Thursday, November 29, 2018

Perspectives: Dead Tree

Amid all of the lush, green life, is a dead tree.   It just struck me.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Women

Last Sunday I taught a Sunday school lesson based on Genesis 30.  This chapter and the ones around it are concerned with the story of Jacob, Laban, Rachel, Leah, Billhah, and Zilpah.  

You probably know the story.  Jacob goes to Haran and his uncle Laban, brother to his mother, Rebeccah.  He first meets Rachel (Laban’s daughter) at a well.  He falls in love at first sight.  He makes a bargain with Laban to work seven years keeping his sheep in order to marry Rachel.  We know the story that Laban tricks Jacob, and he marries Leah, the older daughter).  He marries Rachel one week later, and works 7 more years.  In those seven years, Leah has four sons, Rachel gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob, and the maid (and therefore Rachel) had two sons.  Leah sent her maid to Jacob, and that maid (Zilpah) had two sons.  Leah had a two more sons and a daughter, then Rachel finally had a son (Joseph).  Rachel had one more son, Benjamin, and died in childbirth.

We often only see the story with the perspective with which we were taught about it, but I think it is important to see it differently - through the eyes of the women.

What about Leah and Rachel.  They have no say in who they marry and when. They have no control over their future - whether they go with Jacob when he leaves or stay with their father (this is part of the bargaining that Jacob does with his uncle).  Their worth is determined only by the birth of sons - Rachel is shamed until she eventually has Joseph.

And think about the maids.  They are truly property.  Their mistresses give them to Jacob, they get pregnant, but their own children do not belong to them.  Maid is probably not a correct word - slave would be a more descriptive one.

How does this change how we see the story? When we read it with traditional eyes, do we see the rape of Bilhah and Zilpah?  Do we see the less-than-human standing of Rachel and Leah?  Do we really SEE the women at all?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend (Melody Beattie).

What do you notice about the above quote?

As I read it during our office meeting for a devotional, it occurred to me that gratitude turns a meal into a feast, a house into a home, and a stranger into a friend.

The meal, the house, and the stranger did not change.  The way the person is looking at them has changed.

Do you know people who are always experiencing problems? Who only have complaints to share? Who never seem to have a good day?

And do you know people who don't complain, who have lots of good days?

Could it be that they are looking at their lives differently?  And could the way we look at the world change our experience of it?

Gratitude.  It's not magic, but it is transformational.


Monday, November 26, 2018


Once, many years ago, a person in our church pointed out that the Bible contains imprecatory Psalms.  He was right, as far as it goes.  These are Psalms that are poems of curse or judgment of one's enemies.  

For example, I read these verses in Rachel Held Evans book Inspired this morning from 109:9-12:
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
may a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
The person who was pointing out the existence of these Psalms in the Bible, I think, was using their existence to defend his own cursing / judgment of others.  If they are in the Bible, then....

Three thoughts:
  1. The Bible helps us to learn about God, but it also helps us to understand ourselves better.  The existence of this type of poem in Psalms helps us to understand the human condition.  We feel this type of anger, and so did the writer of the Psalm who may have been in exile in Babylonia.  Life in faith isn't always (maybe isn't ever) pain free.  There is anger and pain.
  2. The existence of these Psalms in the Bible doesn't give us permission to curse others.  They aren't a justification of hate.  It's always important (in fact, absolutely necessary) to look at the Bible in the light of the revelation of God through Christ.  
  3. That said, God provides us with the space to express the hurt and anger - a safe place in conversation with God.  It's a place that doesn't condone or encourage throwing venom towards other people, but it is a place of grace, that expects us to share our hurts and pain and then offers the grace of wholeness and healing. 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Looking into the Eyes of the Beast

Rather than me posting an image today, go look at this image search on google:

I was reading from Rachel Held Evans' Inspired this morning.  In the chapter entitled "Beasts," she begins by telling the story of Bree Newsome.  Do you remember the shooting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC that killed nine people?  Ten days after that, Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole in front of the state capitol building and removed the Confederate flag in an act of protest.  Evans ends the story with this sentence, which inspires me today, "On a muggy June morning in South Carolina, a young black woman named Bree Newsome scaled the thirty-foot flagpole outside the state's capitol building, looked straight into the eyes of the Beast, and said, 'Not today.'"

As she was handcuffed, she said, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"  This is Psalm 27:1.

So I ask you today. How do you need to be Bree Newsome today? Against what Beast do you need to stand?  Where do you need God to be your light and salvation so that you will not fear, but will be courageous and take a stand?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Canonized Contradictions

I may have mentioned this before, but have you ever noticed in Proverbs the following two verses?

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  She quotes Timothy Beal as saying, "The Bible canonizes contradiction."  

We want answers.  We think we would like God to say, "Do this, not this.  Be this, not this. Here I am, and here are all the answers." God doesn't work that way, and the Bible certainly doesn't work that way.

She goes on to say:

"When God gave us the Bible, God did not give us an internally consistent book of answers.  God gave us an inspired library of diverse writings, rooted in a variety of contexts, that have stood the test of time, precisely because, together, they avoid simplistic solutions to complex problems."

I think we can rest assured that if we think the answer is clear cut or simple, we are wrong.


Monday, November 19, 2018

A Place at the Table

The choir sang an anthem on World Communion Sunday called For Everyone Born (text by Shirley Erena Murray, music by Brian Mann, arranged by Tom Trenney - link here): 
For everyone born
A place at the table
For everyone born
Clean water and bread
A shelter, a space
a safe place for growing

It reminded me of a passage from a letter written by Paul to the Church at Corinth where he admonishes them about their practice of Communion.  From 1 Corinthians 11:20-21:  "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk."

This anthem linked for me the idea (which I should have known) that God prefers a communion that includes everyone - and if some of us are hungry and if some of us are cold and frightened, and have no place to live, then not all of us have a place at the table.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 4

The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Jesus also says in Mark 9, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.”  A Servant-of-all is the servant with the lowest rank of all the servants – the one who would be allowed to eat only when everyone else has eaten.  The child and the servant-of-all have much in common.

We are not only called to welcome the oppressed and lost as if they were Christ, but we are also called to become like them – a servant-of- all – as Christ is.

Imagine a banquet where all of the honored guests are the people we have talked about today.  Imagine the preparers of the food and those who serve are the Disciples of Christ, picking up a towel and metaphorically washing feet.

My church has a dinner each Thursday for the homeless and marginally homeless in our downtown neighborhood.  The diners are individuals and families who are living at the Mission down the street or even on the street itself.  Some of them are ill or hurting.  I’m sure you’ve heard about the opioid epidemic in our town – some of those who attend are addicted to drugs or have family members who are.  This free meal is prepared and served by members of our church or sometimes other nearby churches, or by the United Methodist students from Marshall or by the members of the nearby Islamic Center.

This is an image that is the opposite of arguing about who is the greatest.  This is the radical discipleship of Christ, where the leader is the servant and the guest of honor is the least among us – according to how society would define him.  This is the kingdom of God that Christ calls us to build.  This is the radical nature of the upside-down life of carrying a cross.

This is the good news.

This is what we may not want to hear, but what will bring us life – real and joyful life.
This week, how will you act upon these words of Christ – who will you greet who everyone else would ignore? Who will you serve? How will you act as Christ this week to those who need to see him? How will you be a disciple this week?


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 3

The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Harry Adams, a professor from Yale Divinity school, was the author of a commentary I read as I prepared for today.  He told a story of an event he was planning.  Harry was responsible for deciding where people would sit.  There was a newcomer to the group, so Harry placed an experienced person next to the new person as an act of hospitality.  When the experienced person saw where he was to sit, he moved his place card to the center of the table, next to the person who would be presiding.  I think we might say that it’s natural to want to be perceived of as important.  The one with power and authority.

But Jesus turns that upside down.  Do we want to hear that?

Children have no power at all.  They have no authority. Knowing a child won’t advance your career or bring you any prestige.  Those listening to Jesus would have seen a child as almost less than a person.  A child has no honor, no ranking or influence.  And yet Jesus equates welcoming a child to welcoming the Messiah – to welcoming God.  We don’t always hear that as radical, but it is.  It is completely upside down from what they expected – from what we expect.

But we can expand this – Jesus words for us aren’t just about children.  Who among is the least? The person with no authority or prestige? Who are we called to welcome in the name of Christ? Not only that, but to welcome as if they are Christ?
Is it the person who is homeless? Who is addicted? Who is poor? Is it the person who is oppressed? Is it the person who has been in prison? Is it the person who is sick or alone or elderly or afraid? Who are we to welcome as if that person is Christ himself?


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 2

The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 In the biblical passage known as the Walk to Emmaus, two follows of Christ are walking down a road after the crucifixion. They don’t realize that their companion is Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.  In our passage today from Mark, the disciples are walking down a road with Jesus, and one could argue that they also don’t fully realize who their teacher really is – and it’s not because Jesus hasn’t told them.  They haven’t yet understood the nature of the Messiah they follow and what discipleship means.

Mark 9 is at a crossroad in the adult life of Jesus, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Jesus has been teaching and healing, traveling. In the previous few chapters, they had been in a northern region, in towns like Caesarea Philippi and Bethsaida.  In our scripture today, they walk to Capernaum, which is farther south, and closer to Jerusalem.  They are geographically and spiritually moving toward Jerusalem – and therefore moving closer the Jesus’ death.  Jesus knows there is not much time left to him to teach these men, and that in order for the gospel to move forward after his death, he has to make sure that these men “get it.”  And what they have to understand is completely radical – it is the opposite of what they know.

They are traveling through Galilee, and Jesus is once again teaching his disciples, and he says to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

None of them wanted to hear that, even though he had told them before.

His teaching was greeted with silence.  What did argue about instead? Who is the greatest among them.  When they get to a house in Capernaum, he asks them what they had been talking about.  Again, silence – maybe this time motivated by embarrassment.  He responds by bringing a child into their midst and saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

Quite a contrast.  Imagine Jesus glaring at them all, frustrated, saying, in effect, “None of you is the greatest!  This child, this person who has no standing, no power, no authority is the greatest – and not only that, when you welcome this child, you welcome me.  And God.
None of them wanted to hear that – in fact, they had been ignoring that radical idea all along.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 1

The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

The Walk to Emmaus is a leadership development program that begins with a three-day retreat experience. For me, that three-day retreat was in the fall of 2006.  After that, I continued to participate in the community – helping with other walks, and eventually becoming part of the leadership team.   During one of the meetings of that team, we spent a lot of time talking about mattresses.  The walks our community sponsors are held in a United Methodist Church, and because the three-day walks involve three nights at the Church, the community owns mattresses. They are stored in the church’s attic, and when a walk is about to happen, we have a mattress party, pull the mattresses out of the attic, and prepare the sleeping rooms for the walk.

We were spending a lot of time during this one particular meeting talking about mattresses because another un-related ministry had asked our community if they could borrow our mattresses for one of their events.  I can’t tell you how long we debated this question.  I can’t tell you because I’ve blocked it out.  It seemed to go on forever.  Until one of the pastors who was providing spiritual direction for the community said, “Jesus would want you to let them use the mattresses.”
Well, if you want to bring Jesus into the discussion.
It was an uncomfortable truth that we didn’t want to hear. We hadn’t even considered the radical question of being a faithful disciples to Christ in our discussion.  Maybe we were enjoying the power of owning the mattresses too much.  Maybe we were too lazy to think about pulling all of those mattresses out of the attic in service to someone else.  Maybe we just didn’t get it at all.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Perspectives: Fear

I've posted this because it was taken from a point of fear.  The platform we are standing on is normally the place where you leave the lift at Snowshoe after skiing down the mountain.  It is an abolutely beautiful place, but I could go close to the edge to see it because I was afraid.  Of falling off - which I wouldn't have. The fear is irrational.

What irrational fears do you face? What do they prevent you from doing?  What can you do about them?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2018

God as a mother?

In worship a few weeks ago, we sang the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (UMH 139).  Verses 1, 3, and 5 were written by Joachim Neander in 1680.  Verse 2 was written by S. Paul Schilling in 1986, and verse 4 was written by Rupert E. Davies in 1983.  I didn't know that until this moment, and I find that very interesting.  

The fourth verse of the song includes the phrase, "Then to thy need God as a mother doth speed, spreading the wings of grace o'er thee."  

Never mind that two modern authors used words like doth and thee to fit there words into the ancient sounds of verses 1, 3 and 5.  Davies verse, which is quoted above, has an outlook that I have always considered appropriate but modern.  "God as a mother," are not words without controversy.

As I was singing the song, though, I thought that those words might not be so modern after all.  Why do we have preconceptions of what is maternal and what is paternal?  Other than the biological, why do we only consider women to be nurturing?  My husband definitely nurtures out sons.  When we cast our stereotypes on God, doesn't that box God in?  

I completely agree that God nurtures, and that God covers us with wings of grace, but why would we only think  of those as feminine traits?

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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

God Leaves Paradise

In Sunday school a few weeks ago, we were discussing Genesis 3.  Look as these verses (21-23):
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.
A few interesting items that draw my attention this morning:
  • God clothed Adam and Eve.  What does that say to you about his care of his creation, the man and the woman?
  • God sent them out of Paradise because they had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - they now knew sin.  Would he allow them to live forever in this state of sin? No.  He sends them out of Paradise, perhaps not to prevent them from achieving eternal life, but to prevent them from living in sin forever.  What does that say about God?
  • He sends them forth, away from Paradise. Is that the end of the story? Are they outside of God's presence forever? If you read "the rest of the story," you'll see that God doesn't send them out of Paradise alone.  God goes with them.  God is present in all the pages of the Bible, with his creation.  In other words, God left Paradise with them.
I was thinking of that grace this morning.  God didn't banish them to be alone; God went with them, leaving the garden.  What does that echo (or pre-echo) to you? Can you relate that to Jesus leaving the presence of God to come to earth as a human?  Grace.

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Monday, November 05, 2018

Changing the Story

I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  The chapter I am currently reading struggles with the violence and warfare of the Bible - and the portion I read this morning speaks about the responses of women in the Bible to violence.

Think of the friends of the daughter of Jephthah who instituted a four day annual remembrance ritual after her death.  "They refused to let the nation forget what it had done in God's name."  Or, says Evans, think of the response of a mother to the sacrifice of her two sons as depicted in 2 Samuel 21.  She goes on to write, "The point is, if you pay attention to the women, a more complex history of Israel's conquests emerges."  

How can we use this revelation to understand our current culture of violence against and objectification of women? I see people responding as if sexual assault doesn't matter or isn't believable.  How can we, as women, respond in a way that protests this conclusion? How can we, as women, stand for those among us (not only women) who have been hurt by those with power? Hurt by those more physically powerful or powerful in other ways? What can we do as women to change our history?

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