Hope (SD #80)

I heard a gasp and saw Tom pitch backward. It was as though his feet had slipped out from under him. That was possible; we stood by the shore of a mountain lake, new snow falling, the temperature near freezing, eating lunch. leaf4It was quiet except for the rustling of food wrappings—peace like you would set it up in a screenplay. But Tom’s body hit the ground with a thud. He never stumbled; his hands never groped to stop his fall. I stepped forward, asking if he was alright. On Tom’s face was a look of panic. He gasped and seemed to strain for breath. It seemed as though life was pulled from him. A-B-C: no B, no C. Then the counting—too fast, slow down: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and . . . . Read more


With Roots of Gratitude and Flowers of Justice (SD #79)

Let us think of a plant. We’ll give it the unlikely name “righteousness.” Long cultivated by pulpit thumping legalists and in backroom prayer sessions, this plant now has a declining reputation. IMG_2507It’s out of style, but not out of style enough, not old enough to have achieved heritage status. Not weird or warted enough to be hip, not vintage, not classic—righteousness is still around but it isn’t loved or bragged about. Photos of righteousness never show up on social media. Righteousness is as valued as volunteer squash whose fruit will need to be plunked in the backseat of someone’s unlocked car at work.

The prophet Amos (5:6-15) was interested in righteousness though. Amos, that voice from the sheep country, that voice that could peel paint; Amos couldn’t help but speak of righteousness because it wasn’t growing. “Seek the LORD and live,” he growls, “or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire . . . .” God is righteous, of course, but Amos is talking about righteousness in the covenant community. Righteousness was nowhere to be found—they had thrown it to the ground.   Read more

Entertaining a Bad Idea

Over the past decade I have been worshiping with both Anglicans and Mennonites, two ‘tribes’ that each grappling with deep differences over sexuality. Both have been further challenged by new (mostly conservative) networks/denominations/communities created to absorb dissenting congregations. jcshepherd2Other denominations have similar dynamics. The logic of both traditional and progressive views on sexuality is comprehensible (to be overly broad), but the logic behind division and breaking fellowship is much more strained. It’s regrettably true that there are times in just about any type of relationship when separation is the best decision; there are times when it’s wise to ‘see other people’. But does this apply to the church? If the church is the body of Christ how can there be others to ‘see’? Doesn’t moral discernment require the patient involvement of disagreeing parties? Read more

Christian Community, the Basic Movements (sermon detritus #78)

Let me begin by going right to the point, which is the simple claim that Acts 2:42 describes the basic movements of Christian community. The verse reads this way: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” There you have it, the basic movements required for Christian community: devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. If we do these things we’ll be a ‘church’ in the full, deep sense of the word.

In the early part of the 20th century a young French marine named Georges Hébert was posted on the island of Martinique. While he was there a volcano erupted with disastrous results for the populace. hebertHébert was a part of the rescue effort. That experience convinced him of the importance of well-rounded physical fitness. He believed one should stay fit in order to be ready to serve. Hébert looked for models of this sort of thing—of people prepared for just about any sort of physical challenge. He found them in various indigenous communities. These people, he thought, had a natural fitness that prepared them for all manner of unexpected challenges. Hébert then developed a ‘system’ of training designed to produce the same results. His system became known as the “natural method.” Read more