Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Love Ain't Lust - The Reading for 9/4/11; Romans 13:8-14:

Praise the Lord! Sing the the Lord a new song...   (Psalm 149:1)
Pablo Picasso
We only have the one obligation to others - to love them. Those that love this way are the very embodiment of the Law.
The commandments against: taking someone elses' partner; taking a life; taking someones stuff; or even dreaming about taking stuff that isn't yours; all of it - can together be written more succinctly as "Love everyone as we love ourselves and our family and friends." Love does no harm; it therefor makes the Law live.
Wake up and clear the gook out of your eyes - each day brings you closer to death, to eternal life, to the end and beginning of all things. I hear the birds - night will soon end. It is time to stop doing darkness' work and to don our armor of light!
Let us live and love openly again in the bright of day. No more calling lust "love": the one night hook-ups; the drunken camaraderie; the selfish orgies; the serial monogamy; the spouse abuse; the jealousy. It is time to take off our camouflage of shadows, and to don Jesus Christ. Time to stop gratifying the body's every whim, and to start fulfilling the needs of others.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Passover in September - The RCL Readings for 9/24/11; Exodus 12:1-14:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Is the following worship liturgy, law, living parable or all four?
God said to Moses and Aaron while still in Egypt, "This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Address the whole community of Israel; tell them that on the tenth of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one lamb to a house. If the family is too small for a lamb, then share it with a close neighbor, depending on the number of persons involved. Be mindful of how much each person will eat. Your lamb must be a healthy male, one year old; you can select it from either the sheep or the goats. Keep it penned until the fourteenth day of this month and then slaughter it—the entire community of Israel will do this—at dusk. Then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which you will eat it. You are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire, that night, along with bread, made without yeast, and bitter herbs. Don't eat any of it raw or boiled in water; make sure it's roasted—the whole animal, head, legs, and innards. Don't leave any of it until morning; if there are leftovers, burn them in the fire.

"And here is how you are to eat it: Be fully dressed with your sandals on and your stick in your hand. Eat in a hurry; it's the Passover to God.

"I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you—no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.

"This will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through the generations, a fixed festival celebration to be observed always. You will eat unraised bread (matzoth) for seven days: On the first day get rid of all yeast from your houses—anyone who eats anything with yeast from the first day to the seventh day will be cut off from Israel. The first and the seventh days are set aside as holy; do no work on those days. Only what you have to do for meals; each person can do that.

(The Message)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Get Out of My Way Pete! The Reading This Week; Matthew 16:21-28:

Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting, "Impossible, Master! That can never be!"

But Jesus didn't swerve. "Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works."
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
"Don't be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son of Man will arrive with all the splendor of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels. You'll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift. This isn't pie in the sky by and by. Some of you standing here are going to see it take place, see the Son of Man in kingdom glory."
(Matthew 16:21-28; The Message)
  • The disciples later on seem to have forgotten all of this, and are surprised as events unfold. Is this our human nature?
  • Is Jesus tempted by the ramifications of Peter's devotion to Him and to the concept of an earthly Davidic Messiah?
  • "Those who try to save their lives will lose Life, but those who surrender their lives gain Life" is a profound proverb. What we treasure most is often destroyed by our passion for it. Do I know the difference between "living" and "Living"?
  • Do I see my cross as a burden or as Living?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gnarly! A Burning Bush! A Retelling of Exodus 3:1-15.

The reading for 8/28/11:

He Qi
Jethro sent his new son-in-law Moses out into the wilderness to tend to his flocks. Moses went beyond the wilderness all the way to the mountain of God, Mt. Horeb, to check it out. On the mountain, he saw a bush on fire. He noted that its leaves were still green and weren't even wilted. He was mildly curious: "Dude! I gotta check this out.."
When God had his attention, he spoke from the bush: "Moses...  Moses..."
Moses answered: "I'm right here Mr. Bush." (Obviously, he wasn't overly surprised that a non-combustible un-consumed but burning bush could also talk...)
God spoke: "Don't come any closer! Take your flip-flops off, for you stand on Holy ground. I AM the God of your father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Moses finally caught on - he hit the deck and covered his face and head.
"Moshe. I've seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I've heard their weeping in the night. I've felt their suffering. So I've come down to my mountain to deliver them from their oppressors, and to take them to the land I had promised your fathers - a land flowing with nurturing milk and sweet honey. I have heard their cries and seen their oppression, so get up - I'm sending you to stand before Pharaoh and bring My people out of there to safety."
"Are.. are... are You sure you got the right m m mouth-piece?"
The Lord answered: "I'll be with you all the way. After you go get My people, come back here and we'll talk more."
But Moses wasn't so sure this was such a hot idea: "If I tell the leaders of the tribes that I'm on a mission from G-d sent to you by shrubbery, they'll think I've been out in the desert without a hat for too long! They'll test me: 'Tell us, if you and G-d are such buds, tell us His true name!' Then what do I say, just what is your name?"
"I AM WHO I AM. You can call Me I AM for short. Tell them that I AM sent you." God could see that He wasn't making a lot of headway with Moses. "Look! Just tell them that 'The Lord, The God of your ancestors, The God of Abraham, The God of Isaac, The God of Jacob has sent me to you.' It is as good a name and title as any, so be it from here onward."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Real Love - The Readings for 8/28/11; Romans 12:9-21

Let your love be real.

Hate what is not love.

Hold fast to goodness.

Love each other in

mutual affection.

Outdo each other in

in giving respect.

Be open in your zeal.

Be ardent of spirit.

Be a servant of God.

Rejoice in your hopefulness.

Be patient in hopelessness.

Let your praying persevere.

Give towards those in need.

Give hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who hurt you.

Bless them, don't curse them.

Share in the joy of the joyous.

Weep with those who weep.

Live harmoniously together.

Don't take on airs,

but hang with real people.

No more false claims of wisdom.

Don't respond to evil acts

with evil acts of your own.

Take the noble higher road

so all may see goodness.

If it is at all possible,

as far as it is in your power,

live in peace with everyone.

Summary: My beloved, never avenge yourselves! Leave room in the world for the righteous wrath of God; for is it not written that the Lord says; "Vengeance is Mine alone - it is My tab to pay?" God tells us: "If you see that your enemies are hungry - feed them! If they are thirsty, give them a nice cool drink. Such grace and mercy will be like itching powder in their shorts!" Be careful; when you play with evil, it will overcome you. Instead, overcome evil with goodness.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Sermon for This Sunday - the Readings for August 21, 2011:

A new king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, "There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We've got to do something: Let's devise a plan to contain them, lest if there's a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us." 
So they organized them into work-gangs and put them to hard labor under gang-foremen. They built the storage cities Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the harder the Egyptians worked them the more children the Israelites had - children everywhere! The Egyptians got so they couldn't stand the Israelites and treated them worse than ever, crushing them with slave labor. They made them miserable with hard labor - making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.
The king of Egypt had a talk with the two Hebrew midwives; one was named Shiphrah and the other Puah. He said, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the sex of the baby. If it's a boy, kill him; if it's a girl, let her live."
But the midwives had far too much respect for God and didn't do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live. The king of Egypt called in the midwives. "Why didn't you obey my orders? You've let those babies live!"  The midwives answered Pharaoh, "The Hebrew women aren't like the Egyptian women; they're vigorous. Before the midwife can get there, they've already had the baby."  God was pleased with the midwives. The people continued to increase in number—a very strong people. And because the midwives honored God, God gave them families of their own.  So Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live." 
A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.  The baby's older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh's daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child - a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, "This must be one of the Hebrew babies."  Then his sister was before her: "Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?"  Pharaoh's daughter said, "Yes. Go." The girl went and called the child's mother.  Pharaoh's daughter told her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me. I'll pay you." The woman took the child and nursed him. After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh's daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, "I pulled him out of the water."
(Exodus 1:8-2:10; The Message)

Israel had been invited into Egypt to do a job that the Egyptians found distasteful and beneath them. They were set aside in Goshen so the smell of sheep on them would not offend decent people. Over the years, people forgot about the special gifts they brought to Egypt.  Because they were unseen, the Egyptians lost sight of the critical services the Hebrews provided to make their lives better. Finally arose a ruler unaware of the history of his country. He persecuted the Hebrews because they weren't "real" Egyptians - they did not worship the Pharaoh or the other gods of their adopted home, they spoke their own language, they dresses differently...
The scripture does not say that Pharaoh was racist - it only says that he was afraid. But what is racism but fear enacted? So great is the power of fear that Egypt ended up cutting off its nose in spite of its face.

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't. 

(Romans 12:4-6; The Message)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sanctioned Outrageousness?

Although the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary each week do not necessarily have a common theme, I often like to explore them looking for some commonality - both in preparing for a sermon, or as a spiritual discipline. This week I looked at Joseph's family reunion story in Genesis, and the Canaanite woman story from Matthew. My first reaction was outrage...


Joseph could no longer control himself in front of all his attendants, so he declared, “Everyone, leave now!” So no one stayed with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. He wept so loudly that the Egyptians and Pharaoh’s household heard him.  Joseph said to his brothers, “I’m Joseph! Is my father really still alive?” His brothers couldn’t respond because they were terrified before him.

Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me,” and they moved closer. He said, “I’m your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. Now, don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives. We’ve already had two years of famine in the land, and there are five years left without planting or harvesting. God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. You didn’t send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the whole land of Egypt.

“Hurry! Go back to your father. Tell him this is what your son Joseph says: ‘God has made me master of all of Egypt. Come down to me. Don’t delay. You may live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and everyone with you. I will support you there, so you, your household, and everyone with you won’t starve, since the famine will still last five years.’ You and my brother Benjamin have seen with your own eyes that I’m speaking to you. Tell my father about my power in Egypt and about everything you’ve seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” He threw his arms around his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. He kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him.
(Genesis 45:1-15; Common English Bible)

No matter how much we try to sugar coat it in church or in studies, Joseph was the victim of child abuse. Everyone's first reaction to should be outrage! And then when he is reunited, Joseph continues the cycle of abuse framing and holding hostage poor little Benji - his youngest brother and the only innocent one left  in the family.

Très Riches Heures Duc de Berry
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

(Matthew 15:21-28; NIV)

Andrew Wyeth
First, Jesus the Healer ignores a woman seeking help from him for her daughter. Then he says that he's only there to help the lost of Israel - he won't even talk to her or send her home. Finally, he calls her sick daughter a dog! This Jesus outrages me. This isn't the Jesus I've convinced myself that I know.

We so desperately yearn for stories of redemption and  easy grace. We want a movie ending where Joseph rises above his life as an abuse victim, where he show them up by behaving in a saintly way that shocks the victimizers into penitents, and they live happily ever after. We want a healer to heal any and all who are in need.  We want heroes who are better than ourselves. Yet both Joseph and Jesus appear to act in an evil selfish manner - or at least not "heroically".

The brothers could have easily gone back to their father and told him that Benjamin had been killed by a wild beast - it had worked before. But they persevered, they returned for their baby brother. The un-named woman also persevered. Her need and expectation were so great that she not only addressed a strange man in public but she also argued with him: "You may think my daughter is a dog, but even dogs may eat the crumbs that fall on the floor." I love this woman's chutzpah!

Joseph is moved by his brothers' sacrificial love for Benjamin. Jesus is moved by a protective mother's love and faith. The brothers and the mother confront outrageousness face-on by persevering. Like the parable of the Persistent Widow, it's not about the asking - it seems to me to be about the trust, patience and faith involved in stubbornly ignoring "reality" in search of something greater.

"For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that He may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:32; NRSV)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Psalm 133:

so wondrous it shall be
when together humanity
joins into human-unity
like silky smooth nectar
of a peach trailing down
my chin and shirt collar
like summer morning dew,
rainbow spheres on leaves -
promise of endless blessings.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Peter Steps Out:


Peter was at the helm as the fishing boat slipped out onto the glassy surface of the lake. He glanced back and saw the Master sending the last of the crowd off with his blessing. Jesus had wanted to stay behind for some peace and quiet alone on the mountain. No one thought to ask how Jesus would catch up to them on the other side of the lake.

During the night, the wind rose, the boat rose and dove on the waves, and the wind was against them. Peter directed the men to lower sail as they plied their oars. Most were professional fishermen who knew the lake's many moods, and could read it like a loved one's face. Peter was more worried about their Rabbi back on the mountain; a mountain was no place to be in a storm! As they faced aft to pull on the oars, they could see something against the gradually lightening sky approaching them.

At first, they assumed it was another fishing boat, but then they noticed that it was gaining on them even though it was headed into the gale. Suddenly they realized it was something walking towards them in the shape of a man! Sailors have always been a superstitious lot, many of the students assumed that it was a ghost risen from the abyss of Sheol beneath them and they cried out. But as soon as the figure spoke, Peter recognized the Teacher's reassuring voice.

Peter felt the need to walk upon the waves, asking Jesus to speak it so. His heart leapt as Jesus smiled and the Word called him. "Come". He jumped out of the boat without hesitation and strode confidently toward Jesus' outstretched arms; his fellow students were amazed and maybe jealous. Suddenly though the wind caught his attention and the lightness of joy was soon overwhelmed by the heaviness of fear - he began to sink. A blocky muscular man, he had little natural flotation, he instinctively called out for help: "Lord, save me!"

Even before the sound had finished passing through Peter's lips, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. As they stood there in the middle of the lake, they both broke out in laughter. "I named you Rock, and it seems to fit! You have faith enough to walk across storm-tossed white-caps, but not enough to drown out the wind's rumors it seems."

As they stepped upon the deck of the boat, the wind died - dead calm. Once again, the lake was mirror smooth. And they praised their Rabbi as the Son of God, only to forget when the next tempest blew.

(Retelling of Matthew 14:22-33)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Into Slavery

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Joseph and His Brothers by Alexander Gurevich

Meanwhile Jacob had settled down where his father had lived, the land of Canaan. TJoseph and His Brothershis is the story of Jacob. The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father's wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them.

Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn't even speak to him.

His brothers had gone off to Shechem where they were pasturing their father's flocks. Israel said to Joseph, "Your brothers are with flocks in Shechem. Come, I want to send you to them."

Joseph said, "I'm ready."

He said, "Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing and bring me back a report." He sent him off from the valley of Hebron to Shechem.

A man met him as he was wandering through the fields and asked him, "What are you looking for?"

"I'm trying to find my brothers. Do you have any idea where they are grazing their flocks?"

The man said, "They've left here, but I overheard them say, 'Let's go to Dothan.'" So Joseph took off, tracked his brothers down, and found them in Dothan.

They spotted him off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had cooked up a plot to kill him. The brothers were saying, "Here comes that dreamer. Let's kill him and throw him into one of these old cisterns; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up. We'll see what his dreams amount to."

Reuben heard the brothers talking and intervened to save him, "We're not going to kill him. No murder. Go ahead and throw him in this cistern out here in the wild, but don't hurt him." Reuben planned to go back later and get him out and take him back to his father.

When Joseph reached his brothers, they ripped off the fancy coat he was wearing, grabbed him, and threw him into a cistern. The cistern was dry; there wasn't any water in it.

Then they sat down to eat their supper. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way from Gilead, their camels loaded with spices, ointments, and perfumes to sell in Egypt. Judah said, "Brothers, what are we going to get out of killing our brother and concealing the evidence? Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let's not kill him—he is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed.

By that time the Midianite traders were passing by. His brothers pulled Joseph out of the cistern and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites who took Joseph with them down to Egypt.

(The Message)


  • What part does Jacob play in this tragedy?
  • What do you think of Joseph's behavior leading up to the abduction?
  • Why did his brothers want Joseph dead?
  • Should Reuben have taken a stronger stand? Why do you think his wily plan failed?
  • Judah is the practical one who suggests they sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him and getting nothing in return. Is this logical stewardship taken to an extreme, devoid of love as a counter balance?
  • What do you think it means that Jesus' lineage was traced through Judah instead of Joseph?
  • What was God's role in all this?

Then he called down a famine on the country, he broke every last blade of wheat. But he sent a man on ahead: Joseph, sold as a slave.
(Psalm 105:16-17; The Message)