Tag Archive: Jesus


On Tuesday night I began to jot down a few notes about Mother’s Day.  I didn’t intend to post them…until Wednesday afternoon.  While eating lunch with several staff persons on Wednesday the senior pastor said to me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You need to acknowledge the oldest and youngest mothers at the 9:00a worship service on Sunday.”  Before he could get out another word I responded in exuberant and honest haste, “You can forget about that!”  He laughed; I calmed down.  “I knew that would get to you,” he joked.  He was right.  (So below are a few incomplete thoughts…!)  

I grew up in a church with two Mother’s Day rituals: 1) the “oldest/youngest/most times a mother/most children present” mothers were awarded flowers, and 2) all willing and able men sang “Church in the Wildwood” during the special music moment.  The service always had a certain innocent charm.

But something seemed amiss.  You could see some women fidget in their seats.  I always felt a strange twinge of uneasiness during the service.

I always wondered how the celebration of motherhood affected some in the pews:

– the woman who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive?

– the woman who lost a child during pregnancy or delivery?

– the son or daughter who was celebrating the first mother’s day without mom?

– the child whose mother abused or abandoned him or her?

– the person whose memory of “mom” is more painful than heartwarming?

For people who have been told Leave it to Beaver motherhood is the norm (we’re looking at you, Hallmark), I can only imagine that they are not looking for the church to reinforce that myth.   How painful some silly celebration might be for those unable, though desperately wanting, to be a candidate.  (Is it not God, the parent of all, whom worship is all about anyways?)

Is eliminating such moments from worship too pandering, too much trying to meet the needs of all?  Perhaps.  And it’s true that the Church must say something meaningful and compelling about parenthood and families.  We should celebrate those who have nurtured and loved us.  But the reality is that parenthood and families are not one-size-fits-all entities.  Families are different, unique, and messy.  Mothers – and those who wish to be – come from a variety of social locations.  We must be aware that motherhood – or lack thereof – means different things to the women in the pews.

On Mother’s Day I like to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb.  She was there when he was born…and when he died.  I imagine she held him, cooed at him, and giggled with him.  She taught him to talk and set the table.  I like to think that she corrected and reprimanded him when necessary.  She counseled; she loved; she nurtured.

When Jesus was young, Mary took him to the Temple where Simon told her that a “sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).  Can you imagine living with those words echoing in your mind?  Years earlier she told the angel that announced Jesus’ birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Of course, at that moment she was speaking of her conception by the Spirit, but what trust, what faith, what commitment.  Think of the beauty of Mary’s openness to God to “let it be.”  (This is not a fatalistic “let it be.”  But rather, a trusting in the grace and goodness of God “let it be.”)

Very few words in Methodist literature are devoted to Mary.  If she is mentioned at all it usually comes in the way of saying, “See Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed,’ which state that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Perhaps Mother’s Day is a day to think of Mary in all of her fullness and beauty.  To put aside differences in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and to ponder in our hearts her commitment, obedience, and trust.  To be reminded of her openness to being a vessel for God’s glory.  I suppose it is some folks’ Protestant desire to not be Catholic that leads them away from spending time with Mary.  What a shame.  Thinking of Mary more often and more intimately would do our souls good – our longing, fearful, and thirsty souls.

As the world continues to muse on the death of Osama bin Laden many questions, concerns, and curiosities remain…

Yesterday I received this e-mail from a fellow pastor and friend:

I stayed up late last night watching the news coverage of the President’s address and the reporting of the “killing” (and that is the way the media reported) of bin Laden. And I am struggling with images of Americans in the street outside the White House dancing joyfully at this man’s death.  I know he needed to be brought to justice.  But as a Christian my heart is breaking at the display of glee and joy among our citizens, so many shown in the news coverage to be of such a young age. You and I serve the church and the Christ.  We preach about justice and forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I, as well as you, know that many of our parishioners may be jubilant at the news of bin Laden’s death.  In this season of Easter, having just celebrated God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in the Resurrection of the Christ, it seems the perfect time to speak to the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness and the difficulty, at times like these, to be Christian…to live into our baptism … to be Christian first, American second.  Where to begin? And do you think it wise to deal with this from the pulpit?

I wonder along with my friend: “Where do we begin?  What is the proper Christian response?  Is it wise to deal with the situation from the pulpit (or wherever you find your job or ministry)?”

Or do we say nothing?

I find these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be helpful:

“Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness.  Such a man [sic] does not steal.  He does not commit murder.  He does not commit adultery.  But in his voluntary renunciation of publicity he knows how to remain punctiliously within the permitted bounds which preserve him from involvement in conflict.  It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world.  Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace.  Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”

We must speak.

We must speak to, into, and through the situations of the world.  To not speak is to say that it does not matter to us, our faith, or to God.  We commit not a sin of activity (theft, murder, adultery, gossip, etc.) but a sin of inactivity, of saying nothing.  Complacency in the face of injustice is as fraught with sin as the unjust actions that are committed.  We cannot withdraw into a refuge of private virtuousness.  We cannot retreat into our own hearts and minds, proclaiming to ourselves what the world needs to hear.

However, when we speak we must do so compassionately and modestly.  Not with chants of victory and triumph, but with pacifying tones of humility and peace.  We speak from a position of faith and peace seeking understanding, not from a place of celebration through killing.

When we speak, our words must be wedded to our deeds.  Our words of humility must be matched by time spent on our knees in prayers.  Our call for understanding and mercy must be paired with hugs and embraces of those who are different.  We cannot sing songs lamenting the loss of any life, and at the same time find a dancing partner in pride and jubilation.  We must not do as Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day, of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these, Jesus says, that they (and us) ought to do, practice, live, enact, and embody (Matthew 23:23).

Is it wise to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the death of bin Laden comes then as an opportunity for Christians…an opportunity to speak and embody the words of Christ…an opportunity to say true and compelling things about life and hope here and now through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection years ago.  We, as Christians, enter this moment with a unique platform to shout and gloat less, but pray and reflect more.  Perhaps we seize the opportunity to show the world that we, as Christians, act differently when we hear the news of death and uncertainty.

Is this the end of evil?

Is this a season of dancing?

At 5:00a this morning I woke up to 2 sounds: a crying baby and a text alert from the Associated Press.  My five-month-old daughter was hungry and Osama Bin Laden was dead.  As I settled into the rocker I cradled Eva in one hand, and scrolled through the news stories on my phone with my other hand.  My arms were full, my heart heavy, and my mind confused.

My initial thoughts focused on Eva.  She surely had no idea of the significance of the breaking news.  In her innocence, she knew and cared only that her belly was full and that her crib awaited her return.  Events like 9/11, words like “terrorism,” and names like Osama are (or will be) as personal to her as Pearl Harbor, Axis powers, and Mussolini are to me.  She will know only what parents, teachers, family, and history books tell her of the World Trade Centers and a field in Pennsylvania. (Which raises the question: How will I tell my daughter the story of Osama and NYC and Bush and war and terrorism?)

Sure, she’ll grow up with heighten airport security procedures and multifaceted words like “extremists” and “religion.”  She’ll never escape the implications and gravitas of Al-Qaeda, terrorist networks, and the war on terrorism.  But yet, the specifics of today’s news, of today’s names, will likely become folklore or legend.

Many people are trumpeting Osama’s death as a victory for good over evil, right over wrong.  And I suppose it is.  But is this the end of evil?  Of course not.  New regimes bent on killing people will come to power.  Brilliant masterminds with a penchant for using their brilliance in perverse ways will still operate in the shadows.  Individuals and networks of those seeking to do harm will continue to pursue their goals.  Evil and injustice at home and abroad will continue to permeate our lives and institutions.

As Christians we are rightly called to refuse, reject, and rise up in the face of injustices.  However, the celebratory mood and festivities surrounding the death of someone can (or should) only be troubling to Christians.  Our hope, trust, and joy comes not in tanks, weapons, and death, but in the grace and power of the words Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…deliver us from evil.”

My pre-dawn thoughts turned also to those Americans cheering in the streets as news of Bin Laden’s death spread.  Is this the proper response…to shout, pump fists, wave flags…?  We are a mere week removed from Easter.  Where were the celebrations and parades proclaiming God’s “yes” to life and “no” to death?  I always cringe, and become a bit uneasy, each time I see video footage from other countries where crowds of people shout in approval of an American soldier’s death.  So…I guess…I hoped…I prayed…we would be different.  I prayed that we might not payback hate with hate, shout with shout, death with death.  And yet…

So…

Celebrate the death of another sinner?  I won’t.  Revel in the demise of one of God’s children?  Not I.  Dance in the streets?  Not me.

I will continue to live in the tension between civil justice and the words from that radical that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are always talking about.  You know, those words about loving your enemies; praying for those who persecute you; turning the other cheek.

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.

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

I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.

In a brief six page retrospective chapter, Kallenberg summaries his reflections on the question, “How are we to convey the universal truths claims of Jesus to an audience that instinctively rejects truth claims?”  He believes that unlike farmers, who have adapted, evangelism “has not kept pace with other scientific enterprises” (123).

He argues that evangelism is more like sailing than proofreading.  Evangelism requires skilled judgment (sailing) instead of documents and manuals (proofreading).  Evangelism is more like questing than archery. Questing aims for adventure and on-going discernment of the goal; the goal of each attempt in archery is obvious.  Third, evangelism is more like acting kindly than shoemaking.  The task of shoemaking has an end (a shoe) that is unconnected to its maker.  Acting kindly requires the living out of beliefs in connection with the life of the actor.  Finally, evangelism is more like medicine than parallel parking.  Parallel parking follows a step-by-step method to ensure results.  But medicine is organic, coming about differently in different places.

In the end, evangelism cannot be reduced to works-every-time techniques.  There are no straightforward applications or strategies.  Evangelism is more art than science and more impromptu than script.  The surest form is that of the New Testament church: a group of believers embodying the gospel in their form of community life.

This is the sixth review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

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