Friday, June 10, 2022

Perspectives: Scarcity or Abundance?


These are the bread shelves in our grocery story - it's an older picture from one of the early weeks of the pandemic.  

A question for you to ponder.  How can you see abundance in this image?  I think you can, if you think about it.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Pentecost Unity


Last Sunday in Sunday school, we had a debate about the nature of Pentecost.  One person thought it was a time when everyone spoke in tongues, and understood each other.  Another disagreed.  

Let's look:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.   And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?   And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  (Acts 2:1-8)

Have you ever noticed or compared this passage to one in Genesis?

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.   And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.   Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."  The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.  And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech."  So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.  (Genesis 11:1-9)

I don't think the Pentecost passage is about speaking in tongues at all.  For one thing, speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift, given to a few.  it was not something that could be understood by anyone - it required (requires) interpretation.  In the Pentecost story, everyone can understand everyone else, and not only that, they are filled with the Holy Spirit - the spirit giving them this ability.  God heard and understood among them.

Think about the story of the Tower of Babel.  The people - scattered and unable to understand each other.  In this story, it seems the opposite has happened.  Everyone is understood, and there is a unity among them.

The church is born.

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Monday, June 06, 2022

The Time of Disorder


In Sunday school yesterday, the teacher talked about times in our lives that are disorder.  We move through life, usually, with our lives in order.  I think we've come to talk about this time as normalcy.  One of the yearnings of the pandemic is / has been to return to normalcy.  Our lives are disrupted, and we enter a time of disorder.  Not routine.  Not normal.  We come through that time, hopefully, to a time of reorder.  It's what I hate to hear called "the new normal."

Jesus and his disciples had developed a time of order.  They traveled together.  Jesus preached; they learned.  Then came the crucifixion.  Disorder.  Nothing was the same, and truly, nothing would be the same again.

Pentecost is the time of reordering.  The Holy Spirit descended.  People understood each other.  The church was born.  The disciples gained the "sea legs" so to speak, and started lives lived in obedience to Jesus - following the call the master had made on their lives, empowered and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Reorder.  

In the Acts 2 passage that was the lectionary reading yesterday, Peter receives a gift of leadership - maybe that had all started on the shore of when Jesus cooked fish and asked Peter to "feed my sheep" - but anyway, it is obvious now.  Peter quotes Joel, and it sounds like an end-times passage to me.  I wondered about that.  Pentecost wasn't the end of the world.  Or was it?

When we are in a time of disorder, it can feel like the end of the world, can't it?  Whatever it may be, it can feel as if the world - our world - is ending.  Maybe something new will start, but we may not want it.  We may want only to return to what was.  Pentecost is the time when we enter reorder.  Lives are changed; worlds are begun, whether we want them or not.  And we realize the the Holy Spirit is with us, no matter what.  Worlds ending, worlds starting - God is with us.  

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Friday, April 08, 2022

Perspectives: Compass Rose


 Do you know, where you're goin' to?

Do you like the things that life is showing you?

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Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Don't you see it?

Inspired by Isaiah 43:16-21

Almighty, All loving, all knowing God,
The God who parts the sea
Who divides the ocean
Who makes a dry path in water,
The God who is more powerful than 
anything we can imagine, 
anything we describe,
tell us...

Forget about the way it used to be
Stop thinking about the past.
Focus instead on what I am about to do.
I, the God who created the universe out of nothing,
is doing a new thing.
I have done it, 
Don't you see it?

I, the God of the lost and forsaken,
have made a path in the wilderness.
I, the God of the parched
have brought rivers to the desert.

The wild animals recognize it,
they see what I have done,
and they honor me.
I bring water where they never expected to find it.
I quench their thirst.

And to you, too,
the ones I created,
the ones I love,
the new thing,
sprung up in the unexpected places
is for you.

Don't you see it?

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Monday, April 04, 2022

Surrender

The following is a devotional I wrote for the West Virginia Annual Conference Lenten Devotional Ministry.

Hebrews 10:16-25

I have a friend, who, when talking about the hymn I Surrender All, jokingly calls it “I Surrender Most.”  I don’t think I am alone in my unwillingness to easily surrender all (or sometimes anything) to God.  I like to hold on to control.  I like to operate under the illusion that I can handle whatever comes my way – that I can, in fact, fix it all.  And we all know that is not true, don’t we?  We can’t fix it all.  We can’t control everything.
 
This morning, I was listening to Casting Crowns’ song I Surrender All to Jesus.  The lyrics include “At your feet I lay me down, all my scars…”  And it goes on “No more chasing yesterday.”  As you think about those lyrics, read verse 17 from our scripture for today: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
 
Do we surrender our sin to God? Do we offer the pain of it, the burden of it to God? Will we let go of it?
 
Look at the grace God is offering to us.  “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  This is the covenant God makes with us.  It is a promise from the heart of God.  This is grace freely given – not offered in exchange for something, but already given to us.
 
In our transaction-based society, it is hard to imagine that something as infinitely valuable as God’s love and forgiveness are given to us freely.  It’s hard for us to let go of that which we are ashamed us, isn’t it?  We relive our wrongdoing, playing it over and over in our minds, regretting what we did, wishing we could change the past. We can’t.  We can’t fix the past.  We can’t fix our sin.
 
Will you surrender your scars to Jesus?  Will you stop chasing the burden of what you did wrong yesterday?  Will you hear the words from God, “I will remember your sin and your lawless deeds no more” and believe it?  Will you open your heart and surrender all of your sins to Jesus, and feel the flood of healing grace God has already given to you?
 
Prayer: Loving God, we come to you in gratitude for the grace you have provided for us, for the loveliness of clean hearts and guilt-free souls.  Strengthen us to let go of our past mistakes so that we can experience your grace.  Amen.

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Friday, April 01, 2022

Perspectives: Celebration


  I hope you celebrate something this coming week.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Thirst and Life, Part 4

Steve and I have become interested in a live Youtube feed from a bald eagles’ nest in California.  The nest belongs to a breeding pair of eagles – Jackie, the female, and Shadow, the male.  Jackie laid two eggs this year, and everyone watching the live feed has been holding their collective breath, hoping the eggs would hatch.  Last year, the egg Jackie laid did not hatch – everyone was hoping for a better outcome this year.  It’s fascinating to watch this pair of eagles care for these eggs.  They take turns on the nest, bringing food to each other.  They run potential predators away, they keep the eggs warm in the snow, they gently turn them – they haven’t given up.  

Happily, one of the eggs has hatched, and the pair is caring for their eaglet together.  But they are still caring for the unhatched egg – an egg that will probably never hatch.  The egg is much older now than the average incubation time for an egg.  We, as logical humans, know it will never hatch, but the eagles ignore logic, and keep the unhatched egg in the nest with their new eaglet.  

We live a life of sin.  We fail to love our neighbors, especially those who don’t agree with us.  We put other gods before our God.  We turn away, and we are so thirsty that we don’t even recognize what we need, even though it is offered to us in abundance.

But God doesn’t give up on us.  God is standing with us, urging us to turn around, and return.  

I found a poem by Jan Richardson this week in a book called Circle of Grace.  I think it applies.  (Note: please see the book for the text of the poem - I don't feel right about printing it here).

God is waiting for us to return.  To be fruitful.  To recognize the dryness of our lives and seek living water.  Will you seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near?  Will you return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on you? 

Will you step into the rest of your story? Will you return?


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Monday, March 28, 2022

Thirst and Life, Part 3

This, the posts before it, and one that follows are from a sermon I delivered at Bethesda UMC, based on Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9.

The gospel reading for today is from Luke 13:1-9.  The very first line says, “At that very time there were some present who told him…”  People were coming to Jesus and telling him news or rumors out of Jerusalem.  They told about Galileans who Pilate ordered to be killed while they were in the temple worshipping God with their sacrifices.  

When you hear this scripture, did you wonder, “Why did they tell Jesus this story?”

Did they just want to make sure he was well informed? Or could it be that they hoped he would take a political stand?  Maybe they were zealots who hoped Jesus would support their revolutionary agenda against Rome.  Maybe they were looking at someone else, assuming the other person had sinned, and they were hoping Jesus could tell them what those people had done to deserve such a fate, so that they themselves could feel safer. 

Sometimes seeing someone else’s sin makes us forget our own.

But Jesus won’t get involved in the political debate.  He won’t point fingers at Rome or at Pilate.  And he didn’t accuse the other people – the ones who had died, or the ones who had killed them, of sin.  Instead, he says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

They are looking in the wrong direction.  They are looking away from themselves.  And Jesus says, “You are the ones who needs to repent.”  

And then he tells them the rest of the story.  He tells them a parable about a fig tree that isn’t producing figs.  A man had planted a fig tree three years ago.  It has not been fruitful, so the man tells the gardener to cut it down.  Everyone listening to the story would have understood the man’s request – three years is long enough to wait for the fig tree to bear fruit.  But the gardener convinces the owner to give the tree one more year.  The gardener is going to nurture the tree, put manure on it, give it one more chance.  

But what stops us from recognizing our own sin, our own thirst, and our need of God’s grace? One commentator I read said the clue may be in the treatment the gardener suggests for the fig tree – he plans to dig around it and put manure on it.  The commentator suggests that we should read “manure” as humility – there is nothing much more humble than manure, is there?

When Josh was in elementary school, he brought his class picture home.  The picture showed him with his arm bent, posed for the camera.  He insisted that his arm hadn’t been held like that when they took the picture.  If you asked him today – at 25 years old – he would still insist that his arm had been held different – all evidence to the contrary.  

We are proud.  We can be arrogant.  We certainly don’t want to be wrong.  We all, I think, close our minds even to what God might be trying to tell us.  

We love to tell the latest gossip, share the Facebook post that we agree with, even while not seeing if it is true. We insist we are right, because anything else would require humility.

But there is more to the story.



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Friday, March 25, 2022

Perspectives: Her Hardware


Have I shown you this before?  I mean, really?  And what really bothered me about it, beyond the pure sexism of it, is that when I posted it on FaceBook, less than half those who responded were insulted by it.

Her hardware?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Thirst and Life, Part 2

This, the post before it, and ones that follow are form a sermon I delivered at Bethesda UMC, based on Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9.

The scripture we heard today from Isaiah was written to the Israelites after the fall of Judah.  They were in exile in Babylon.  For them, God had always been in Jerusalem.  The temple was the only place of worship. The temple in Jerusalem was where God dwelled.  And here they are, far from home, far from what they had always known, and, perhaps, as far as they were concerned, far from God.  Maybe, at this point, they were even doubting that God existed, or at least they were unsure if God cared what happened to them. They were in a desert.  Literally, and figuratively.  They were thirsty, and they were trying to quench that thirst with whatever they could find.   Isaiah tells them that God is asking, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

Then Isaiah tells them the rest of the story.

Isaiah tells them that God isn’t absent – they just need to turn around: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

I like how one commentator put it: Isaiah tells them, “Hey, stop it.  Whether or not you are thirsty, whether or not you are hungry, you need what God has to give.”

Think for a moment about the desert in which we live, for surely we do live in a desert, even in our lush mountains.  We live in a time that is highly commercialized, where everything is marketable.  We are bombarded with commercials telling us what we need in order to live a happy life. 

We live in a time when even as Christians, we stand in opposition to each other, seeing so many people as the enemy, instead of seeing them as beloved children of God, beautiful to behold.  We see Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, employed or not, addicted or clean.  We see the sinner, and we fail to realize how thirsty we are ourselves, as we strive to make our point. Or to buy the biggest car, or to have the last word, or cast the righteous judgement. 

We have turned away from what can be the rest of our story.  And that is what Lent is about – recognizing our thirst, seeing our own sin, and turning back to God.

God says to us, “Turn around.  Repent.  Look toward me instead of what you think will satisfy your thirst.  You need what I am so willing to give you so that you can live.”

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Thirst and Life, Part 1

This, and the posts that follow it, are a sermon I delivered today at Bethesda UMC

You may remember, if you have been part of Bethesda UMC for a few years, that you had a pianist for a few months in 2015-2016, who was named Josh Matthews.  Josh is our son.  I thought today I would tell you the Rest of the Story (as Paul Harvey used to say). 

Josh finished his undergraduate degree at Marshall and then moved to Tuscaloosa. Alabama to do his graduate work at the University of Alabama, which leads me to say something I never imagined I would say: Roll Tide. 

Anyway, he worked with the Million Dollar Band as a graduate assistant and earned his Masters degree in Music Education.  His next goal was to find a job as a music teacher, and he did.  In the late spring early summer of 2020, he accepted a position as an assistant band director at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada.  Henderson is a neighboring community to Las Vegas.  And in case you don’t know, they are both in the desert.  The hot desert.

So, in July of 2020 – in the middle of a pandemic – in the middle of a hot summer - Steve and I drove to Tuscaloosa, helped Josh pack up his moving truck, and began our four day, three vehicle caravan across the country to Nevada.  It was great – we enjoyed the time together, saw beautiful scenery – beauty that is so different from our West Virginia Hills. 

At noon on our last travel day, we pulled into Henderson, got the keys to his apartment, and started unpacking the truck.  It was 106 degrees.  And there was no shade.  And his apartment is on the second floor.  And Josh owns the heaviest couch in the country.  And it had to be carried up 19 steps, and a hillside.  In the 106 degree sun.

They say it is a dry heat. As if that is something different from a wet heat.  It is.  What I discovered is that a dry heat is just as hot as any other heat – but you are much more thirsty.

Steve is a long-distance bike rider.  When he is preparing for a ride, he doesn’t start drinking when he’s riding the bike.  He starts drinking water before the ride – to prepare for what is to come.  When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. 

Our need for water as living beings is just as fundamental as our need for oxygen or food.  Water keeps us alive, and thirst is our body’s warning sign to us we are dehydrated and that we need water. 

The problem is, sometimes, that we don’t even recognize our thirst, do we?  

 

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Perspectives: Sunset


 

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Look. Listen.

Inspired by Isaiah 55:1-5

Look.  Listen.
What are you searching for?
Come here, and find it.

Do you feel poor in spirit? Poor in life?
Your poverty doesn't matter.
Your money doesn't matter.
Your heart can be filled.
Come here, and live.

You give yourself
to what will not fill your spirit.
You cheat yourself
of what you have been given
by grace.

Look. Listen.
Come close to God.
Listen to God's life giving, nourishing words.
Here is what you are searching for.

And God says,
I make an everlasting covenant with you.
I offer you steadfast loyalty.
I love you like I loved David.
Remember him?
I offer you the same promise.

I will be your God.
You will be my people.
Look. Listen.
Come close and live.

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