Blessings and Whoas, or On the Other Hand....

Blessings and Whoas, or On the Other Hand....

Blessed are you poor, Jesus tells us, for yours is the kingdom of God. And I can just imagine how that sounds to those who are financially on the edge—or worse, who have fallen off the edge completely—coming from an unimaginably wealthy monarch (not to mention, from a preacher who clearly hasn’t missed any meals). Blessed are the poor. And not only that, but woe betide the rich, because they have already received their consolation.

What does this mean? Is Jesus truly dismissing any possibility for those other than the poor—or the hungry, or the weeping, or the hated—to be blessed?

Image; James Tissot, “The Sermon on the Beatitudes,” Brooklyn Museum. Used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Deep Water

Deep Water

What must be going through Simon’s head? What is he thinking? Let’s imagine, he’s heard Jesus at the synagogue, which means he also witnessed a healing there. And then he brought Jesus back to his home, where he witnessed Jesus healing, first, his mother-in-law, and then, all those people that were brought to him. It’s clear that the people, the anxious crowds with their desperate and their ill, can’t get enough of Jesus—his words and his healing touch. And now… Peter’s boat is a kind of floating pulpit for Jesus, and he’s teaching these enormous crowds, and the crowds keep growing.

Is Simon thinking, “This is great! This is so exciting!”? Or maybe, “Why do I keep running into this guy?” Or even, “What am I doing? What is happening to my life? This is getting out of hand…”

Or maybe some confusing combination of all of these?

Image: Deep Water. P. Raube, January 2019. All rights reserved.

Over A Cliff

Over A Cliff

In 1940 Thomas Wolfe published a novel about a young writer named George Webber, who, in his first published work, writes extensively about the place he grew up, the fictional town of Libya Hill. The problem is, the people in his hometown don’t like what he has written—they see it as a distorted version of the place they love, and so they start sending Webber nasty mail. Death threats. It’s almost as if they’d like to throw him off a cliff.

The title of Wolfe’s novel? “You Can’t Go Home Again”…

Image: View From Mt. Arbel, Photograph by Jesse Davis of Kingston, Canada. Used by permission of Wikimedia Commons.

The Year of the Lord's Favor

The Year of the Lord's Favor

In a Presbyterian Church in 2019, when the preacher sits down, the sermon is over. In a synagogue in ancient Palestine, when the preacher sits down, the sermon is just about to begin. All we get today, is Jesus’ opening line: 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

(Tune in next week for the rest of the sermon.) 

But… what an opening line!

Wondering and Wandering

Wondering and Wandering

God offers to ornery and ordinary humanity the gift of grace, undeserved. The gift of love, unqualified. The gift of forgiveness, unearned. The gift of affirmation that, though we’ve spent centuries pondering (and theologians have spilled rivers of ink theorizing) something we call “original sin,” we are slow to apprehend God’s original blessing—that we are created in love, unique, amazing, in God’s very image and likeness.

Welcomed With Love

Welcomed With Love

By any reasonable assessment of the situation, Mary becoming pregnant by anyone except Joseph is a pretty big problem for her. In fact, the law says that she should be stoned, she and the father, for this violation of the contract between her and Joseph. Let’s assume Mary believes the angel’s words. Let’s assume that she believes she can convince Joseph of what the angel revealed to her. These things still don’t entirely account for the words in this song. Words of victory over an enemy. Words that describe a world that is about to turn, with the powerful crashing down, and the powerless being raised up. What is she talking about?

Let There Be Joy!

Let There Be Joy!

These are rough and tumble days we live in. It is the era of the viral, stinging tweet, the verbal or virtual stand-off, nastiness drawn like the guns at the OK Corral. In such times, it’s gentleness that comes as a shock. We are expecting a cutting rebuke, and instead, we receive kindness, and grace. Paul connects gentleness with the nearness of the Lord… Maybe that’s something like, how do you want Jesus to find you, when he returns? On the other hand, maybe it’s a reminder that everyone… even the one we don’t particularly like, or agree with… is made in the image and likeness of God. Gentleness, like joy, is a choice we can make. Let your gentleness be known to everyone… the Lord is near.

Can There Be Peace?

Can There Be Peace?

Then, Zechariah sings directly to his son:

And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,

to give God’s people knowledge of salvation

by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” ~Luke 1:76-79

Where Is Hope?

Where Is Hope?

Jesus’ words are not all dire warning. In fact, “warning” can be a gift that opens in us the space for change and the room for a new view. “When you see these things taking place,” Jesus says, “you know that the kingdom of God is near.” And this is the reminder we need us that the kingdom of God is as near as our next breath. Christ comes—in history, yes, and in the future, we pray, but also, and most urgently, today. In that second coming, Christ comes daily, into our hearts, and that means, this very minute. Now.

A King's Last Words

A King's Last Words

The kings and queens whose stories flickered across my computer screen surely played according to type as outlined by God, even those of relatively good character. Here’s the problem: the kind of power traditionally given to royalty could corrode the morals of even those who started out promisingly. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Image: Jesus of the People copyright 1999 Janet McKenzie www.janetmckenzie.com 

Stones and Labor

Stones and Labor

God is seeking to bring something marvelous to birth in us… something more splendid than a thousand Cinderella castles, or Javitz Centers, or cathedrals. God is seeking to bring something lasting to birth in us… something that will outlast the greatest stones of the greatest temples. In fact, God is seeking to bring to birth in everyone, everywhere, in every time and place, the only thing that will last, and the only thing that is more powerful than the fear that is beginning to creep into Jesus’ inner circle, causing the disciples’ knees to go weak and their hearts to pound. The only thing that matters…

Image: Stained Glass Window, Copyright Union Presbyterian Church, Endicott, NY. All rights reserved.

The Widow's Might

The Widow's Might

It is a beautiful thing to see that this woman has done this. It is a deeply inspiring thing to see that, even in her position of loss, and grief, and depleted resources, she somehow finds in her the gratitude for blessings she has known. She finds a way to continue to trust in God. She finds hope for a better future, and in that hope, she gives all she has for the building up of God’s house. In her selfless act, there is a kind of power, a strength of character that is truly inspiring.

But Jesus also gives us a warning about this beautiful act: She shouldn’t have to do it.

Image: The Offering of the Poor Widow, from Konigsberg Church, Germany. Photograph by Bremond, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A Celebration of Life

A Celebration of Life

How many of you remember “Jill and Kevin’s Big Day”? This was the name of a video that appeared on Youtube in the summer of 2009, and quickly went viral. It depicted a large wedding party dancing down the aisle of a church to provide an incredibly festive opening to Jill and Kevin’s marriage ceremony. There is something so joyous about it, something, even though it’s choreographed, so spontaneous and beautiful. And since then there have been countless other videos that have appeared—a dance at the reception by the bride and groom, or by the bride and her dad, or by the two grooms, or the two brides; another dance number that takes place trailing behind an open hatchback, as a prelude to a big, public proposal of marriage.

We dance when we’re happy. We dance when we’re celebrating. We dance when we want to be reminded that we are alive. Dancing is a celebration of life. For everything there is a season, and that includes a time to dance.

Image: The Dancing Saints, by Mark Dukes, @2009 St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco. Used with permission.

Free Indeed

Free Indeed

Truth is at the heart of the Reformation. As we can tell from the context of Jesus’ statement, truth isn’t always easy. Sometimes telling the truth leads to the cross, an outcome Jesus was willing to accept. But strangely, crazily, that truth was still the source of freedom for Jesus, and it is a source of freedom for us.

When we know the truth, or even, when we are willing to entertain the truth, we are able to step out of a kind of prison we may not have even known we were in. This prison isn’t the kind with steel bars and strict visiting hours. It is one of ongoing separation: the separation we humans feel from one another, and the separation we feel between ourselves and God….

Image: Stained Glass Windows, copyright Union Presbyterian Church, Endicott, NY.

Good Questions

Good Questions

Imagine the worst possible thing happening to you. I know that for some of us, we may be pretty sure that thing has already happened. And it is the most normal, the most natural thing in the world to ask why. Why me? Why now? Is there something I did wrong? Is there something I should have done, that I didn’t do? It is a very human thing to do, to search our souls for our own guilt, when something terrible happens. 

The Mouths of Babes: A First Person Midrash/ Monologue

The Mouths of Babes: A First Person Midrash/ Monologue

It all began because my little Micah began to fuss. But, in all fairness, it had been a long day.

It had begun when my friend Chana hurried up to the well. It was early, even for fetching water, but she and I have found that this is the best time to meet. Each morning we begin our day, at home with our prayers to Ha Shem, and then at the well, the gathering place of our community, with words of friendship. In this way, we begin our days with strength.

“Today!” She said, without even bothering to say “Shalom.” “Today is the day! He is coming, the rabbi.”

Image: “Suffer the Little Children…” Lucas Cranach the Younger (1538), public domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Little Ones

The Little Ones

We need to sincerely try to understand this phenomenon without waving it away as something merely superstitious or from a more primitive era: In the gospels, demons pose a real threat to people’s health and well-being. Whatever modern science has suggested to us as possible explanations for what the bible calls “possession,” certain behaviors and symptoms people displayed in this place, and at this time, became associated with the presence of evil. That community felt completely helpless against this evil until Jesus came along, and started, in his own way, to root it out. The way of Jesus, the way of God, is healing, and wholeness.

Image: A medieval illustration of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.