Archive | November, 2016

Everyone’s Invited to Dinner

21 Nov

Freedom_from_Want_ORIGINALGood Morning Friends,

I wondering if you are getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Years ago we had huge Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners – 20 – 30 people.  Now we will have a small gathering (it looks like 5 of us).  I think we get caught up in the fallacy that a large and important gathering proves we are worthy of admiration; and simple and small, not so much.

I wanted to put in this classic Norman Rockwell painting as an image of the perfect Thanksgiving.  Then I found that the title is “Freedom from Want” and it was painted in 1943 – the middle of World War II where everything was scarce and ration stamps were a part of everyday life.  For me it has now gone for a commentary of what a perfect Thanksgiving should look like to a picture of hope in a difficult time.  I can almost hear the voice over saying, “this is what we’re fighting for boys.”

All of this was to talk about what Jesus thought were good dinner companions in a time were there were incredibly strict rules about how you dined and with whom you dined.

13-14 Then Jesus went again to walk alongside the lake. Again a crowd came to him, and he taught them. Strolling along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” He came.

15-16 Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: “What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?”

17 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”

Jesus calls tax collector to be a disciple.  These Jewish men were most hated because of their work for the Roman oppressors.  And well, they were tax collectors too; even in our society we don’t usually like tax collectors!

Each gospel says that Jesus ate with “disreputable” people.  Good religious people did not associate with “those kinds of people.  But, Jesus came to care for those no one else cared about.  As this paraphrase puts it, “the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”  Jesus’ Thanksgiving table would have been an interesting place.

Who’s at your table?  I have a friend, he and his wife have no children.  On “big meal” holidays they would invite folks who had no one to share the dinner with to come to their house.  It was usually older widows, unable to travel far with no children nearby.  I have always thought this was one of the greatest images of Thanksgiving.

Here is one more painting by Norma Rockwell that I want you to see.  It was painted on the Saturday Evening Post for Thanksgiving 1945.  The war had ended, and it looks like this is one KP (Kitchen Patrol) assignment that the soldier is enjoying.

Peace, MaryThanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes by Norman Rockwell



Forgiving Sins

14 Nov

Good morning friends,

I often repeat that one of the difficulties in reading the Bible is understanding the culture which formed the text.  In Jesus time the only way to forgive sins (which were thought to cause illness) was to go to the Temple in Jerusalem and give an animal sacrifice to God through the priests.  Even in our own history the Catholic church convinced its people that only their priests could hear confess of sins and give forgiveness (absolution).   Jesus turned this concept on its head.

The scripture today is of the paraplegic who was lower through the roof by four friends.  People often focus on the friends helping the man to come to healing, but I want to talk about the audacity of Jesus forgiving sins.  You see, sins are something that we do against God, not one another.  Yet, Jesus speaks as though the sin is against him and he has the power to forgive the sin.  The religion scholars, whose has part of their livelihood riding on the ‘forgiveness business’, objected to this traveling preacher forgiving sins, and cutting them out of the deal.

1-5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

6-7 Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.”

Jesus has no patience with people blocking the grace-filled power of God.  So, he just doesn’t heal the soul, he heals the body as well.  Boldly, fearlessly, he proclaims that the power of God is at his disposal.

8-12 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

Jesus forgiving power transformed the life of the paraplegic.  God’s power was in the house, changing life and changing assumptions.  Even more than that, in the gospel of John after his resurrection in Chapter 20, Jesus says to his disciples,

22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

As disciple of Christ in this generation, we have the power to change lives, too.  We can forgive and lighten the burden of those around us.   I encourage you with the words I heard at my ordination, “take thou the authority” to forgive, bring hope, share grace.  It might freak out people around you, as Jesus freaked out people, but it is a good thing to do.

Imagine what this would really be like; if people could really accept the forgiveness of God and let all the pain, mistakes, frustrations of the past stay in the past.  Let’s walk, walk into the freedom and joy God gives us and share it with those around us.   I think it can really lighten our lives.







I don’t Facebook, I blog

9 Nov

Good Morning Friends,

I am feeling numb this morning.  It is hard to believe that our country has chosen a man who has never had a day of public service, probably never paid income tax, and says he wants to undo what has been done to protect the most vulnerable in our society.  I firmly believe that as citizen we can’t complain about the ways things are, but work hard to make them the way we think they should be.

If you are reading this blog you probably have a roof over your head, food on the table and clothes in your closets.  I encourage you to look out for those who don’t.

And if you are reading this blog you probably have a relationship with God that goes beyond a casual nob.  I encourage you to strengthen that relationship and find how that holy, amazing presence of love and good news might use your life to bring grace and justice to the lives around you.

I think those of us who have been comfortable in our intellectual ways are about to become uncomfortable.  I think those of us who believe we should honor all of God’s creation might be shaking our heads in disbelief.   Last Sunday I read (and repeated several times) Love you enemies, do good to those who harm you, lend without expecting anything in return.  Who knows, maybe this will be an incredible soul stretching time for us.

Our next passage in Mark says,

40 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

41-45 Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people.” But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.

So, the cat is out of the bag.  Time to go to work.  They knew that the anointed one of God was in their midst.  Do we still know this?  Are we willing to work to make the Divine Presence a reality for our lives and the lives around us?

I pray deep into the love of God to find strength for this day and hope for tomorrow.



p.s. does this mean that we don’t have to pay income tax anymore?  You know, follow the leader.


Healing and wholeness

7 Nov

Good morning friends,

I cannot believe it has been a month since I wrote to you.  Life has not been that busy, but I have been distracted.  I went through the motions for my charge conference for my two churches.  This has become a fairly ridiculous exercise, but we do what must be done.  And now I am renovating my bathroom.  Of course, I am doing it on a budget, so the Habitat for Humanity Restore has become a particular help to my wallet and my sense of, “Reuse, Recycle, Reduce.”  I am excited that my old bathtub is going to be used for a big dog bath.   Now back to our regularly scheduled commentary.

So, we continue in the gospel of Mark (still in the first chapter).  This is a great passage.  In Mark everything happens fast and this story about the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter) is no different.  Some have seen it as a commentary on discipleship.

Jesus had been teaching and when he encounter a sick person; the no named mother-in-law in this case, he heals them.  There is no great incantation, no waiting for an audience, not even the women’s name gets into the story (but really, how important is a woman’s name anyway).  Jesus just reaches out, raises her up and heals her.  She immediately starts cooking dinner.

Now this definitely would not have been my response.  But, if I look at the story and think, now that she is healed she starts serving those around her through her gifts and talents. then I think maybe I can be in that story.  What about you?  Is there gratitude in the healing, a thanksgiving of service?

29-31 Directly on leaving the meeting place, they came to Simon and Andrew’s house, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed, burning up with fever. They told Jesus. He went to her, took her hand, and raised her up. No sooner had the fever left than she was up fixing dinner for them.

32-34 That evening, after the sun was down, they brought sick and evil-afflicted people to him, the whole city lined up at his door! He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits. Because the demons knew his true identity, he didn’t let them say a word.

This part of the gospel sets a theme that will continue throughout the book of Mark.  Jesus remains the hidden messiah.  There are a lot of scholarly people who have written about this in Mark’s gospel.  I just want to say, that if the original hearers/readers of the gospel wonder, “If the son of God was really walking around our town, why didn’t we notice?” then this is their answer.

The other theme that I think we aught to think about is, that the healing Jesus performs are only incidentally/secondarily to his proclamation of the Good News of God.

35-37 While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

38-39 Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come.” He went to their meeting places all through Galilee, preaching and throwing out the demons.

Jesus keeps his connection with God strong through prayer.  He doesn’t have a magic pipeline to God’s presence, it is the same as ours: Prayer.  And Jesus knows the priorities of his time and talent are to go to spreading the word of God.

I find this really interesting.  People often focus on Jesus as Healer.  Asking if he could have really done those things, wanting to be healed themselves, thinking that the healing was the benchmark of Jesus’ power.  However, Jesus says that he has come to preaching.  He continues to heal people that he encounters along the way, but preaching is the mission and the mission is what matters.

So now think about your relationship with God, think about what you want the power of Jesus to do in your life. . . Do you want healing from pain or despair or illness.. .  OR do you want to be taught by the words and example of Jesus life?  According to my reading of this text, if you have encountered to living presence of Jesus Christ, then you have been healed, and if you have been healed, then our response is to get up and serve.  I also think it is a good idea to keep learning about Jesus and letting his word seep into our soul and take root there.