“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
I live in a busy house. In addition to two hapless parents, our house more or less contains three active boys. Each day is swarmed by running, jumping, wrestling, tackling, flying, pushing, throwing and whacking. Each day also brings a host of interesting visitors. Superheroes come by quite often. So do monsters, transformers, explorers, hunters, space travelers, historical figures, deadly creatures, knights and ghosts. They all know their way around our place. Being a parent of young children has required me to get re-acquainted with the world of the imaginary. It’s been a good thing.
Every Sunday churches around the world read a set of passages assigned by the lectionary. Of those assigned to us today, the one that I want to draw our attention to is the reading from Psalm 51. We read it to each other as a call to worship this morning and echoed it in a hymn. What this poem does, perhaps more than any other in this part of the Bible, is display the value of confession. Confession is admitting, to ourselves first and then to others, that we have made a poor choice. It might be helpful to think of confession as “radical, personal honesty.” Often when we want to get serious about radical honesty we aim to tell others what we really think of them. Confession, though, turns this back on ourselves.
Confession is not the stuff of pleasant homilies. You might feel that in your body even now—a tension, an uneasiness. So let me tell you a story. Read more
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. –Jeremiah 31:33
Several years ago my family and I spent four months on a sabbatical in a new part of the country. It was memorable. For one thing, this was the first time we had lived in a building that was the unique design of an internationally known architect. We also met interesting new people. One family we got to know had kids who matched up with our own. Over hand-made pizza one evening I was surprised to learn that they, little kids included, practiced elements of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Ignatius was Christian teacher and pastor, a Spaniard from the sixteenth-century. Read more
Some of you have probably seen the film Hidden Figures. It was released in the early part of last year. The film takes us into the story of African American women working for NASA in the middle part of the last century. As movies often do, Hidden Figures simplifies the history a little. But it does so in order to tell the story of three really smart women: Katherine Johnson, a ‘computer’ before that term referred to a machine; Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan, a department supervisor. Read more
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. – Psalm 107
Not long ago I had the opportunity of being the intermediary of an anonymous gift from one member of our congregation to another. A young couple was expecting a baby and someone else wanted to help them prepare for the new addition to their family. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this sort of thing—to see the face of a recipient light up, to know that they have received not only some small practical assistance but also the knowledge that someone else is thinking of them.
Giving is another of the central practices of Lent. Christians have historically used the term “almsgiving.” In a world where so much of our material success is a result of luck (a result of the country in which were born etc.), giving to those with material needs is a way of pursuing justice. It can be something else too. Many people I talk to also say that for them giving is a expression of their thankfulness. Read more
For some reason whenever I read the first verse of Psalm 19, “The heavens are telling the glory of God . . . ,” I am reminded of one of the climbing trips I took as a college student. Two friends and I were trying to climb a peak in southern Alberta, just east of Banff National Park. It was called Mount Joffre. We ended up there because the instructor of a glacier-travel course we had taken suggested it would be a good fit for our (relatively low) skill level. For one reason or another we attempted a more difficult route than he probably had in mind. We almost got ourselves killed, or at least that’s how it felt. Read more
At the heart of what I want to share in this sermon is the simple biblical news that God is trustworthy. I take this to be an implication of our scriptural readings: in Genesis, God made promises to Sarah and Abraham; in the gospels we see God fulfilling these promises in ways they could have never imagined. God is trustworthy. That’s the message of Scripture.
Our own experience tells us that this trustworthiness does not mean we should expect God to magically intervene whenever things get tough. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that we will end up healthy and wealthy. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean nobody will ever take advantage of us. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that the way things are is the way things should be. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that following God’s Word, following Jesus, will be free of sacrifice. Read more
“You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel.”
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk at some length with a group of university students curious about the link between Christian spirituality and reconciliation. The basic question we were working with was this: What is it within the Christian tradition that serves as an impetus for resolving conflict? Other groups were having similar discussions related to other spiritual traditions.
One of the things that was the most provocative for my group was the idea of forgiveness. In particular, the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I tried to steer the conversation toward the lines about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer; I think those are more formative for Christians. However, it was the response of Jesus to his tormentors that grabbed the student’s attention. Why would he forgive in this situation? Would we do the same? Why would we go through the often long and difficult process of releasing our right to get even? It was not a short conversation. Read more
“To you O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust . . . .”
I once asked a monk what qualified as prayer. I was asking because my own practice of prayer had evolved quite a bit in the previous decade of my life. Really, to say it “evolved” gives the wrong impression. The way I prayed had changed, not just once but several times. These changes weren’t prompted by the idea that my contemplative practice was getting better; I wasn’t becoming a professional or anything like that. The changes happened simply because a new way of praying seemed to fit a particular situation. As a graduate student I found myself most often praying in either a formal worship service or while I ran. Most of that prayer was verbal: questions, sorting and sifting. When I began working fulltime the best space for prayer was during my walking commute to my office: the beauty of mornings, the cracked sidewalks, winter ice—all of these became analogies of God’s way with the world. Then, during a sabbatical, I began praying something equivalent to the daily office. I appreciated the structure of that way of praying. It was good to be drawn out of myself into ancient forms of encountering God. Read more
I’m quite sure some of us have had this experience. I could be wrong of course. We can always be wrong. Sometimes the things we want to believe the most are wrong. But here’s the experience I imagine you’ve had: you we’re in a conversation with someone and somehow they found out that you were a person of faith. They let it be known that they didn’t believe in the existence of God. The two of you got to talking and eventually you realized that what they didn’t believe was something like this:
They didn’t believe in a God who sits in the clouds, looking down on earth over his long white beard and controlling everything. They didn’t believe in a God who looks at a child suffering and says, “Yup, just as I hoped.”
Or maybe they said that they didn’t need God to fill in the gaps of science. They said that natural explanations were good enough. You squirmed in your seat a bit but you nodded and said “okay.” You carried on with your day. Hours later, though, the thought struck you: “Hey, I don’t believe in that stuff either. The ‘God’ they don’t believe in, I also don’t believe in. If that makes them an atheist, then I guess I’m an atheist too.” You realized the two of you actually had quite a bit in common.