed at the wrong time or place. And, believe it or not, some of your growth will nurture and be nurtured by others and actually make a difference for now and for generations.

In the midst of uncertainty, engage anyway. This story is has no ending other than your waking up and engaging. So, off you go to practice. Come back again some time to let me know how it went. No matter how dark or faded, some of what you do will be crucially important.

Hmm, not a bad story. A few more rays for energy and it’ll be time for me to practice what I preach.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Romans 7:15-25a

Year A - Pentecost +4 or Community Practice 4
July 6, 2014

First a reference: A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle uses contemporary Pauline studies to look again at Paul. The novel form allows for additional context for key phrases and ideas from Paul.

Second: There is no rule against doing good. While “good” can get one in temporary trouble, its long-term arc is to benefit both oneself and generations to come. Sometimes it only assists others, but that’s good.

Don’t get too dualistic here between spiritual law and fleshy sin. Even G*D has done things that have needed repentance and a resolution to not do that again. Note the interplay between these idealized states and continue the work set out at Pentecost to move from our fear, our wretchedness, and move into a polyglot (some would say sinful) community to better wrestle out how we care for weary ones. Do we give them our yoke or teach them to find their own?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Psalm 45:10-17

Year A - Pentecost +4 or Community Practice 4
July 6, 2014

Just why this pericope is here may simply be the reference to Tyre. A Roman Catholic tradition ties these sorts of royal psalms to some desired “kingship” for Jesus.

For now you may simply want to go back to consider the yoke image, this time for oxen. Weddings hitch two folks so they are not only still their unique persons but that they have joined in common purpose as well.

The Psalm has folks cheering the newly wedded king and queen to bed that there might be “sons” (yes, patriarchal sons).

What would you have the church cheered on to do in this day and age? Would it have something to do with doing a more effective job of engaging those who are weary and still have many a mile to go with their burden? Can this receive as much partying as a wedding and a first post-marital intercourse?

Care for widows and infants would be a better reason to be famous than simple proliferation of numbers.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Genesis 24:34-48, 42-49, 58-67

Year A - Pentecost +4 or Community Practice 4
July 6, 2014

And Isaac looked up. It had probably been some time since he had been able to look up. When your father is ready to sacrifice you, something changes in the way you look at the world. We don’t hear about Isaac’s internal conversations. Presumably he knew he was responsible for his half-brother being exiled as well as how he was victimized by his father. It is hard to look up with these pulling you down from the inside.

And Rebekah looked up. A seemingly independent woman now away from the protection of family, wandering with Abraham’s servant, and with a ring on her nose. There has been enough time from leaving Nahor, even with her own servants along, to consider what a change she had committed to. Pondering in the heart makes it difficult to look up. Questions fly; responses escape.

And Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. And what of Rebekah—at first barren, then birthing babes struggling with one another, then choosing to advantage one child, then disavowed as wife out of Isaac’s fear, and then dies without it being specifically noted?

Both carry heavy loads. Both look up for at least a moment. Both proceed to continue living and growing, playing their part in an evolving story.

What word of good news would you pass on to Isaac and Rebekah at their various stages of life?