the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


I don't think it ever stops. I am continually asking God, "What is it that you want me to do, Lord?" Of course there are daily and weekly questions, but even the big question about calling seems to keep coming up. Back in the '90's I struggled for several years before I fully understood that God was calling me to the pastoral ministry.

My first opportunity came with the church where I am still serving. I didn't want to be a bi-vocational pastor. I wanted to be a full-time pastor. I couldn't live on what the church could pay so I accepted the bi-vocational pastorate as God's call for me at that time. I hoped and prayed that one day God would give me a full-time church.

A few years back, I got laid off from my secular job. I used that time to search for a full-time church. Nothing ever came of it. Then I landed my current job with the State of Georgia, managing large state funded construction projects. This job continues to offer me opportunities for advancement.

I have posted a few times here on this blog, how tired I am. I have complained about being over workded and whined incessantly, yada, yada, yada. Those bouts of self-pity are part of the discernment process. As I studied for and composed my sermon for today's service, I found myself writing these words:
But we are like Peter, and the other Disciples. We only hear what we want to hear: “Lord, what would you have me do with my life?” Oh, OK, I understand, you want me to be comfortable. You want me to be safe. You want me to be protected from the unclean of this world. You don’t want me to take any risks. You don’t want me to be seen by my peers as one who is foolish. You want me to be popular."
The title of my sermon is "Are you listening? Do you believe what you hear?" After completing the sermon, I sat in the chair at my computer, closed my eyes and listened. Here is what I heard.

I am called to be the pastor of this church. I am called to work at the state, managing construction projects. I am called to live in the tension between being a pastor and a project manager. Like Peter, I was hearing only what I wanted to hear. But Jesus responded gently and compassionately but also with the uncompromising truth.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Thanks be to God!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sunday 2/26/06 Year B - Transfiguration

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9
Are You Listening?
Do you believe what you hear?


We have been following the Gospel of Mark in our scripture passages this year. We will go through the entire Gospel before the coming of Advent. But we will digress a little in our systematic study of Mark to observe the season of Lent that leads us to Holy Week and the Passion of Christ.

Our text today is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The understanding of this passage is obscure and difficult and open to diverse interpretations. In my study this week, I have encountered literally hundreds of different interpretations of this passage.

I have cautioned you in the past that scripture cannot be read as a series of unrelated short subjects if we are to understand the message that God has for us. He gives us instruction and insight into His will in small bites because sometimes that is the only way we can handle the message, in small baby doses. But, God’s message is whole. It is complete, consistent and continuous.

Using this thesis that God’s message is whole, complete and continuous, let us go back in our story to pick up some passages that may seem unrelated to our story today, but are infinitely important to its understanding.

I have said to you before that one of the underlying themes in the Gospel of Mark is the burning question, “Who is this man...” It has been asked by all who have witnessed the authority of his teaching. It has been asked by all who have witnessed the power of his healing. The Disciples themselves, after spending three years of up close and personal time with our Lord, ask “Who is this then that even the wind and the sea obey him?” John the Baptist, Jesus’ mentor, sent messengers to Jesus to ask “Are you the Messiah, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them by saying:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have good news brought to them.
Just a few verses before our present passage from Mark, Jesus asks the Disciples “Who do men say that I am?” They Answered: “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus turns the question on them in an up close and personal way: “But, who do YOU say that I am?”

Is this not THE question? Does this question not face you every day of your life? “Who do YOU say that I am?”

I imagine that the Disciples began to feel uncomfortable inside. They probably looked from one to another seeing who would be the first to speak and make a fool of himself.

You know the story. It was Peter. Bold and brash and full-of-himself Peter. “Thou Art The Christ.” Well and good. Peter was on the right track. So Jesus began to explain just what that meant in terms they could understand. Before this he had spoken to them in parables, riddles to help them learn to think for themselves. But now Jesus had to speak more plainly so that there would be no misunderstanding.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

In answer to Peter’s protest, Jesus responded gently and compassionately but also with the uncompromising truth.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Listening to God

According to Mark’s Gospel, the Disciples were not good listeners. All through his Gospel he asks “Who is this man?” At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at the Baptism, Mark answers this question for us. But we are not listening. It’s too early. The demons help us to understand, but who is going to listen seriously to a demon? The actions of Jesus tell the truth, but we are too dense to understand. Finally, at the end of Mark’s Gospel, Mark gives us the answer from the mouth of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross.

Accepting What We Hear

But we are like Peter, and the other Disciples. We only hear what we want to hear: “Lord, what would you have me do with my life?” Oh, OK, I understand, you want me to be comfortable. You want me to be safe. You want me to be protected from the unclean of this world. You don’t want me to take any risks. You don’t want me to be seen by my peers as one who is foolish. You want me to be popular."

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain, probably Mount Tabor in central Galilee. There they are privileged to witness a mystical event. Jesus is transformed into a heavenly being, glowing and dressed in pure white. Beside him are two other beings perceived to be Moses and Elijah.

Peter, and probably James and John along with him, is terrified. If they could speak at all they probably said to one another, “Did you see that?” Peter reacts as always with his mouth. And as usual it is something inappropriate. But as the scene comes to a close, a very important thing occurs. The voice of God coming from the clouds, repeats the Epitaph of the Baptism “This Is My Son, the Beloved One.” And this time an important phrase is added: “Listen to Him.”

Are you listening? Are you listening to the calling of Jesus to
bring good news to the poor.
to proclaim release to the captives
recovery of sight to the blind
and, to let the oppressed go free
Are you listening to what he wants of us?
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Are you listening? Do you believe what you hear?

Deliver Us:

Deliver us, Lord, from our sins
and remember them no more.
Give us the peace of your forgiveness
and reconciliation with those we have hurt.
Set us free from our past
and from our paralyzing fears,
that we may go forward toward your future
with courage and with joyful hope
as we prepare for the full coming
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory
are yours, now and for evermore.

O Infinite Love

More Kierkegaard:
Thou loving Father, everything goes wrong for me and yet Thou art love. I have even failed in holding fast to this—that Thou art love, and yet Thou art love. Wherever I turn, the only thing that I cannot do without is that Thou art love, and that is why, even when I have not held fast to the faith that Thou art love, I believe that Thou doest permit through love that it should be so, O Infinite Love.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do...Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!—Paul from Romans chapter 7.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thou Art Incomprehensible!

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;

1 Corinthians 13:8-11 for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

I have written elsewhere about the faith of my youth. It was a simple faith. A faith that was based on simple trust in the interpretation of scripture provided by my pastor and my various Sunday School teachers. We didn't discuss theology at home so when my parents took no objection to things the pastor said in his sermons, I took their silence to be agreement. I say that to make the point that my faith as a youth was, in truth, the "faith of our fathers."

When I went to college and was aquainted with scholastic theology and the diverse understanding of faith, my head swelled up with pseudo-knowledge. The simplistic faith I had learned as a youth growing up in suburban Atlanta, was gone forever.

Jesus warns us that the truths of God are more easily grasped by the simple-minded (infants) than the intellegent. But Paul understands that part of the maturing process is the challenge of first beliefs and the acquiring of a more mature faith when he talks about "putting away childish things." And he echoes my own struggles when he says that we must "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling."

In his book, Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard makes the following observation:
I am a shrewd fellow by nature, such, as always, have a great difficulty making the movement of faith though I would not attach any importance in itself to a difficulty which, by overcoming it, brings a shrewd fellow no further than the most ordinary and simple-minded person has already reached without the difficulty.
Again, Jesus, wades in on the subject:
Matthew 18:3 "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, you see my dilemma.

Again, Kierkegaard:
Father in Heaven! Thou art incomprehensible in Thy creation; Thou livest afar off in a light which no one can penetrate and if we recognize Thee in Thy providence, our knowledge is feeble and veils Thy splendor, Thou who art incomprehensible in Thy splendor. But Thou art still more incomprehensible in Thy grace and in Thy mercy. What is man that Thou art mindful of him, Thou Infinite One—but even more, what is the son of a fallen race, that yea Thou wouldst visit him, Thou Holy One; yea what is the sinner that Thy Son wouldst come into the world because of him, not to judge but to save, not to make known His own dwelling place so that the lost might seek Him, but in order to seek out that which is lost, having no den such as wild beasts have, having no place on which to lay his head, knowing hunger in the desert, thirst on the Cross. Lord, Father of compassion! What is man able to do for such great benefits; he is not able to give Thee thanks without Thee. Teach us then the humble discernment of true intellegence that, as a broken heart sighs under the weight of its guilt, saying in its sorrow: "It is impossible! it is impossible that God is able to show such compassion," so that the one who appropriates this assurance in faith must also say in his joy, "it is impossible." If death too seemed to separate those who love one another and again they were given to each other, their first cry at the moment of their reunion would be, "it is impossible." And this joyous message of Thy compassion, Father in Heaven, even if man has heard it since his tender infancy, is not for that the less incomprehensible! And even if man meditates on it day by day, it does not become for that less incomprehensible! Was then Thy incomprehensible mercy like that of a man, which disappeared on closer acquaintance, like the happiness of those who loved each other once in days of old incomprehensible (then) but not anymore. O torpid human reason! O guileful earthly wisdom! O cold thought of slumbering faith! O miserable forgetfulness of the cold heart! No, Lord, keep Thou everyone who believes in Thee in the proper humble understanding and deliver him from evil.
I last read the above quote some years ago. I had written then in the margin these words: "Lord, I cannot do it without you. I even need you to have faith in you." 8/23/94.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

All Things Work Together For Good To Them That Love Thee

A prayer by Soren Kierkegaard, from Papirer, X, A, 222.
Every time that I have understood Thy goodness toward me I have thanked Thee before mankind for all Thy blessings; oh, but that is not really the relation between Thee and man—that he is able to understand that Thou art good. Help me to thank Thee even then when I do not understand that Thou art good but almost like a child want to believe that Thou art less loving. Abominable thought, by which I could make myself eternally unhappy.

Often though it seems to me that my relation to Thee is like that which I might have to an examiner: It is necessary that I use my reason, my strength; and then it is a question of knowing if I have grasped the truth. If I am mistaken Thou dost say simply: "Yes, here you are mistaken"; or "You have done wrong—you have yourself to blame." O my God, is this the relation between God and a man! No, God be priased, Thou and I—we are not face to face in such a noble equality. Oh no, even when I am mistaken, Thy providence has been there, permitted my mistake, and in its love has made my error enter into Thy paternal designs for me, disposing in Thy love these millions of possibilities in such a way that even my error has in truth been profitable to me.

Thou hast made me succeed in everything; then came a time when it seemed to me that Thou didst make me fail in everything. Then I thought all was over, that Thou wouldst have nothing more to do with me. Then I came to think that there would still be one blissful thing left for me: to thank Thee without ceasing for the unspeakable good that Thou has done for me, in a measure infinitely greater than I had expected. Oh the littleness of my heart which in all things has thought of Thee in such a small way. No, Thine intention was that I should advance through this unspeakable blessing Thou hast given me, that I should know the joy of praising Thee and giving Thee thanks even when I cannot understand and when everything seems to be going against me.

In Lenten Lands

Here the whole world
(stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hopes that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day.
The Epitaph on the marker at the grave of Joy Davidman Lewis.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I want to thank all of you for your concern and sweet words of advice. I am doing what I am called to do. But, I am weak and sometimes I need a pity party to compensate for my weakness. So, I must apologize to you and to my Lord for that bit of whining.

I have been in this pastorate for nearly eight years, I know what to expect. I have consciously taken on this responsibility. The membership is aging and dying off, one by one. The young people have abandoned the church for the larger, more contemporary churches that have sprung up on every street corner. I recognize that the church won't survive much longer. So, I will remain faithful to my calling and see them through to the bitter end.

As you may guess from the hours I put into my secular job, I do not depend on what the church can pay me to survive. That is good for them and it is good for me. We barely take in enough in offerings to pay the bills. Some months our expenses are greater than our receipts, but we have been able to break even for the past few years.

These are good people. This is the church they grew up in and they don't relate to other churches. So we will continue to live as a church for as long as they do.

Your prayers for this people, this community and this ministry are greatly needed and appreciated.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Blah, Blah, Blahs.....

Today's sermon was dry, flat and uninspired. Well, read it below if you don't believe me. I couldn't get my engine cranked by following the plan so I jumped around and ad-libed until I got lost. I had very little preparation in the first place. Do you ever get to the point in your life where you have done something so many times that you forget that it doesn't just come automatically, but needs preparation?

The day was not a total loss. I had a very good nap between 2 and 4. Seriously, the evening service was good because a young man for whom I have been praying for a long time, came to both services. He comes frequently to the morning services, but he came to the evening service tonight for the first time. Our Evening service is very informal. He asked a lot of good questions which shows he is thinking about God and the proper place for God in his life.

I keep thinking about how to do church. My congregation makes no comments about the content of the service or the quality. They just keep coming and keep supporting the treasury. Is a liturgical service better than a traditional evangelical service? Is the music right? (you know we don't even have a music director) I have to select the congregational songs and lead the singing as well as all of the prayers, scripture readings and sermons.

I'm working between 50 and 60 hours a week at my secular job and am frequently tired when I get home in the evening. Sometimes I just don't feel like sermon preparation, why so often I don't even feel like soul preparation.

God, I know I complain a lot. And self-pity is an ugly look. But, I am indulging myself here on the blog in hopes some poor sucker will come along and punch my "tough shit" card.

Father, I know I am doing your will. I want to do it. I want to do it better than I did today. Help me to rely on you more and stop thinking I can just improvise my way through a worship service.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday 2/19/06 Year B - Epiphany 7

Isaiah 43:18-25
Psalm 41
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

Are You Paralyzed by Sin? Jesus says,

“Get Up! And Go On With Your Life!”

1 Jesus had been traveling from village to village, proclaiming the good news of the reign of God, and taking respite in deserted places, but then he returned to Capernaum after some days. He makes Capernaum his base of operations, staying in a house there. Word of his return spreads quickly through Capernaum: it was reported that he was at home.

2 Once before, Peter's house and courtyard were mobbed by those who wanted to hear and be healed by Jesus, and now it happens again: many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door No wonder Jesus had to repeatedly search out deserted places to have a little privacy! Yet he did not turn away those who came to him, even though their constant presence and needs must have been a drain on his energy.

What does Jesus' availability to others tell us about him? What does it say about his availability to us?

Jesus preached the word to them: the presence of a crowd is an opportunity for him to carry out the purpose for which he has come. He proclaims the word: he has returned to Galilee to proclaim the gospel of God, the good news that the reign of God is at hand. Later he will speak "the word" in parables; perhaps he used parables of the kingdom on this occasion as well.

3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. The four are presumably relatives or friends of the paralyzed man. The man needs Jesus' healing of his paralysis, but his paralysis has kept him from coming to Jesus. Likewise, we can find ourselves spiritually paralyzed, keeping us away from the one who can forgive us and make us whole. Those who love the paralyzed man do for him what he cannot do for himself: they bring him to Jesus. We too may need the help of others to come to Jesus—and we too may be able to extend tat help to others.

4 When they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; The man's paralysis is not the only obstacle; there is also an impenetrable crowd surrounding Jesus. There is a way to get around the crowd, but it is not an easy one. Jesus' house had a flat roof made of wooden beams overlaid with branches, thatch, and packed earth. An outside stairway or ladder led to the roof, which was used a a place to sleep on hot nights and to dry crops. Those carrying the paralyzed man take him up onto the roof, and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. It would have been easy to break through the clay and thatch and make an opening between two beams—but also very messy; some of the debris must have fallen on those inside the house. Those who want to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus are willing to do whatever it takes.

Who do you want to bring to Jesus? What obstacles stand in the way? What are you willing to do to overcome these obstacles?

5 Jesus could have been annoyed by those who were interrupting his preaching by showering debris on him and his audience, but he is not. His focus is different: he saw their faith, a faith expressed by deeds rather than words. Their going to unusual lengths to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus for healing demonstrates their confidence in Jesus.

What Jesus does next seems puzzling: he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The four men have brought the paralyzed man to Jesus for healing, not for forgiveness of his sins; nothing has been said about this man being a sinner. Yet there are connections between healing and forgiveness. In Old Testament times, sickness was often viewed as evidence of and punishment for sin. This belief was still held by some at the time of Jesus.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" John 9:1-2

Jesus did not endorse this view, but neither did he hold that sickness and sin were completely unrelated: both were the presence of evil. Sin is a sickness deadlier than any physical illness; sin is a paralysis tat keeps us from coming to God. Jesus was concerned for the whole person and discerned that forgiveness was the greatest need of thee man who had been brought to him.

Jesus addresses the man as son, a term of affection. Jesus says, Your sins are forgiven. This might be interpreted as Jesus saying, "God has forgiven your sins," much as Nathan announced God's forgiveness to David in 2 Samuel 12:13)

David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan said to David, "Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.

But what follows indicates that Jesus pronounced the man's forgiveness as if Jesus was the one doing the forgiving. Further, Jesus granted forgiveness apart fro the procedures set down in the Old Testament for obtaining forgiveness, particularly through he making sacrificial offerings at the Temple. Something very new and very different has just happened in Jesus' home.

Are You in any way paralyzed by sin? Does Jesus look on us with affection, despite my sins? How have You experienced his forgiveness.

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there. This is the first mention of any interaction between scribes and Jesus. Scribes were scholars and teachers of the law of Moses. They react as if Jesus has just said something extraordinary, and they are questioning in their hearts about it.

7 The scribes wonder to themselves, Why does this man speak in this way? It is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone? Not only has Jesus pronounced forgiveness apart from all established procedures, but he is also claiming to do something that only God can do. Consequently the scribes accuse Jesus of blasphemy by claiming a prerogative of God. The charge of blasphemy will also be leveled at Jesus during his hearing before the Sanhedrin in Mark 14:61-64. It is a serious charge: Leviticus prescribes that blasphemy be punished with death by stoning: Leviticus 24:15-16

And speak to the people of Israel, saying: Anyone who curses God shall bear the sin. One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.

Who can forgive sins but God alone? is indeed the issue, and the answer is that Jesus can. God forgives sins through Jesus.

8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; Does this simply mean that their faces gave them away to a perceptive observer like Jesus? Jesus would have been well aware that his pronouncing forgiveness of sins would be jarring to Jewish scholars, for there was no basis in Jewish Scripture or tradition for a human being to grant divine forgiveness. Or is Mark hinting that Jesus had more than human knowledge of the thoughts of those around him? It is not easy to decide simply on the basis of this passage. However Jesus came to know what the scribes were thinking, he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?" and proposed a test.

9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk?" We can interpret easier in two senses. A physical healing, although miraculous, is in a sense easier than a spiritual healing. Elisha, the great wonder-worker of the Old Testament, performed some wonderful deeds but never claimed he could forgive anyone's sins. Neither had John the Baptist claimed he could forgive sins, despite his preaching of repentance. On the other hand, it is certainly easier to say to a paralytic, Your sins are forgiven than to say to him, Stand up and take your mat and walk, for no one could observe the forgiveness of sins, but anyone could tell whether a paralyzed man got up and walked. Jesus proposes the latter as the test for the former: if he is able to heal the man of his paralysis, then that should be a sign that he is able to forgive his sins as well.

10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. This is the first time that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. It is a description or title that Jesus will use often for himself, and it can carry different shades of meaning. Son of man is an Aramaic idiom for human being, and thus Jesus might be using it simply as a way of saying "I". But it also has other associations, particularly of a heavenly "one like a son of man" in the book of Daniel who is given authority by God. Jesus uses the Son of Man in a complex way, referring to himself as a human being who has been given extraordinary authority by God, the authority to forgive sins on earth. Jesus brings God's forgiveness to earth as God's unique agent. That you may know... echoes Old Testament text in which God says he will do something that will demonstrate his might. Jesus is about to make a similar unmistakable demonstration of his authority.

11 He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go home." The word translated stand up is the same word that will later be used for rising from the dead: the man's rising from his his paralysis is a sign of much greater rising to new life in store for us through Jesus. Pick up your mat, for you will no longer need it to lie on all day long. Go home and begin your new life.

12 The man is able to do as Jesus commands because of Jesus' command. He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. He was carried in on a mat; now he leaves carrying it—a sign of complete change Jesus has made in his life, spiritually as well as physically. His healing happens at once, and it is manifest in the sight of everyone. The people in turn were all astounded and glorified God. Again, people are astonished by what Jesus does; they now have a somewhat fuller realization that he is God's agent, and consequently they glorified God for working through Jesus. They say, We have never seen anything like this, yet at least some of them had to have witnessed Jesus' previous healings and exorcisms in Capernaum. What sets this particular healing apart from Jesus' previous healings has to be its link with Jesus' forgiving the man's sins: no one had ever claimed to forgive sins and backed up tat claim with a demonstration of authority.

We might wonder whether the scribes were among the all who were astonished by what Jesus had done and praised God for it. Subsequent events will indicate that they probably did not join in in the acclaim for Jesus, despite his clear demonstration of authority.

Has Jesus made a dramatic difference in your life—as life-changing as being freed of paralysis? Do you praise God for what he has done for you through Jesus?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sunday 02/12/06 Year B - Epiphany 6

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Mark 1:40-45

Are You Involved in What God Is Doing?

Leprosy was the ultimate disease. It was the ultimate weakness. Lepers were outcasts from society. They were forced to live in separated colonies that were often located near the pits where the trash was accumulated and burned. Those places were called Gehenna, or Hell. They were considered to be no more than the garbage where they lived. According to the Law in Leviticus 13, such people had to cry "Unclean! Unclean!" as they walked along the streets to warn people they were coming. Like wearing a Scarlet Letter, or having your name on a public list of offenders.

The Arameans were enemies of Israel. Naaman was the commander of the army of the King of Aram. He was a powerful man. He was a proud man. His every word struck fear in the hearts of the men under his command. Such men do not admit of weakness of any kind. Such men find cure for the common cold by going out and killing something.

But Naaman had been struck with leprosy. He was in danger of losing his command, his influence over his men, his power, his place in Aramean society, and even his home. He was desperate to find a cure. He was so desperate that he was willing to humble himself and go into enemy territory, seeking the prophet of YHWH, the god of the very people he would meet in combat.

As Jesus went from town to town in the Galilee, he was approached by a leper. It was strictly forbidden for a leper to come anywhere near a healthy person. But this leper was bold. And he was filled with faith in the power and the goodness of Jesus. "Hey, Jesus! You could make me clean, if you wanted to." Verse 41 says that Jesus was moved with ptiy. Some ancient manuscripts say that he was moved with anger. No matter which word reflects the real mood of Jesus, we know that his emotion was intense.

What had He come out to do? Remember the verse from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synogogue in Nazareth: Isaiah 61:1-2

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Jesus was not doing his own thing. Jesus was involved in doing God's thing. Jesus said, "I Will!" That Jesus had healed this disease was not remarkable. After all, he healed those born blind. He said to the paralytic "Get up, pick up your bed, and walk." He made the Deaf to hear. He drove out the unclean spirits. And he raised the Dead. But the real significance of this particular miracle is that Jesus was faced with the ultimate outcast of society, the lowest of the low in the class system. And Jesus demonstrated that what God was doing was including. He was affirming. He was accepting. He was including and affirming and accepting of this person who was outcast, infirm, and ostracised by even his own family.

Before the calling of St. Francis of Assissi he had a similar experience.
One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon that event as a test from God. A test that he had passed.

Some of you may recongize the name Bono. Not Sonny Bono, but Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock group U2. Now U2 is not your average rock band and Bono is not your average rock singer. Bono has been standing up and speaking out for good causes for years. But it did strike me as unusual to find him as the invited speaker at the Whitehouse Prayer Breakfast. But there he was standing in front of politicians, national clergy and other people of great import. And they were listening intently to what he had to say. And what he had to say was important. It was important enough to gain the attention of so august an audience.

Here is a portion of what he said.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house... God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives... God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them...

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: STOP.

He said, stop asking God to bless what YOU are doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what He’s calling us to do.’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because [America is] good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”

And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”

“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”

So on we go with our journey of equality.

For most of us leprosy is a scourge of another time. But there are other scourges. There are other diseases and life styles that cause us to cry "Unclean! Unclean!" Where will we stand in relation to them? Will we ignore them? Will we shun them? Will we make them to feel infirm, invalid, unworthy and unloved?

What about those with AIDS. What about the homeless? What about gays? What about those who suffer with an addiction that enslaves them to a life that is no life. As the Church of Jesus Christ we are bound to follow after the Lord's teaching. "Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me." And there's this: "Inasmuch as you have done it not to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it not to me."

Where will you stand in relation to the least of these? Where will you stand in relation to God and what he is doing in the world? And what is He doing?

...the LORD...has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

That is what God is doing, and that, I Believe, is what God is calling us to do.

Let us close with the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow Love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, Faith;
Where there is despair, Hope;
Where there is darkness, Light;
Where there is sadness, Joy;

O, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving, that we receive;
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying, that we are born to Eternal Life

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sunday 02/05/06 Year B - Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Grashopper Eyes and Eagle's Wings.*
Isaiah 40:21-31

I usually take my sermon from the Gospel reading for the week. But the Old Testament passage is so powerful that I cannot miss an oportunity to open to you a small portion of its wealth.

One of the most famous chapters in the Old Testament is this 40th Chapter of Isaiah. It was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln. It is said that on the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy, General Dwight D. Eisenhower laid awake all night reading this chapter over and over. And, although this may be more legend than fact, on the eve of Desert Storm, General Norman Schwarzkopf did the same.

Chapter 40 is the beginning Chapter of Isaiah of the Exile. Chapter 39 ends during the reign of Hezekiah in 680 BC. Chapter 40 begins during the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BC. 142 years have passed between Chapters 39 and 40.

The opening verses in the King James tanslation have been imortalized by Frederich Handle in his choral masterpiece "The Messiah."

Comfort ye,
O. comfort ye
my people,
saith your God,
saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
for she hath received of the LORD'S hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:31 has been one of my favorite scriptures of hope in the power of God.

but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

It is a great hope to feel that God can lift us up on Eagle’s wings. I love the idea of soaring above it all, being the swift and strong eagle, with a bird’s eye view of all the grasshoppers below.

But we have jumped too far ahead. We need to back up to verse 22

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers...

We need to remember that so much of our life is lived with the grasshoppers. In describing the greatness of our Creator, Isaiah starts off comparing us to the small leaf-hoppers who are more prey than predator. Isaiah had such a gift for metaphor, so I wonder if he carefully chose contrasting grasshoppers with eagles, or if any small insect or rodent would do for his literary purposes. This week I want to take some time to applaud the grasshopper as well as the eagle.

Grasshoppers have a bad reputation in the world of literature. In Aesop’s fables they are the lazy, playful bug that has not made preparation for the winter and must beg the industrious ant for food and shelter. This same motif carries over in the movie “It's A Bugs Life” where the grasshoppers are evil and torment the ants like a street gang. Humans generally have a negative view of the grasshopper as a pest that can eat us out of our spot on the food chain. Who can forget the story of the plague of locusts (a cousin of the grasshopper) that devoured the first year of crops of the Mormons who settled in Utah, and the saving grace of the Lord in the form of a flock of seaguls that came over from the Great Salt Lake to feast on the little buggers.

In Iowa, in the summer the grasshoppers are thicker than flies. walking in the pasture, each step causes a ripple of life that surged nearly 10 feet away as the mobs of grasshoppers leap out of the way. They eat everything, they eat the corn, they eat the alfalfa and they eat the tomatoes, planted by the farmers' wives up next to the house. One man reminiscing about his youth said, "Thank God they did not leave the Zucchini."

Grasshoppers have wings too. While they can not soar like eagles, they can leap 20 times more than their own body length. For a human such a feat would be a flying leap of 40 yards, which would revolutionize football, basketball and baseball if only we could land with the same grace as the grasshopper. Grasshoppers are one of the most successful species on the planet, coming in 18,000 different varieties and in a variety of colors. Their color is a kind of defense mechanism. Apparently the brighter colors of grasshoppers warn birds that they are not good to eat, something most every boy can attest to as well.

I also like grasshoppers because of one of my favorite TV shows. Remember David Carradine and the weekly drama “Kung Fu?” A favorite series, it can still be seen on the cable channels. The main character is a wandering Anglo-Chinese monk who immigrated to the US in the latter part of the 19th century. He passed from town to town spreading Zen wisdom and defending the weak by kicking and chopping the town bullies. Each episode would flash back to his memories as a boy growing up in the Budhist monastery. Before delivering a pearl of wisdom, his Kung Fu master would affectionately call him “Grasshopper.”

Something about grasshoppers speaks of playful adolescents trying to come into maturity. They look like their tongue is perpetually sticking out, they are quick to leap away and hide in the grass and have a built in fiddle to play away the day. Grasshopper seems like an excellent name for a spiritual novice.

Now here’s why I think Isaiah chose grasshoppers to represent humanity in this chapter. Grasshoppers not only have wings, though they are much less endowed than eagles, they also have 5 eyes. Part of their adaptability and survival comes from their ability to see everything around them in a great panorama. It is this ability to see the wide horizon that can take us beyond being a spiritual novice. If we only see the next blade of grass in front of us, we will not grow and thrive. As long as I remain down in the grass, content to only look in front of me, I quickly become weighed down by trivia- annoyed by the attitudes of other people, caught up in my own selfish struggles, wondering why the grass doesn’t taste better or worried that I will run out of grass altogether.

The Jews had been in Exile in Babylon for fifty years. Now they were free to leave and return to their homes. But they had lost hope. They had lost sight of the blessing of God that they enjoyed when the Priest went into the Temple carrying the blood of the lamb. And they had lost hope in the power of their God to make a difference in their lives.

Isaiah says to the people, "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever."

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him?

Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice?

Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Finally in this chapter, Isaiah brings his rhetoric to a great crescendo:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

When I read Isaiah, I hear him saying to us, “Look grasshopper…Have you not seen, have you not heard? Look around at the big world. Behind it all is your creator, who has the expansive power of life, a power that can make a small grasshopper soar like and eagle.” In faith, it is the capacity to look at the vast expanse of the world with a sense of awe and wonder that lifts us to new heights. Seeing things with the eyes of amazement, seeing our selves in the context of being part of a majestic creation, gives our faith the “wind beneath our wings” to soar. May we all learn to live with grasshopper eyes and eagles wings.

*Thanks to bloomingcactus for this sermon.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

Yes, today is my Birthday. I am 60 today.

The love of my life gave me a birthday card that I need to share:

Real love takes more than flowers,
means more than beautiful words.
Real love means
keeping promises...
holding on when you don't
want to, being strong
so that others may rest.
And as time and change swirl around us,
the love we share
stands quietly in the midst of our lives,
forever beautiful,
forever real.

Doesn't that bring tears to your eyes?