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Showing posts from 2012

Homecoming

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Luke’s three parables of finding and losing, each a metaphor for the recovery of our relationship with God, provide us with excellent models for the kind of counter-cultural living to which the Gospel calls us.

In Luke 15:3-7 we hear about the sheep which has strayed. In verses 8-10 the subject is the missing coin, and in 11-32 it is the prodigal son. In every instance we rejoice over the recovery of that which was lost.
The theme launched in the sheep parable, in which Jesus stresses that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” is amplified in the third parable. The eldest son seethes with resentment over the festivities for his wayward younger brother because he, always faithful to his father, never left. “Son, you are always with me,” his father reminds him. “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
Faced …

Peace on Earth

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Psychologists tell us that anger can often be a useful emotion. It allows pent-up feelings to come to the surface and motivates us to positive action to address miscarriages of justice. For those who tend to suppress or deny their emotions, the expression of anger can bring freedom and release.
Rage, on the other hand, is debilitating. The word implies a loss of control and the blind lashing out at the object of our deep scorn. Rage is responsible for the vast majority of domestic crimes. We were all reminded of the deathly power of rage in the recent murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who reports say was thrown “into a rage” by his girlfriend’s decision to go out with friends and leave him alone with their baby.
Psalm 37 helps us get at the issue of rage and in so doing leads us more deeply into our Advent discipline.
Verse 1: "Do not be provoked by evildoers;      do not be jealous of those who do wrong."
Verse 8: "Refrain from ange…

Stand By Me

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We are familiar with terminology that portrays God as a rock, a fortress and a refuge. This imagery is found throughout the Psalms; good examples reside in Psalms 18 and 71.

But if we examine the Hebrew more closely in these passages we discover a remarkable word -- "crag" -- not present in the most common translations including the NRSV, RSV and NIV. At the beginning of Psalm 18 the psalmist sings fervently, "I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven." And in Psalm 71:3 the psalmist begs God to "Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold."
The fact that the Hebrew word for "stronghold" in these passages also implies the "home of an eagle" leads us closer to better understanding the intention of "crag" (a sharp outcropping of rock) as used here. God is not just an unshakable foundation on which we build our faith (rock), or a wall of steel that protects us…

Alms from within

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There's hardly one thing congregations want to hear about less than stewardship, the term used to refer to the giving of individual church members or families. Hearts shrink when the inevitable stewardship sermon series roll around or whenever "temple talks" intrude on the order or service. Few of us whose giving habits languish can be transformed by the imposition of guilt or even by hearing about those whose lives were changed by the church. 
As we approach Thanksgiving, it is a good time to step outside of the Revised Common Lectionary and plunge deep into Luke 11, where--starting in verse 37--we encounter Jesus as his saltiest. 
The Son of Man has just accepted a dinner invitation from a Pharisee. The host innocently wonders why his guest has failed to wash his hands before eating. He is doubtless taken aback by the barrage that ensues. Repeatedly pronouncing woe on the Pharisees and lawyers as well (after a lawyer dares to interrupt him), Jesus berates them for foc…

Devastation

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The Rockaway boardwalk, October 31, 2012
"Woe is me! For I have become  like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned,  finds no cluster to eat;  there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger. The faithful have disappeared from the land,  and there is no one left who is upright...."                                               (Micah 7:1-2)
Such desolation of spirit doubtless only hints at what so many people in the Northeast are experiencing in the wake of the massive October 29 storm with its powerful surge. This force of nature not only devastated the flowing garland of towns that adorn the storied New Jersey shore, as well with boroughs of New York and other areas of New Jersey which faced the ocean, but it also plunged millions into darkness and hardship that may last for another week or more. Even after power is restored, many will suffer severe long-term physical and financial consequences. 
What was it like for those affected? In…

Humility and Grace

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The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,  O God, you will not despise.
It is hard to imagine a more poignant illustration of this reality articulated in Psalm 51:17 than the story of how a Eric Lomax, a British prisoner during World War II at River Kwai, Thailand, decades years later forgave the Japanese interpreter who tortured him horribly during his captivity. 
During the 1980s after he retired, Lomax scoured news sources looking for information about Nagase Takashi. After Lomax read that Takashi was consumed by guilt over the torture of a British soldier, he initiated a meeting and the two were reconciled. 
“When we met, Nagase greeted me with a formal bow,” Mr. Lomax is quoted as saying on the web site of the Forgiveness Project. “I took his hand and said in Japanese, ‘Good morning, Mr. Nagase, how are you?’ He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again: ‘I am so sorry, so very sorry.’ I had come with no sympathy for this man…

New heavens and a new earth

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The terrible violence maliciously stirred up by forces unknown in the Middle East over the last few days in Libya, Egypt and Yemen, using an inflammatory video as the catalyst, is a sobering reminder that the prince of darkness still rules this world. "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh," Ephesians 6 :12 reminds us, "but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

The writer of Ephesians then exhorts us in stirring language to take up "the whole armor of God." First, though, it is key to acknowledge what we are dealing with and what the larger context of that battle is. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:30-31 that "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know I love the Father."

Know…

The heart of worship

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Yesterday we reflected on works righteousness as if affects philanthropic giving. The statistics seem to suggest that large donors give generally not out of genuine concern for the needs of humanity, in particular the poor, but in order to be noticed. We give to see our names on a building, or to be placed in the top 10 list of donors to our university, or to make a lasting impact on the life of some nonprofit institution for which we will be remembered. (James 2:15-16: "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?")

This same attitude dominates the life of our congregations, at the expense of what we need most -- the growing awareness within each of us of the light of Christ which burns at the center of our being.

In many parishes activity is perceived to be the main sign of life. (We have given up on growth as …

Good giving

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We are convicted by the numbers.

In yesterday's Epistle reading as assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary, we heard in James 2 that "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."

America gives generously, but a story in the New York Times this weekend pointed out that the bulk of charitable giving is not earmarked for the poor. Indeed, if you research the Chronicle of Philanthropy, you will find that of the top 25 gifts so far in 2012, only one was designated for a recipient which might actually help people in need (a gift of $150 million the Oregon  Community Foundation in Portland). The others went to colleges, museums, libraries and the arts. Scrolling further down the list, it is revealed that only two in the top 100 gifts are designated for social s…

The controversy over who built what

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On the lookout for a fresh slogan, Mitt Romney's campaign seized on half a sentence uttered by Obama a couple of weeks ago which, as has been well reported, was excised from its context and misinterpreted. Obama's comment, made in the context of a campaign speech in Roanoke:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."

Romney's campaign turned this into a "We Did Built This" tour with eighteen rallies in 12 states on one day alone. The furor seems to have died down, but the irony over the clash of Rom…

The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous

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There seems to be no limit to the depth of denial in the Columbus Public Schools' attendance-scrubbing scandal. The news media in Central Ohio has published story after story featuring the dramatic alteration of attendance data in order to gain the school system financial and other advantages, yet those involved continue to heap denial upon denial (the most dubious being "we've always done that and I didn't realize it was wrong").

What these folks don't realize is that they have already been condemned by their unethical and possibly illegal behavior, and that their repeated denials constitute a living-out of their jail terms. "Evil will bring death to the wicked," the psalmist sings in Psalm 34:21, "and those who hate the righteous will be punished."

The good news is that God, in God's abundance grace, offers a free pass out of this prison of death for those willing to acknowledge their wrongdoing:

Turn from evil and do good;  seek peac…

Lord, increase our faith!

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The shootings in Aurora, Colorado, offer a dark reminder that the salvation of the world is still a work in progress. In our faith we are saved through the victory of God in Christ over the forces of death. But as Ephesians reminds us, the devil is still on the loose: "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 2:1-2)

Rather than giving up on God, now is a time when we need to pray to God to increase our faith (Luke 17:5). We draw in these hours on Martin Luther's timeless words -- written, as it happens, for children to instruct them in the faith:

Lord, keep us steadfast in your word;
curb those who by deceit or sword
would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to naught all he has done.
Lord Jesus Christ, your pow’r make known,
For you are Lord of lords alone;
defend your holy church …

Thrift-Store Picasso and the Face of Christ

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It's one thing to say you're a Christian. It's another to act like one. What this means is not necessarily blessing people continually and saying you'll pray for them, or even radical acts of compassion in the manner of the Good Samaritan. Instead it is those day-to-day choices we make which test whether or not we really are followers of Christ.

Take the local story here in Columbus of the "thrift-store Picasso," which is still making national news. Nobody in the story has said anything about religion, but choices made and words uttered are still instructive because any of us might find ourselves in a similar situation.

In yesterday's update, the purchaser finally sold the piece to an anonymous local buyer and netted a tidy sum of $6,985.85. However, even though the original owner who donated the print to the thrift store has come forward, no mention has been made of the purchaser splitting his profit with that person. How easy this would have been -- th…

Solid Rock or Sinking Sand?

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The violence continues to escalate in Afghanistan in response to a few US soldiers' inadvertent, but certainly ill-advised, burning of religious material. Reporting in the mainstream press has been guarded on these developments in terms of what they signify, but digging into reader comments sometimes reveals nuggets of wisdom.

Such was the case with yesterday's story in the New York Times about another deadly incident of violence in response to the Koran burnings. Reader William Gill of Montgomery, Ala.wrote:

"What I want to observe is this: from a purely historical perspective, it is absolutely amazing, fascinating and downright unbelievable (but true) that the ignorant actions of two or three low level servicemen (along with possibly one CO), doing a prison clean up job can (and has) completely unraveled and undone what a great power and her allies have worked at for ten years including spending somewhere around $500 to $700 Billion dollars (all borrowed), and …

A Better Way

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Rick Santorum says he wants to run a positive campaign against Mitt Romney. “We’re out talking about what we want to do, and how we’re going to change this country, and how we’re the best person to take on Barack Obama. We’re not there making scurrilous charges,” Santorum announced to the press a couple of days ago in Idaho.

Given the tone of the GOP campaign so far, is this remotely possible? Even if Santorum fails to follow through on these good intentions, though, they are a welcome reminder of a passage in 2 Timothy which we are all wise to remember, in which Paul calls on Timothy to "pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace."

He continues, "Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servants must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness." Paul then concludes his thought: "God may perhaps grant that they will repent a…