Wednesday, August 28, 2013

you are healed of your ailment

Much suffering is healed when people realize they are seen. 

Jesus sees a woman bent over; he says to her, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." Then he lays his hands on her, she stands up straight, and immediately begins praising God.

This story has me thinking about healing in general. Somehow, when we are hurting, the experience of being alone, going unnoticed, and remaining unseen, makes matters worse. However, when we feel important, like we matter, things shift. Even if our situation or our circumstances remain awful, somehow we find hope and new strength when we realize we are known; when we are seen. 

The story of the women "bent over and quite unable to stand" occupies my attention for another reason. When Jesus says, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment," that word "ailment" can mean many things. In the New Testament in the original Greek, that word is used in various places to describe illness, weakness, helplessness, lack of energy, sickliness, affliction, distress, oppression, calamity, inefficiency, dubiousness, and hesitancy.

Thank God.

Because this word has so many uses, we can hear Jesus saying to the woman quite unable to stand, "Woman, you are set free from whatever it is you are carrying that is too heavy for you."

Thank God, because Jesus does the same for you and me.

Jesus sees you. He sees what you are carrying and your bent-over-quite-unable-to-stand-ness. He pronounces, "You too, are set free from your ailment." 

Jesus sees you. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

give us our daily bread

Jesus went to a certain place to pray, and when he returned, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray the way John taught his disciples.” Jesus proceeded to teach them.

The words of his teaching are famous amongst Christians; we call them “The Lord’s Prayer.”

In the midst of that prayer, however, is something startling and less famous. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Like almost every other phrase in the New Testament, this line is translated from the ancient Greek. However, unlike almost every other phrase in the New Testament, scholars have little idea what this phrase actually means. That’s because the word that is translated “daily” only exists in two places in all of the ancient Greek literature, biblical and otherwise. That word, Greek transliterated “epiousion,” occurs only in The Lord’s Prayer. (It has two occurrences, because it appears in both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the prayer.)

So we could say Jesus taught his disciples to pray for “epiousion” bread; or to pray for “what we don’t know that we need.”

It reminds me of the wandering Israelites, who cry out to God for sustenance. God delivers “manna” in the wilderness, which in the Hebrew literally means God delivers “what is it?”

God seems to be in the habit of gifting us with things we don’t even know we need and feeding us with unusual things that defy our naming. God feeds us with “what is this stuff?”

Might we learn to pray, “God, each day give to us the things you see that we need, even though we don’t know what they are”?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

even the demons

When the demons "Legion" met Jesus in the country of the Gerasenes, they begged not to be cast back into the abyss.

Catch that! The demons begged Jesus not be sent back where they came from!

Now that makes me think.

Even the demons don't like where they came from. The thousands of them would prefer to dwell on top of each other inside of one man than be where they came from. They would even prefer to be in a herd of pigs than be where they came from. And they beg Jesus to do something other than send them back. They beg Jesus.

Even more surprising? Jesus listens to them and grants their request!

The pig farmers see it all. They watch the demons come out of the crazy man and enter the pigs; they watch the pigs race down the hill and drown in the lake; they see the crazy man clothed for the first time in years, seated at Jesus' feet, and in his right mind. And they are terrified. They beg Jesus, too. They ask him to leave, and he grants their request, too.

Now that really makes me think.

Who is this Lord?

In the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus is not only Lord over the demons, but the Lord of the demons. He is not only Lord over fear, but the Lord of the fearful. He is not only Lord over the demon-possessed, but the Lord of the demon-possessed. He takes everyone at their word, exactly as they are. He hears them all. Even the demons.

Who is this Lord?

Jesus is the one who has "power over" and "compassion for." No suffering is beyond his healing. No place is beyond his reach. No creature is outside of his care. Not even the demons. Want more? Click here to read Luke 8:26-39.  
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Friday, June 21, 2013

we are one

When we moved to San Antonio 15 years ago, the heavens opened. Ten inches of rain fell on a single day in October of that year, creating a massive wall of water that worked it's way from the edge of the Texas hill country, across the coastal plain, and into the Gulf of Mexico. Cities and towns in its path were submerged; destruction was rampant.

Here we are now in Calgary, beginning a new chapter in our lives and ministry, and again the heavens have opened. Heavy rain in the Rockies has swelled the creeks and rivers from Banff eastward. Downtown Calgary is submerged; the Bow River has been described as an ocean; there is massive flooding over much of Central and Southern Alberta. Time will tell the story of loss and damage.

At times like these, and in amazing personal coincidences like ours, people often turn to the clergy for meaning. People want to know why things happen and why they happen to the way they happen. Much of the time, I give the only answer I have: I don't know.

I don't know why sometimes it floods and sometimes it doesn't. I don't know why people suffer. I don't know why bad things happen to good people, or why good things happen to bad people.

I think that's just how life is. But I, along with my clergy colleagues do have meaning to offer when the world seems to be falling apart. I can offer meaning and assurance that we are cared for in this life and that we are not alone.

For I know that God is the source of life and love.
I know that Jesus has promised to be with us always, whether it's flooding or not, whether it's sunny or not, whether we're good or not, whether we are in San Antonio, Calgary, or anywhere else.

I also know God gives us good gifts in the midst of whatever life brings. We certainly have seen that this week in Calgary. One estimate says up to 100,000 people were displaced from their homes; emergency shelters are reporting a population less than 2000. Why? Friends, family, neighbors, and strangers have opened their homes to the evacuees. Rescue and emergency workers worked 18 - 20 hour shifts to ensure the safety of Calgary's citizens. As of this morning's report, there were no reported injuries of any kind.

It may rain and flood and devastate, but destruction does not have the final word. Goodness wins. Compassion wins. Companionship wins. Love wins.

Out of Calgary this week, you will no doubt hear devastating news. But if you listen and watch closely, you will see humanity come together as one for comfort, shelter, support, restoration, companionship, wholeness.  We covet your prayers, well wishes, and support of all kinds as we journey through these days. We ask for them wherever and whenever anyone is suffering, no matter the circumstances; but perhaps especially in the circumstances that are without media coverage.

Remember that God is good and that we are one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

prayer on the mountain

Sometimes I think Peter was a bumbling idiot.  He missed obvious things. He did silly and hurtful things. And he said some really ridiculous things.

Jesus had led Peter, John, and James up a high mountain to pray. When Jesus’ glory is revealed to him, and when Moses and Elijah appear (These two, by the way, have been gone from the scene for hundreds of years), Peter says to Jesus, “It’s good for us to be here; let’s build three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Hadn’t he been following Jesus on the way? Hadn’t he witnesses Jesus’ care for the sick and the suffering? Hadn’t he watched Jesus confront those in power on behalf of those who really needed help? And maybe more to the point, what did Peter think they were going to eat and drink on top of that lonely, isolated peak without any resources? And where was he going to sleep?

There was a reason Jesus had taken his friends to this mountaintop in the first place; to pray. They went to experience peace and isolation. Jesus chose a place away from his ministry, known to be close to God, to rest, renew, and gain some perspective.

While there, they are visited by Israel’s greatest prophet, the one God chose to lead people from slavery into freedom, and by the presence of God in a cloud!

Now, I like to think that I’m not like Peter at all. I like to think that if this were to happen to me, I would understand what’s happening, react appropriately, and say eloquent, empowering things. I like to think that the experience of meeting Jesus glorified, Elijah, Moses, and the voice of God from a cloud would embolden me and empower my ministry.

But maybe I’m more like Peter than I care to admit. I like my comfort zone. I like to revel in great experiences. When I’m on vacation, my favorite parts are the beginning and the middle; I hate the end.

But God calls us to the places where life and relationship are happening. God calls us to accompany one another, to care for one another. God calls us to enter into the joys and the messes of other people’s lives, bearing a word of grace, a shoulder to cry on, a presence to share the load. The purpose of the mountaintop is for the valley. Want more? Click here to readLuke 9:28-36.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

life on the fringe

When Jesus begins to preach in the synagogue at Nazareth, people are amazed. They begin to praise him. That is, until he challenges them.

He reminds them of two moments in Israelite history, when the prophets caused miracles for Gentiles. He reminds them that Elijah stretched the provisions of a starving widow and Elisha cured the leprosy of a Syrian military commander.

When they hear it, they’re enraged; they drive him from the town and attempt to throw him off a cliff. (That’s pretty mad, if you ask me.)

We’re just as threatened by this Jesus. He tells us that God’s grace isn’t only for those in the pews. He pushes us to consider God’s love for those we don’t want to consider, for those who have been left out, ostracized, abandoned.

In just a few chapters, he will instruct his disciples to go out onto the highway and find those who are lost, lonely, and hungry and bring them into a wedding feast. Can you imagine your wedding flooded with such unsavory guests (and how they must smell!)?

Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is lavished on those who live on the fringes, and he sends us out to befriend them in his name. Can you imagine Jesus’ churches filled again? It will happen when we begin to care more about those who are not here yet than we do for ourselves. We will all have to be transformed. Oh, what a life we will share! Want more? Click here to readLuke 4:20-30.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

today this word is fulfilled

Jesus returned to his hometown and entered the synagogue. He stood up to read and the attendant handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled it and found the place where it said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor….”

When he sat down to teach about this word, he began by saying, “Today this word has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I wonder how long it had been since that passage from Isaiah had been read in that synagogue in Nazareth. After all, there were 39 writings; most of them pretty long. Some of them occupied more than one scroll. There were only 52 sabbath days, and only so much could be done in the allotted study time. It may have been years since anyone in that synagogue had heard that particular word from Isaiah.

But there it sat, waiting…sort of like a gift waiting to be unwrapped, on the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, in the ark of the Torah with all the other scrolls, in the synagogue in Nazareth.

When Jesus unrolled the scroll and spoke the words he found on the parchment, there was a new possibility. Suddenly, there was the potential that these particular words, which lived long ago in the life of the prophet Isaiah and the lives of the people he served, could come to life again in the assembly gathered there. There was the possibility that these words could be fulfilled again.

There are many ways to interpret what Jesus taught in that synagogue in Nazareth that day. I hear him saying, “If you listen and take the word you hear to heart, God begins to fulfill it in you.”

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because we have been anointed to bring good news to the poor….We are the ones gifted and blessed to hear the word of the Lord and anointed to participate in God’s life-giving, re-creative, transformative claiming of all people and all things.

What other treasures have you found fulfilled in God’s word because you heard? What other gifts await you in the parts of the Bible you have yet to hear? If you want more, click here to read Luke4:14-21.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

the miracle of wine from water

No doubt Jesus had a huge impact on the wedding after-party in Cana.

No one much likes it when the alcohol runs out, least of all the host. In those days, running out of wine at your wedding was more than a letdown. It was embarrassing to the point of humiliation. Some even say that the party was a reflection on the married life to come; a party that runs out of wine signifies a bitter and disappointing future.

I’ve come to believe that the miracle here is not so much that Jesus produced 750+ bottles of wine out of thin air, but that he produced abundance from scarcity for the sake of his friend. The real miracle is that Jesus cared what the community had to say about the bridegroom and he cared what the bridegroom thought about himself.

God cares about our reputations, both the way others talk about us and the way we think and talk about ourselves.

Jesus wasn’t about to let his friend be cast as stingy, or let the party end in social humiliation. He produced wine from water so that his friend would be seen as generous.

This is the way Jesus begins his ministry in John, which goes a very long way in telling us what Jesus is doing in the fourth Gospel. Jesus is out for our personal and social redemption. In other words, he cares about our relationships with God and one another. And he cares about the relationships that we have with ourselves.

Jesus displays a tenderness and compassion for his friends that he passes on to us. He cares about the problems of ordinary, every day people, and page by page in this gospel, he teaches us all how to grow closer to God and one another.

He leaves the wedding and cleanses the temple, restoring the sanctity of our holy places; then talks about being born from above to the religious leader Nicodemus. He talks with a Samaritan woman and heals the son of a royal official. He heals a man who cannot walk and feeds 5000, all the while giving glory to the God who makes us one.

Jesus isn’t secretive in this gospel. Straight up, he says he’s come from God and that God has given him his power and exhorts us to be one. He changing our names as we read, moving us from selfishness to unity. Want more? Click here to read John 2:1-11.

Friday, September 14, 2012

dying church?

Ever feel like the church is dying? Ever wonder why?

I believe the church begins to die when we care more about worship than people.

When I ask people to tell me about their ministry, most people respond by saying, "I sing in the choir" or "I'm a lector" or "I'm on the altar guild."

That's amazing, given that Jesus never said, "Worship me."

What he said was, "Love one another;"  "Feed my sheep."

I'm not saying we shouldn't worship or that worship doesn't matter. Of course it does. People are often drawn to a church because they find sanctuary, strength, community, and healing in worship.

But worship shouldn't be all we do. Worship shouldn't trump our call to care for people.

I once heard someone say, "Worship is where I fill my tank. I come to church to get healed from the hurts of the week, and get renewed so I can go out there and do it again."

I have a different vision. I work all week doing my very best to make a difference for others. Team ministry, individual ministry, one-on-one, with groups, personally and professionally I'm listening for God's call and doing the best I can to answer. I try to accompany people on their journeys and be resourceful to them in their needs.

On Sunday, I come to celebrate the successes and beg mercy for the failures. On Sunday, I put my pride in check and give thanks that God partners with us. On Sunday, I join part of my paycheck with the gifts of other people to ensure that God's work in the world has resources. On Sunday, I'm drawn again to a vision of God's peaceable reign where all are fed and none have been forgotten. On Sunday, I pray with the community for strength and vision. On Sunday, I am reminded there is more work to do and find myself grateful that I am called to it.

Worship may be central, but it's not all we are called to do. Without our work in neighborhood and world, worship has little power or meaning.

I don't know about your church, but here are some neighborhood issues facing mine:

Eighty-five percent of the students at the elementary school two blocks from the church are statistically described as "economically disadvantaged" and 60% "at risk." The numbers aren't much better at the middle and high schools.  All three schools have been graded at "Academically Acceptable," the lowest passing grade for schools. School counselors say bullying is their biggest problem. On one school rating website, parents report it's teacher apathy. Two blocks in the other direction is a section-8 housing complex where every single family lives at or below the poverty line.

When the church cares as much about these people as it cares about its worship, the church will come alive again. We start by talking to them.

What good is, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? James 2:14-16  Want more? Click here to read James 2:14-26

Sunday, September 2, 2012

song above all songs

The Songs of Songs, by almost all accounts, is a strange piece of literature to include in the Bible. There is no mention of God by name anywhere.  And this text, a bit of poetry sung from a bride to her bridegroom was rather racy for its time. So much so that the Interpreter's Bible reports that Jewish doctors use to recommend that their young patients not read it at all until age 30.

So why include it? Scholars say it was undisputedly included in the Hebrew canon and wholeheartedly adapted for Christian use because it works on the level of allegory, meaning everything stands for something else.  The bridegroom, flawless and sickeningly perfect, represents God (Jesus for Christians) and the bride, the body of faithful believers.

The Song of Songs helps a people image how God comes, redeeming everything that has gone wrong in the "winter" of life.  No matter how bad it gets or how much it has rained, there's nothing like the dawn of a new spring morning to revive hope.

And I believe there's more.

Unlike our own experiences of human love, that impregnable perfection we see in our new love interest never fades. And it's not our image of God that remains untarnished as the years pass, but God's image of us.

No matter how old we get, how many mistakes we make, nor how big they are; no matter how much we are disappointed in ourselves or our abilities, God always stands at the ready, speaking to us the way a young groom speaks to his bride. We are more lovely and ever the object of God's affection. God desires to stay with us, not only on the night we first meet, but all of our nights and all of our days as well.

God desires to partner with us and create a new kind of love, one that recreates the world in a way that could never be created if one of the parties were missing. We could never be more lovely to God than in the moments we say "Yes!" again and again to this God who loves above all others. Want more? Click here to read Song of Songs 2:8-13.