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Getting Ready for Advent, Part II: Moving out of our comfort zone

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Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written: ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’ (Romans 15:21)
How far out of our “comfort zones” this prescription of Paul’s would take us, were we to apply it to our own forms of ministry! Most of us confine our proclamation to places where the gospel is already recognized. We preach before congregations comfortable with the idea of Jesus. We write for church-oriented publishers whose clientele is solidly Christian. We teach in institutions sanctioned (if not supported) by the church.We lead Bible studies for those to whom the Word of God is already the source of life.
This is not to say that these endeavors are sufficient simply because we are doing them; there are always deeper and more urgent ways that the good news of salvation can be proclaimed, written, tau…

Getting Ready for Advent, Part I: The source of our joy

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Our culture is in high gear for Thanksgiving. But for those who love the church and its seasons, Thanksgiving means we have almost arrived at the first Sunday of Advent. Yet it is well to remember that Advent,as our hymnody reminds us, is not only a time of quiet reflection but also one of thanksgiving and rejoicing:
Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes,
the Savior promised long;
let ev’ry heart prepare a throne,
and ev’ry heart a song!”
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship #239)
Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
though dark the winter and cheerless,
the rising sun shall crown you with light,
be strong and loving and fearless.
(ELW #242)
For we know that, come Christmas, we will sing: On this day God gave us
Christ, the Son, to save us;
Christ, the Son, to save us.
(ELW #291)
But what is all the rejoicing really about? Yes, the birth of Christ, the advent of the Messiah. But what does that mean to us? From what are we saved?
We find our answer in Psalm 124: “…if the Lord had not been o…

Accountability

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Examine my heart, visit me by night,
     melt me down;
     you will find no impurity in  me.
(Psalm 17:3)

We cannot live without the psalms. They are indispensable in our lives because the psalmist, in every instance, speaks directly to God for us in ways we cannot muster on our own.

The words are eloquent, furious, capricious, heartbreaking, joyous, desperate, soul-searing. In my Bible the psalms occupy about one-eighth of an inch of the depth of the book. But the entirety of what it is to be human is encapsulated in those pages. We dismiss them from our lives--as too many worshipping bodies have done--at our peril, for without their fortifying nourishment we are much easier targets for the devil. God grant us the will and courage to welcome them into the innermost recesses of our hearts.

Consider the verse above from Psalm 17. It amounts to a challenge to God: "See whether or not I have indeed given my life to you. See whether any corruption remains." Yet this challenge is …

Baseball and time

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The days of our life are seventy years,
   or perhaps eighty, if we are strong.... (Psalm 90)

Why is baseball such an enduring part of the American psyche? Not because of gargantuan feats of heroism, death-defying catches or mighty blasts that clear the bases; not because the Red Sox have vaulted from "the working definition of hell" in 2011 and 2012 (ESPN SportsCenter) to world champions in 2013.

Quite the contrary: The sport is intimately familiar to us because it unfolds on a scale that approximates that of our lives. How long will a given game be? No one knows. Nine dull innings, 26 record-setting innings? How long does each inning last? How many pitches? Enough by the third inning to send the starter to the showers, or a masterly demonstration of brevity that will stand forever in the record books (Charley "Red" Barrett in 1944, playing for the Boston Braves, who shut out the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 in a mere 58 pitches)? How long will our lives be--seventy years, …

Losers, Keepers

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"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 14:11)

For students of scripture, this is a familiar refrain. Luke makes it tangible in this Sunday's Gospel reading, in his parable of the wedding banquet: Far better it is for you, he cautions, to take the lowest place at the table and then be invited to be seated closer to the host, than to assume a lofty position without invitation and find yourself re-seated in a lowly spot.

But this proverb (indeed, Luke takes his cue from Proverbs 25:6-7, which concludes "for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble") holds true in all walks of life. But because we demand immediate satisfaction in our busy lives, we may not be witnesses much of the time to the way that God's justice is served. At some point, though, it always comes to pass that the proud are humbled.

When we do observe this, we must beware of …

Seeing is not believing

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We have just had Good Shepherd Sunday, which in the three cycles of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary encompasses much of John 10, Jesus' extended and familiar discourse on the good shepherd.

It is always interesting to note what comes immediately before those passages in the Bible that we know and love so well. In this case Jesus is giving the Pharisees a sharp lesson on spiritual blindness in John 9:35-41 that they almost certainly fail to understand.

Earlier in the chapter Jesus has healed the man born blind, and the skeptical Jews have grilled the man and his parents relentlessly and cruelly about the miracle before driving him from their midst. Hearing of the debacle, Jesus finds the man, reveals himself fully to him as Lord, and blesses him with these words: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some Pharisees who are still lurking nearby sense uneasily that this might apply to th…

Weather.com

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"He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens.And when you see the south wind blowing, you say,'There will be scorching heat';and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky,but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Luke 12:54-56)

Our culture is fascinated by the weather. Inordinate amounts of time are devoted to it on television, and when there is an actual "weather event," the media (and many of us as a result) are riveted. A young friend of mine recently showed me around weather.com. I was amazed to discover what detailed weather information is available there. In addition to finely nuanced updates on precipitation--including the ability to "see" about 6 hours into the future as well as "revisit" the immediate past--one can also reference the current cloud cover worldwide as …

The Wideness in God's Mercy

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God does not frown or sleep.

The former thought came to mind in pondering "What Wondrous Love Is This," a North American folk hymn. Its second stanza, which seems to present a perfect meditation for our Lenten discipline, reads:

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down beneath God's righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.
And the latter thought emerged in pondering the words of final address by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square  on February 27, when he told the crowd: "There were moments of joy and light but also moment that were not easy...there were moments, as there were throughout the history of the Church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping."

The Pope qualified his statement by the words "seemed that." But still the impression he pr…

Idol Worship

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Idols are falling before us right and left, particularly in the grotesquely skewed reality which governs the world of sports. Sadly they are too many to number, but those most celebrated in these ranks include O.J. Simpson, Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno, Oscar Pistorius, and stars in the pantheon of professional soccer who have yet to be named.

Focusing on the Pistorius, the excitable British press has one of the better stories on the phenomenon, whose title reads in part "another fallen idol mocks our hunger for demi-gods."

"To an extent," that story in the Independent reads, "we elevate every sporting idol above real life no less artificially than do the blades of Pistorius. It is pointless, plainly, to ask whether this same catastrophe might have been avoided by its protagonists if they instead began Valentine's Day, say, frying eggs and washing up in a diner. But other lives have certainly unravelled -- if not in quite so shocki…