Thursday, September 25, 2014

Philippians 2:1-13

Year A - Pentecost +16 or Community Practice 16
September 28, 2014

In the game of Jenga, blocks are removed from a tower and placed on top of the remaining structure. The result is a progressively more unstable structure. Even with the strongest base of communal values:


these are not sufficient for a tower to reach to the heavens. We see our very own construction teetering and our hand shaking the more with each move.

Our imagination also teeters in stressful situations. We have accepted the limitations of our rules. Eventually our tower of life comes tumbling down. Our neighbor’s hand or our own falters. But even if we were to build until only one piece was still in its original place, the simple settling out of dust from the air will destabilize the structure and down it will come. Things fall apart, is not just the name of a great book by Chinua Achebe but our constant reality.

We attempt to corral life by hedging it in with rules as though Jenga were but a physics problem to be worked out with what we know at any given time. All we need to do is set initial boundaries of behavior and somehow we will be able to take that final piece from the bottom and successfully place it on the top so we can marvel at the space now available between tower and table. Higher and higher we go with increasing amounts of nothing below.

Our communal stability relies on common consent

     same mind
     same love
     same purpose
     same heart

only to find tensions

     ambition – humility
     self interest – other interest

in the middle of love and purpose that are as intractable as gravity in everyday life. An ideal game will never be played, even by robots. Something there is that doesn’t like pat answers to messy questions. And so someone usually knocks it over with intentional unintentionally or out of simply meanness or revenge—anything to move on to a different game or get away from those present.

Therefore, beloveds, your fear and trembling work is


to not turn our various games of life into some fantasy of winning.

Now for the Zen of gaming. We watch with bated breath as our neighbor successfully completes their turn. And there is celebration. We are watched with bated breath as we successfully complete our turn. And there is celebration. We watch our neighbor fail. And there is mourning. We are watched as we fail. And there is mourning. Together, our celebrations and our mournings reveal G*D among us. Together, we rebuild a tower, all the fallen pieces become integral to a next opportunity to play together as we will and work for the pleasure of one another’s company.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Year A - Pentecost +16 or Community Practice 16
September 28, 2014

I receive the posting of Jim Taylor every Sunday and Wednesday. I thought his paraphrase was one that leads us to continue connecting various parts of the scriptures together, along with our own lives.

How would you bring this psalm into a world so bound by political rhetoric and advertising slogans?

Where does a central story or two from our past still inform us?

Anyway, here’s Jim’s comment and paraphrase:

We all need family histories. No one is so poor as the person with no roots. I’m sure that’s why Deuteronomy stresses that when children ask about laws and statutes, you should tell them a story. I worked that idea into the Psalm 78 reading for this coming Sunday. 
1   If I say, "Once upon a time," everyone knows a story is starting.
2   I do not know the meanings of my stories;
     I merely pass them on as they were passed to me.
3   Only you can decide what they mean to you.
4   This is our story. This is where we came from.
     When you hear this story, you must also tell it,
     so that others may also know where they came from. 
12  Once upon a time, we were slaves.
      We were exploited for economic growth, and held captive by capital.
13  But God freed us from the prisons of our past.
      God flung open our minds, and let us see new possibilities.
14  By signs and symbols, God led us to new life.
15  In arid canyons of crisis, God showed us how to drink deeply of life.
16  In barren wastelands of despair, God gave us joy. 
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Exodus 17:1-7

Year A - Pentecost +16 or Community Practice 16
September28, 2014

We all journey by stages. Whatever stage we are currently in, there is yet another stage to enter. Of stages there will be no end.

One of the clues that we are ready to move on is thirst. When we have made peace with our recent stage of life, it no longer satisfies as it once did. We are thirsty for a next stage of meaning, of engagement with an on-going creation.

Is this all there is? This question stands behind the question asked here, “Were we brought here simply to die?” Have we been through all we have been through to settle for this?

Is this all there is? This is also background to the concluding question, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The miracle here is not a water-bearing rock, but the thirst that moves us farther along a larger journey. If there was not the thirst there would not be the questioning that brings a sign of water from a rock. If there was not the thirst we wouldn’t be able to affirm both the presence and the absence of G*D.

What more are you thirsting for than can be fulfilled in the current state of affairs. This thirst is a gift from the future to the present that we might move onward.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Matthew 21:23-32

Year A - Pentecost +16 or Community Practice 16
September28, 2014

Matthew 21:23-32

If the two greatest commandments are to Love G*D and Love Neighb*r there is no way to split authority in “heavenly” or “human” realms. These are intimately bound together.

Not to put too fine a line on it, this separation ends up privileging heaven over human. Listen  to the danger here as Greg Brown sings, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy from his album, “Freak Flag”

I don’t know why we as people
do the things we do.
We are mostly fine just the way we are
if we could only get a clue.
This longing for an afterlife
has damn near wrecked this place.
Mercy, mercy, mercy:
tears on a face.

This separation of heaven and human leads us to deny our own experience. The condemnation is not so much what we have done, but what we have failed to learn when the opportunity was upon us — “...even after you saw it, you did not change your mind.”

May your cry for Mercy be heard by yourself, bring the tears, and then the change.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Romans 14:1-12

Year A - Pentecost +14 or Community Practice 14
September 14, 2014

Welcome those who are weak in faith, even while they are convinced in their own mind that they are strong in faith. Perhaps that needs to be, even while they are convinced in their own mind that they have the stronger faith.

Of course this is a set-up for institutional chaos and an eventual schism such as a king throwing a slave out for not being merciful. At best the setting up of such confusion may foster a new synthesis, a new creation not otherwise available than through an inherently weak process of revelation without experience.

The experience of church, early and late, is that the more loudly people claim every knee is to bow and every tongue be the same the more or the larger comes a split, a throwing of some out, the intentional knocking of dust off the feet of some as they high-tail it.

This welcome is not intended to weaken those first to arrive at an insight by deliberately setting up a heterodox setting. By verse 22 the welcomers are to keep their own belief and act according to their own conviction even in the face of different convictions by those they welcomed. Finally, by 15:5 a reliance is put back on G*D rather than convictions: “May G*D, the source of all perseverance and comfort, grant you to live in peace with one another....”

For now,
                 keep welcoming others
                 keep your convictions clear
                 keep partnered with G*D
                 keep on keeping on.

Psalm 114

Year A - Pentecost +14 or Community Practice 14
September 14, 2014

When viewing your last 10 years, can you make a similar review of the positives without mentioning the tension of being caught between a rock and a hard place with no good option, helpless to decide which way to commit suicide, or the difficulty out of which came some unexpected providential event?

This Psalm is very much on message regarding the effect of the Presence of G*D—a blessing. Regardless of what the point of contention, we are reminded that it shall pass and the remainder will nourish many.

Of course, sometimes we have to use a multi-generational view to find such a providence. In the meantime, many will have gone the way and be no more. Hopefully they were able to die with some assurance that the little they were able to do to make a change will have been added to many other little choices that coalesced into an opportunity for their great-grandchildren to actually make it into a more open space.

Read and analyze your spirit seismometer. Test your study with a prediction of the next tremblor. Refine your next prediction on the basis of your result. Finally your prediction and a prophecy of mercy need to have a conversation. If what you are testing for doesn’t include a shaking of the foundations of an injustice, you are probably wasting your time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Exodus 14:19-31

Year A - Pentecost +14 or Community Practice 14
September 14, 2014

Salvation of some by the denial of mercy to others. This is our usual way of looking at this victory passage regarding a people caught between a devil and a deep blue see (at least an enemy and marshy ground).

Assurance is evidence based. This is our usual way of looking at a providential moment and deriving a need for repeated providential actions to prove our G*D is still OUR god.

Hopefully it is not too late in a Season of Pentecost (no matter what other season we might also be in) to remember wonder-sharing is particularly for those who have been denied mercy and changes both the teller and tellee? Hopefully it is also a good time to remember that one event can change a whole life arc and never need another booster shot.

Has mercy slipped away over the course of a short 14 weeks? How about assurance? Might this be a renewal Sunday. This Sunday is actually my 42nd wedding anniversary. In remembering the forgetting of it along the way with whatever unkindness has manifested itself, renewal in a new setting of today revives the soul. This Sunday is also a 14th weekly anniversary of Pentecost. In remembering our forgetting of it along the way with whatever self-absorption has manifested itself, renewal in a communal setting of today revives the soul.

Matthew 18:21-35

Year A - Pentecost +14 or Community Practice 14
September 14, 2014

In today’s world, with slavery gone underground and been institutionalized in economic policy, it is be important to review that forgiveness is not a one-way street.

The very beginning of Jesus’ story telling about the Presence of G*D makes us wonder about what would lead a king to even begin to consider forgiveness unless it is to remind folks how much they are dependent upon the king.

Eventually we see a king that will forgive some things but not others. An alternative is a king who requires emulation and will torture to see that their image, their slave, reflects themself back to themself.

Of course, these stories are not intended to be one-to-one correspondences to life. Nonetheless, we wish more had been revealed here about the initial forgiveness of financial debt racked up in every company-store setting and what mercy/forgiveness is needed for the king/CEO. If mercy is the category of the day, what are the limits of that mercy by the end of the story? Do we need some provisional ways of describing mercy?

This mercy is to make me look good, thank me.
This mercy is instructional, repeat it.
This mercy is time-bound, be thankful for little things.
This mercy is a set up, beware.
This mercy is to be translated into other settings, learn from it.
This mercy is to further indebt you, serve better.
This mercy is to . . . .

Having thought of a few of the ways mercy is circumscribed and kept from being an underlying understanding of a creative impulse, what might have to change the next time you use the word? Is this a primary word (way we live toward or in response to life experiences)? Is this a secondary word (a useful tool to arrive at a self-defined destination)?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Romans 13:8-14

Year A - Pentecost +13 or Community Practice 13
September 7, 2014

All commandments are summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In this regard, if you are in the United Methodist tradition you might want to consider supporting a Love Your Neighbor coalition working to transform the world by beginning with transforming The United Methodist Church. Anything you can do to help support this group will be appreciated. (In terms of disclosure, I am working their the legislative arm of Love Your Neighbor).

Love Your Neighbor Campaign

It is very easy to put off engaging differences, particularly where there is no room to move with one or another absolutist positions. Sometimes be clear in one’s affirmations is the only engaging that can be done.

This is not a reason, though, to put off our work. Whether of not others will engage with us, we can still live honorably and affirm where our trust is grounded.

Again, there is a temptation to have to be a holier-than-thou “honoring of self” that sets up its own absolute division into competing dualities (flesh and spirit, for example). If Jesus is incarnational, so are we and dividing Jesus from the manger and feasting and death only divides us from this wonderful Native understanding of Honor. (No, not retributive honor killings reflecting a fragile life, but an expansive and expanding honor to bring forth everyone’s best affirmations).

So, in the time remaining:
Live Honorably
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Psalm 149

Year A - Pentecost +13 or Community Practice 13
September 7, 2014

When it comes to resolving issues between persons and peoples, all too often it comes down to finding a way to justify getting rid of someone rather than live in the tension of differences (understandable differences, but not differences that are equal in validity).

This psalm all too clearly spells out our tendency to short-circuit a resolution that helps clarify a next engagement of differences. We let the unresolved differences pile up until we are preemptively justified in striking first. Here the language is “to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples ... to execute on them the judgment decreed.”

Somehow or other this exercise of removal is an expression of “glory for all G*D’s faithful ones.” Really?

Vengeance seems to all too often be the hidden and unrevealed until it is too late side of praise. Go ahead and be thankful, but be careful with unrestrained praise that sets us apart for soon it will lead us to setting other apart for their destruction.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Exodus 12:1-14

Year A - Pentecost +13 or Community Practice 13
September 7, 2014

“You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.” So much for literal legalisms based on biblical mandate selected to support my bias.

This passover is not a feast. Feasts are leisurely. This has a manic feel to it. It is like trying to play Twister and eat at the same time. This is serious competition eating. Imagine miscalculating the proportion of lamb to diners. Somebody is going to be throwing up from cramming too much too quickly.

In observing Passover as a perpetual ordinance we diminish its power. The sign is not the experience. Emphasizing the repetition of a once wonderful sign dims our ability to catch a next wonderful sign. We get so caught up in doing it just right the second or two thousandth time that we can easily let a quieter and deeper transformation slip by.


  • Literalism carries within itself its own contradiction.
  • It is difficult to carry desperation past its time.
  • Familiarity blinds us to beauty as we yearn for novelty.
This is not an easy place for the generation of a sermon. It is a helpful place to wrestle with some of the persistent tensions on a pathway to freedom, except for those are simply subjected to active genocide such as that experienced by Indigenous Peoples everywhere. There is no redemptively violent exodus for them.

Matthew 18:15-20

Year A - Pentecost +13 or Community Practice 13
September 7, 2014

Thank goodness these instructions are in the context of finding a lost sheep. They put us in the position of a privileged shepherd, right in being affronted by another loser (uh, lost one). The obvious work to be done is to get them to acknowledge the hurt I have received and make it good. I need my boo-boo kissed.

So a logical way of doing this is to start by providing the least embarrassing option of a personal apology. However, the odds are that if I am feeling the need to straighten out their behavior I would like a little more than a private conversation. I have already escalated this to having talked with my friends and gotten their agreement that I am the aggrieved party.

So we are already on our way to a separation. By the time I can muster saying, “You hurt me.” The possibility of a lesser encounter is long past. I am no longer able to start with a clarification of what I took to be an injury or to say, “I felt hurt when....”

So it is that our experience of being discounted (whether we were or not) gets tied up with universals and eternals and I am ready to bind another, forever, if they have any different picture than I do about their fault I am lovingly pointing out to them for their betterment.

We are here well past the beginning humility of this chapter, causing another to stumble. We are all too ready to say, “Yes, I messed up a little with that kid, but you messed up big time with me!”

What do you think was in the mind of the lection committee when they stopped at verse 20 and didn’t go on to Peter and forgiveness in multiples of 70? It would seem we are more intent on another’s confession than our own affirmation or practice of premeditated mercy.

A Foreword Question

I have been working on selecting and sprucing up comments from this blog for a second volume of Wrestling with Church Years — Wrestling Year B: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience.

The person I had anticipated writing a forward is no longer able to do so as a result of a significant change in their life.

On short notice, I thought I would put out the possibility of someone on this list contributing a Foreword or a blurb for the back cover about the value of the jottings here for their life/work.

If you have an interest in such, let me know and we will work out deadline and other details. Rather than using a reply that goes to the whole list, I can be reached at

Thanks for the consideration.