Archive for April, 2011


The sixth sense?

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, then our nose, and now… a sixth sense?

“A sixth sense?” you say.  Well, yes.  But maybe not in the way you’ve typically thought of your senses.  We’ve covered the five senses you’re likely to find in medical journals and science textbooks.  But could another “sense” exist?  Is there an additional organ we might employ in our spiritual and social journeys?  What about the heart?  Perhaps that peculiar and vital contraption in our chest matters!

At first, we think of the heart as an anatomical necessity.  It is the hub of our livelihood, pumping blood to and from the rest of the body.  But we often attach other experiences and emotions to our hearts.  We personify our hearts when we speak of our heart’s desires.   We give our hearts legs when we become excited, proclaiming that our hearts are racing!  Our hearts swell with pride or love.  Our hearts burn.  Our hearts bleed.  Our hearts break.

Scripture is full of images, stories, and sayings about the heart.  When Moses demanded that Pharaoh let the people go we learn that Pharaoh’s heart was hard.  The Psalmist prays often for a clean and pure heart.  The wonderful wisdom literature of Proverbs suggests that a joyful heart is good medicine (17:22).  Jesus even says that the greatest commandment involves the heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

As Methodists, we celebrate John Wesley’s special heart moment in 1738.  Wesley, feeling lacking in his faith, went to a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street. After hearing a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Wesley wrote in his journal: “About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In her brilliantly moving and touching novel Beloved, Toni Morrison tells of a slave’s heart.  Baby Suggs, an elderly woman who survived years as a slave thinks back to her years laboring under the sun.  Slave life had “busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue.”  She says she had nothing left but her heart—which she put to work at once.

We too put our hearts to work.  When the rest of our body, or senses, feel broken and weary we offer our hearts.  To those who are hurting or lonely, we offer the solidarity of our heart.  When others’ hearts break, ours break too.  When the hearts of friends and neighbors rejoice, our hearts rejoice also. We offer our hearts in prayer, longing to connect our heart with God and the world.  How amazing to think that your heart, my heart, and the hearts of those across the globe share similar rhythms and longings. One of my favorite hymns, “O God of All the Nations,” begins with this opening verse:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.


Those with hearts let them share God’s heart.

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, now our nose… 

The nose is an interesting part of God’s creation.  Some noses are large with twists, crooks, and humps.  Others are petite, unobtrusive, and barely noticeable.  All noses, however, serve wonderful and important purposes.  Our noses inform us that a delicious meal is cooking in the kitchen.  We use our noses to enjoy the pleasure that comes from fresh-cut flowers.  Noses alert us to danger such as smoke or gas.  For some, noses fulfill a role that only they can – our noses hold our eyeglasses in place.

When we read the story of Jesus’ anointing we can engage our noses in the scene.  We can imagine the smells emanating from around the table (Lk. 7:36-50).  The small of fresh baked bread rises from the table.  The salty and cool Mediterranean breeze fills the house.  Perhaps the men are sweaty from a laborious day of work.  And then a woman enters with an alabaster of jar of ointment.  As she cracks open the jar and pours the contents on Jesus’ feet the sweet aroma wafts up from the dust.  The smell is strong but sweet, intense yet pleasing.  However, she seems to be wasting the expensive perfume.  She pours more and more upon Jesus’ feet, weeping and kissing his feet.  The aroma is overwhelming and attractive.  Those gathered around the table are indignant at the seeming wastefulness of the woman, but they are nonetheless drawn to the sweet smell.

Sweet smelling things draw our attention.  We are attracted to pleasant fragrances.  What if we, Christians, were like a sweet smelling fragrance?  What if we, the Church, clothed ourselves with the aroma of Christ in a world polluted by sour and stingy odors?  (Have you smelled the stink of corporate greed lately?  Or the repugnant scent of prejudice?  Or the vile fumes of violence?)

Quite interestingly, Paul calls us to be just that, the aroma of Christ.  Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

We, the Church, are the aroma of Christ.  We take in the lovely fragrance of the candles, hymns, and words of worship on Sunday mornings, and we go into the world emanating that same scent.  Through our actions and voices we give off a pleasant and acceptable aroma.  God calls for our business decisions, our relationships, and our day-to-day living to cast an aroma that draws, and does not repel, people to Christ.  God wishes to woo all people to God’s self. Perhaps we too, the Church, are the pleasing aroma that woos, entices, and attracts a sullied world.

Let us be the aroma of Christ.

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, now our mouths…

Taste and see that the Lord is good

In one of his most important works, the 20th century German theologian Karl Barth wrote of the “strange new world within the bible.”  He suggested that we should not read the bible like we read the daily newspapers or the New York Times bestsellers.  Yes, the bible is only a book, but yet it so much more.  The bible contains the words of God, words that tell of God’s love.  The bible reveals God’s heart, a heart that is most visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When we read scripture we often think, “How pleasant.  How lovely.  How uplifting.” And the Bible certainly is!  Jesus speaks of rest, redemption, forgiveness – the very things we need so desperately in our world.  But then we read further and think, “How demanding!  Is Jesus serious?”  Jesus says wonderfully comforting things like, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  And then he immediately adds in the next sentence, “Sell all your possessions, and give to the needy” (Lk. 12:33).  Jesus comforts the tired and weary, and then demands cross-bearing of all disciples.  Jesus offers rest and then calls us to action.  The words of Jesus are so sweet, and yet after further digestion they seem bitter, daunting, and challenging.

A view of Patmos from the cave where tradition says John wrote Revelation

John, writing the book of Revelation from the island of Patmos has a similar response to the words offered to him by an angel.  He writes, “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour” (Rev. 10:9-10).

Why might the words of scripture, even the words we cling to in tough moments, seem unsettling over time?  Perhaps the change comes when we realize that the bible doesn’t simply say back to us the things we think we know.  So often, we fashion its words in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to us – sweet to us, we might say.  But then we realize that the strange world of the bible doesn’t simply echo back to us our own prejudices, biases, and presuppositions.  The bible provides us new words, new meanings, and a new way of speaking and living.

Like John, we take in the words of scripture, chewing on them, digesting them, allowing them to transform our lives.  And then, as Barth wrote, “The spirit of God will and must break forth from quiet hearts into the world outside, that it may be manifest, visible, and comprehensible…The Holy Spirit makes a new heaven and new earth and, therefore, new [wo]men, new families, new relationships, new politics.”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  – Psalm 34:8

How beautiful are the feet…

Last week, we asked…What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, and now our hands and feet…

Those who have hands and feet let them serve

When Jesus ascended to heaven at the beginning of the book of Acts the apostles were astounded.  The man they followed for three years was gone.  He was raised from the grave, but then was lifted away from earth in a cloud.  After Jesus was gone the disciples remained standing, looking upward, until two men (angels, maybe) appeared asking, “Why do you stand looking into heaven?”  The disciples were dazed, unsure of what to do now that their leader was gone.

Perhaps Jesus’ parting words are instructive.  Moments before ascending to heaven Jesus blessed the disciples saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).  We may interpret Luke’s words for our own time, “We are witnesses in Louisville, Kentucky, North America, and to the ends of the earth.”

Christ’s physical body is no longer here.  But you and I, along with all Christians around the world, remain here.  The disciples, you, and I are witnesses to the power and grace of God.  Though we’re not here to remain gazing upward.  We live as the Church, Christ’s Body on this earth, in order that Christ may be known in this time and place.  We are, in fact, the continuing presence of Christ in our world and community.  We are the hands and feet of Christ.  Empowered by the Spirit of God, we continue the ministry Christ began long ago.  We are Christ’s hands today, feeding and clothing the hungry and naked.  We are Christ’s hands reaching out to touch and embrace the untouchable in our world.  We are Christ’s feet taking the message of the promise of God’s coming kingdom to all.

We, the Church, are the Body of Christ sent into the world.  What a privilege to participate in the coming of God’s kingdom, a kingdom that was inaugurated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  How thankful we are that Christ, the light of the world, has lighted the path.  As the Psalmist praises, the Lord has drawn us up from a desolate pit, and put our feet upon a rock” (Ps. 40:2).  The light of Christ has become for us a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.

So, we clap our hands in praise of God on Sunday, and get our hands dirty with kingdom-building work during the week.  With our feet we run the good race Paul so often writes about, taking the good news into the world.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace and brings good news” (Isa. 52:7).

Teresa of Avila, a beautifully devoted follower of Jesus in sixteenth century Spain put it appropriately: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.  Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

Those who have hands and feet let them serve.

Yesterday, we asked…What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  Yesterday we said something about our eyes; today we turn to our ears…

Those who have ear let them hear

In the book of Revelation John provides an interesting image of God’s voice.  For John, God’s voice is something to be heard and seen.  John hears God’s voice “like a trumpet,” but then he turns to also “see” God’s voice speaking to him.  What must it have been like to hear the voice of God?  To see God’s voice?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we are often skeptical of God’s voice.  How and why would God speak to us?  We’ve never heard, much less seen, God’s voice.  At the very least, we relegate God’s voice to ages past.  God speaking was something that happened long ago.  God spoke to Abraham and Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  God called out to Mary and Paul.  But God’s voice – whether seen or heard – was for some other people in some other place at some other time.

But has God really stopped speaking?  Has the voice of God gone silent?  Has God’s voice, both it’s sound and it’s beauty, really been lost for our day?  Surely not.  Perhaps it’s not God’s voice that has grown quiet.  Maybe it’s our ears that have failed.  Could it be that our ears are directed elsewhere?  Are our ears too full of the noise that surrounds us?  Are our ears too busy?

If you’re like me, everywhere you go noise is being pumped into your ears.  The radio in the car blasts music and ranting talk show hosts.  The television in the living room drones with noise.  The cell phone (or bluetooth headset) is held tightly to our ears and mouth.  The iPod earbud wires dangle from our ears.  We are “plugged in” people.  We are people with busy ears.

Could it be, we are so “in touch” (with one another) that we are not “in touch” (with God).  We are so plugged in to our social and professional networks that we are not plugged and tuned in to God.

God wishes to speak to us.  God calls us, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly.  At times God’s voice comes as a loud trumpet, echoing in our ears and springing us into action.  Other times God’s call is subtler, gentler.  It is as that favorite hymn proclaims, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.”  God desires to reach us; to let us know God is thinking of us; to let us know God loves us.  God is our calling shepherd, and we are God’s listening flock.

Those who have ears let them hear.

Sharing the eyes of God

I have always puzzled over Jesus’ high command to the lawyer in Luke 10.  Jesus instructs him,”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”  What does it look like to love God with our heart?  How does the soul love?  With what strength – biceps and triceps(?) – are we to love God?  What happens in the mind when it loves?

Of course, part of  the significance of Jesus’ answer to the lawyer  is it’s capturing of the essence of the 10 Commandments, to love God and love neighbor.  Jesus is also quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, a command that would have been familiar to the lawyer and other Jews of the day.  (Isn’t it strange how we often think of Jesus as purely original, as if he was the first to say such profound, true, and meaningful things?)

I wonder if Jesus meant – in a frank, down-home, charming way – we’re to “love God with all we got?”  With whatever energy we can muster. With whatever sensibilities we can direct to God and neighbor.  With all the thoughts and passions we can cultivate in glory to God.  We’re to love God with any gift God has given, at any time we can, and in any place we can.

So…what about the gift of our body…or our senses…

Seeing as God sees

The story of Samuel’s search for a king is telling of God’s vision.  God has grown weary of Saul as king, and sends Samuel to Jesse’s house in search of a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-13).  As Jesse’s sons trot out before the search committee, Samuel is sure he will be able to spot the new king.  He assumes the new king will be tall, good-looking, and commanding.

But as the first son approaches, the words of the Lord come to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature.”  Several more sons pass before Samuel, but they are not chosen either.  The Lord’s instruction to Samuel remains steadfast: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“For the Lord sees not at man sees.”  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How much better is God’s vision than our vision.  While God’s eyes penetrate beyond the surface, our purview captures only fleeting glances of other persons.  Part of our vision problem is time.  We are hurried; we are busy.  We catch only a glimpse or snapshot of someone and believe we’ve seen the whole picture.  We fail to plumb the depths of persons’ hearts and convictions, joys and concerns.

God’s vision seems so grand compared to our pithy eyesight.  God’s scan of the world captures all, bringing all people into God’s line of sight.  When Jesus entered one synagogue he saw a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  How long had she been coming to the synagogue seeking help, longing for someone to notice her?  While the others’ eyes passed over her (for what seems like quite a long time), Jesus noticed her, laid his hands on her, and sent her away standing upright.

Jesus has, how shall we say it, universal vision.  The eyes of God, of Jesus, see all.  Jesus’ vision captures those who go unnoticed, those on the margins.  Jesus sees the invisible people in a crowded world.

I remember several years ago my church celebrated a Hanging of the Greens service.  During the service, children processed into the sanctuary with chrismons, stars, ivy, and poinsettias.   Many children participated in the service, cutely prancing down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.   Despite all the kids, however, I waited to see just one, my cousin.  I had eyes for her only.  While all the children beautifully participated in the service my eyes were locked in to see only one person.  I was concerned with laying my eyes upon my cousin, delighting in how precious and cute she was in her role.

We have, how shall we say it, selective vision.  We have tunnel vision.  Our eyes see those things that we choose to see, those persons that are convenient and attractive to us.  God’s vision is much grander, much more encompassing, much broader.  Unlike our eyes, the wide scope of God’s vision captures all, looking not upon outward appearances.

Those who have eyes let them see.

Lent 4.5 – Transportation

How did God’s people travel?  On their feet?  By boats?  On top of donkeys and camels?

How do we get around town today?  What are the costs associated with us buzzing from place to place?

Lent 4.5 – Energy

How are we using our limited energy resources?  How can we use them more efficiently?

How are we using our personal energy?  Our church energy?  For what purpose?

Are we ultimately following, Christ, the light of the world?

Ever since the first church put a coffee shop in its lobby the debate has brewed on and on (and on).  Should the church entrance, narthex, lobby (or whatever you call it) be a place that hands out bulletins or cups o’ joe?  Is the lobby for merely passing through on one’s way to the sanctuary?  Or is it a place for gathering and sitting together around a tall table and a plate of breakfast goodies?  Is the narthex for ushers ushering or congregants congregating?

I still remember the first time I saw a coffee shop in a church lobby. It’s presence seemed odd and misplaced, yet fresh and intriguing.  You mean I can worship and drink coffee at the same time?  I can sit with friends around a table, seeing their faces worship, instead of looking at the back of the head in front of me in the pew?

Coffee shops in church?  Maybe.

I recently finished Onward, a book by Starbucks ceo (Starbucks company’s spelling and capitalization, or lack thereof) Howard Shultz detailing the company’s journey through recent ups and downs.

In Onward, Schultz speaks of culture’s “places.”  Places, for him, are those locations where people connect with others in a variety of ways.  Shultz’s suggests that home is the “first place” and work is the “second place” of connection.  The coffee shop, he proposes, is a person’s “third place.”  Shultz’s describes the coffee shop (or in his case, Starbucks locations) as “a social yet personal environment between one’s house and job, where people can connect with others and reconnect with themselves.”

He writes: “The next time you walk by a coffee shop, peer inside.  Take in the variety of people in line or seated.  Men and women in business attire.  Parents with strollers.  College students studying.  High school kids joking.  Couples deep in conversation.  Retired folks reading newspaper and talking politics.  Maybe they’re falling in love with the person next to them.  Or making a friend.”

Cultural places.  Home.  Work.  Coffee shops.

What about the Church?  Or the local church?  What is it’s “place” in society?

Now, I don’t mean to say Shultz is wrong to neglect the “place” of the church.  That’s not his focus as ceo or author.  Nor do I want to suggest that the church exists, or should transform to be, like a coffee shop.  But you can’t help (as a pastor or Christian, I suppose), to read Shultz’s words of “places of connection” and not think of the church.

Shouldn’t the church be a place of connection?

A place where people come together to connect with others through worship, study, and fellowship.  A place of reconnecting with ourselves – both the selves we enjoy and the ones we’d rather not spend any quality time examining – through meditation and spiritual disciplines.  In fact, the Church is the place of ultimate connection, a connection with God.  When we come into the sacred pause that is our Sunday morning we come into the full presence of God, hoping, expecting, longing for God’s spirit to and move and inspire.  In fact, it’s God’s grace through the spirit that does the heavy lifting of connecting and reconnecting God’s people.

We might profitably ask of the church the question Shultz asks of coffee shops: What do people see when they peer inside a church?  A sanctuary?  A few coffee tables?  People connecting?

Lent 4.5 – Water

How do we use God’s gift of water more faithfully?

How do we take serious Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 41:17?

Did Jesus really mean what he said in Matthew 10:42?

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”

– Isaiah 41:17

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

– Matthew 10:42

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