Blood, Justice and the Power of Thanksgiving (143)

Have you even been walking down the street and observed a couple of people arguing? Maybe they were standing beside a car, one person was about to get in, things were getting pretty heated. You thought, “Don’t get involved. This isn’t your problem.” We it’s not hard to imagine that, but what if one of the arguers looked over at you and asked what you thought? Or what if one of them reached out grabbed your arm and said, “You decide this. Who’s right?” This is just the thing that is happening in the beginning of Isaiah 5. Read more

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Suited Up (142)

You all came very close to having to sit through a sermon on taxes. We’re lucky we started in verse eight and not verse seven of Romans 13. This is verse seven: “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due . . . .” We jumped into the passage in the next verse. We’re just in time to hear Paul tell his readers not to owe anyone anything except love. And this meant something. In the ancient Roman world people’s lives were ordered by their sense of obligation, to the empire, patrons, ancestors, even friends. But Paul says that the good news reorders things. Yes, those who believe this good news should still pay their taxes; they should be a benefit to the larger community, not a drag. But because Jesus is the crucified and risen presence of God, they could let the whole system of honor and obligation go.   Read more

When Losing is Saving (141)

So there’s this youngish British-American marketing and leadership guru being interviewed on a British show. He is asked about what companies need to do to work better with employees in the twenties and early thirties: it’s the “millennial question.” The guru responds, obviously slipping into material he knows well, and the interviewer just lets him go. The guy talks uninterrupted for about fifteen minutes. His little talk has now been watched more than 7 million times on YouTube. He made a connection.

What the guy says, if I can summarize it quickly, is that a lot of organizations just aren’t equipped to work well with a younger set of employees. The work environment doesn’t fit them. The reason is—let’s put it in the form of a little story—this cohort has been raised by parents who have convinced them that they’re special and that they can do anything they want. This is a nifty parenting idea, and it might work as long as the parent can make things happen for the child. However, it doesn’t fit with the real world of performance reviews, competitive bids and job interviews. So inevitably we find that we aren’t as all-wonderful as our parents have told us. We’re pretty average, and this is profoundly disappointing. To grow up thinking you’re going to be the next Nelson Mandela or Hillary Clinton and one day finding out that you are just another person riding the bus, watching Netflix and fighting for a job you don’t really want—this is not a recipe for happiness. Read more

I Knew You Would Save Me

It was early spring and raining. My family and I went looking for adventure in a woodlot near our house. A two-day downpour had melted much of the winter’s snow and the little stream that we could jump over in the summer now barely fit under the footbridge. When you walk in the rain you feel the relevant facts. Things are wet, cold, slippery. What’s true and important is obvious, which is to say it’s different than taking in the news.

As my wife and I talked, two of our boys ran ahead to explore. They had their bright rain jackets on and several layers beneath. It was still relatively cold. I was focused on our conversation when I saw a child in the water up to his shoulders. He was wearing a red rain jacket. For some reason, I did not comprehend what was happening. We learned later that our son had been walking through shin-deep silty water when he stepped over the submerged edge of a curve in the streambed. Immediately he was unable to touch bottom. He tried, quite calmly, to swim.

[the full essay is published at Bearings Online]

 

We Have Nothing Here (140)

In Matthew chapter fourteen we find ourselves in the middle of a story about a massive picnic. It’s an appropriate passage to read as we worship here in the middle of the summer. When we read this story about Jesus feeding a crowd of people in the countryside we probably have a hard time getting beyond the miracle itself. The situation goes from food for one person to more than enough for 5000 in the span of a prayer. We should forgive ourselves if we imagine fireworks going off as Jesus prays, smoke rising as the bread is distributed and an end-of-the-period horn blasting as the last bits are collected. Waahmm!—times up, twelves baskets full of food left over. Jesus wins! Hurray!

It’s easy to read this story and think it is essentially a magic show. I had a student once that paid her way through school as a magician. She told me that every illusion is a story. A good trick is a story that pulls you in, just like a book or a movie. You can’t help but wonder how the rabbit got in the guy’s hat, or how the woman caught to bullet or how she knew which card you chose. A good magic trick gets you in a place where you can’t believe the story’s ending. Read more

About these Weeds (139)

We are in Matthew 13 again. This time our reading comes from verses 24-30 and 36-43. We’re walking with Jesus, as we’ve been doing all summer, and we’re watching and listening. Last week we heard the story of a farmer who scatted seeds on varied ground—some rocky, some hard, some overrun with thistles, just some of it good. We noticed then that if God’s goal is a high yield rate then God is a failure. This week we are still by the lake shore when Jesus tells another story.

The story is about a farmer who plants a grain field only to find it infested with weeds. Later we listen in as Jesus explains the story to his closest followers. Like last Sunday, I want us to hear this passage in the context of a world where the innocent suffer.  Jesus used imagined stories to tell us something about God’s way with the world. Let me tell you a couple of real stories to remind us of how that world, in fact, works. Read more

Numbering our Days (137)

What can we say about a beginning such as Genesis describes? “Let there be light . . . .” A flash and, as it says, “there was light.”

This is not Father Lemaître     

The Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître developed a theory about the beginning of our universe. He hypothesized back from the observation of its continued expansion to the idea that at one time it must have all been concentrated in single point. Lemaître called this the “cosmic egg” or the “primeval atom.” The beginning of our universe, he suggested, happened with the explosion of this egg. As I understand it, it was Father Lemaître’s ideas that were the beginning of the theory we know as the Big Bang. For Lemaître there was no need to choose between a scientific description like his and the poetic biblical one. Both speak truthfully. Read more

‘They Stood Still, Looking Sad’ (132)

There is a rhythm life often takes. The Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr is one person who says this. The rhythm is simple, just this: order—disorder—reorder. Sometimes the same rhythm is described in these terms: orientation—disorientation—reorientation. (Rohr describes this in an interview with Krista Tippett here). Our reading from Luke 24, the one from Acts 2 as well, moves along to this same rhythm.

Let me sketch for you how that works in the Luke story. There are these walkers on the road. They have a relatively long walk ahead of them, something like 7 miles. They are discussing recent events in Jerusalem. They were followers of a rabbi, whom they thought had a special role to play in their people’s future. You see, they believed that their people had a special mandate from God to be a blessing to the world. And they thought this teacher, whom they had followed, was to play a key role in that. It was his life that had ordered theirs. Read more

This Time with Skepticism (131)

It has not been long since we celebrated Easter. Even so, the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter (John 20:19-31) begins by taking us back a week to the evening of the prior Sunday. The second part of the reading takes a week later. Jesus shows up on both of these days. It’s on the second encounter, the one that happens a week after Easter, that I want to focus our attention. In doing that we find a question that we can’t avoid. It’s this: What do we make of the resurrection? Read more

For Traitors (130)

You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.

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