In the Sanctuary at 8:30AM and 11AM -
a blended service of traditional and contemporary elements with communion

In the hall at 9:45AM
scripture, prayer, and creative response with communion

Worship each Sunday @ 8:30AM, 9:45AM, and 11AM

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Sacramental Antidote for the Spiritual Dog Days

We are in the dog days of summer, when it seems so long until we feel Fall's coolness. We may be in a bit of a spiritual funk, as well. ...

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Sacramental Antidote for the Spiritual Dog Days

We are in the dog days of summer, when it seems so long until we feel Fall's coolness. We may be in a bit of a spiritual funk, as well. I often find August a slow slog, spiritually. We're deep into that long, green season, but so far away from Advent. 

Many of us may be feeling like we're in the dog days of life, whether it be in our jobs, our home lives, or the larger communities in which we live.  We feel like once we had a larger vision, a purpose to our being.  Now we can't even decide what we want for dinner--it's too hot to cook, eat, and wash up.

The best church communities remind us of our purpose each and every Sunday. There are weeks that I wish our church offered daily services. Some weeks, it seems like a small eternity until Sunday. Some weeks, I have a vision of a church with a drive-through window, where I could get an emergency Eucharist, some strength for the journey, and maybe a blessing.

Henri Nouwen spent much of his writing talking about Communion, trying to impress upon his readers how important it is. In Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, he says, "The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body. . . . It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world" (reading for Oct. 13). In the reading for the next day, he says, "We who receive the Body of Christ become the living Christ." Nouwen argues for a mystical--yet very real--transformation: the wine and bread transform themselves into blood and body which then transforms us from ordinary sinful human into Christ.

We are hungry for that transformation, but like those people who followed Christ from shore to shore, hoping for a free meal, we often don't know what we hunger for. We want to do God's work in the world, but there's so much work to do, and we're so tired before we even get started.

Our Scriptures remind us in both the Old and New Testaments that God provides. God gives us both physical food and spiritual food. But we must be receptive. We must open our mouths. God won't chew for us.

It’s good to return to the metaphor of bread. It’s good to think about small granules of yeast and to remember that without their activation, our dough would not be worth baking. It’s good to know that small acts can lead to great transformation further on.

It’s essential to remember that we are the leaven in this loaf that is the world. In the words of N. T. Wright: "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff. Your are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire" (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, page 208).

We return to church to participate in the sacrament.  Then, fortified, we can do the work of the week before returning again to the sacraments of Sunday.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

This Coming Sunday

This coming Sunday August 12th at TLC we will continue our time of blessing and fellowship as Teachers, Students, and Staff head back to school. Our blessing table of snacks and school supplies will once again be waiting in the fellowship hall as will gourmet cupcakes from Brittany Payne's "Bee More Sweet" kitchen. We are also continuing SMOOTHIE-A-PALOOZA #becauseleftoversupplies. And our weekly service will center on the theme: Christ’s Way of Leadership is Servanthood as we wrestle with tyrants, leaders, servants, and giving our lives for others. (Matthew 20:20-28).

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

More on Spiritual Weariness

At Trinity Lutheran Church, we've now had a summer of discussing the idea of reclaiming Jesus.  Maybe you're feeling a bit of weariness.

The Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday takes us to a passage (John 6:  24-35) that is relevant for times of spiritual weariness.

In this Gospel, we continue to see Jesus hounded by the crowds. They understand what Jesus offers: the miracle of food in an uncertain time. Jesus knows what they're up to. Jesus understands what they seek. But Jesus also knows that they need more than just a meal's worth of food.

At one point, the crowds ask him for a sign. I have a vision of Jesus sighing and wondering what more he can do. He’s multiplied food. He’s offered them parables and teachings. He’s healed the sick. What more do they want?

He also understands their deep hunger and yearning. They mention Moses, which leads me to believe that some of them miss the deep connection their ancestors had with God. Perhaps they thought it was easier in the desert, where they just went where God led them and ate the food God gave them. Perhaps they grow weary of the distractions of modern life, the diversions offered by Greek and Roman culture. They want to know where they can get some modern-day manna.

We might feel the same way.

Some of us might be willing to do rigorous tasks to get this spiritual nourishment, but Jesus reminds us that we simply need to turn to the bread that sustains us, rather than chasing after bread that cannot nourish. He says, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal" (John 6:27).

We might sigh heavily, thinking of our ever-multiplying to-do lists, the increasing tasks we must do simply to keep body and soul together. We might wonder how we can find time for one more obligation.

Again and again in the Bible, we see God, who simply wants to be with us. We don’t have to transform ourselves into spiritual superheroes. God will be content to watch T.V. with us, to have fun with whatever creative play dates we’ve arranged with our children or our friends, to eat watermelon at picnics with us.

The Bible reminds us that God even wants to be with us during the not-so-fun times. When we’re stuck at work, eating microwave popcorn instead of dinner again, God wants to be there. When we’re trapped in traffic, God doesn’t mind commuting with us. When we’re so immersed in child rearing that we wonder if we’ll ever get to talk about adult topics again, God wants that experience too. When we’re feeling lost and lonely, God is willing to endure that too. When we don’t know how we’re going to put food on the table, God will help us sort that out.

The sustaining bread of life is right there, always ready, always fragrant and nourishing. The enduring food is ready to be shared, ready to be multiplied. The table is ready; come and eat.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Blessing of Teachers and Staff and SMOOTHIES!!!!

This Sunday at TLC is the Blessing of Teachers and Staff as many of our folks are returning to the classroom in area schools. We give blessing bags of things like pencils and chocolate and hand sanitizer and tissues and chocolate and chocolate. We turn our fellowship hour into "Smoothie-A-Palooza" in their honor.

Y'all are welcome to join us for worship as we bless teachers/staff and wrestle with truth-telling in this age of truth, half-truth, and out-right lies as Jesus declares "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Oh, and smoothies for everyone!!!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Encouraging Words for Discouraging Times

For weeks now at Trinity Lutheran, we've been considering all the ways in which our society is so unjust.  At this point in the summer, you may be feeling weary.  Let us take a moment and consider the ways that God can build something beautiful out of all our human brokenness. 

We see these stories throughout the Bible--from Genesis to various stories of exile to the crucifixion of Jesus, and onward--God takes chaos and uses it as the building block of something new.

It’s so easy to forget what God is capable of. We don't dare to dream big dreams, for fear that we'll be disappointed. We worry that if we share our resources, we won’t have enough for ourselves and our families. We don’t dare imagine that there’s enough for everyone--with leftovers.

We also forget how much God desires to be an active part of our lives--and we forget how active God is in the world. All our scriptures remind us of how God yearns for communion with us--and what wondrous transformations happen when humans go to meet God. Not just personal transformations. It's very well and good if you become a better person, more compassionate and more generous. But God has a much grander vision, one that doesn't stop with our individual lives.

How can you be part of that Kingdom? Christ didn't come to get us ready for Heaven, although many church traditions focus on that part of his mission. Christ came to show us how the Kingdom can be right here, among us, here and now. We can begin by sharing our basic resources and trusting that God will multiply our generosity.  We can begin by dreaming what a just society would look like and by moving towards that vision.  We can trust God to guide us to a better world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Our Many Gendered God

This week at Trinity Lutheran, we'll be thinking about issues of gender and the ways we still need to transform our society.  I've been thinking about these issues for decades; what follows is a piece that first appeared in the Living Lutheran blog site back in 2015.

The first week of June (2015) brought us the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, and now we're having much more expansive conversations about issues of gender and bodies and sexuality.

Well, some of us are having.  I realize that a lot of people are still deeply committed to the idea that all of life can be divided neatly into binary categories:  male/female, gay/straight, Christian/uncommitted, U.S. Citizen/other, creative/rational--on and on I could go.

I have spent much of the last three decades thinking about gender in all sorts of ways.  Are there two genders or more?

Most of us would say, "Two."  We've been trained to think that.  Is it time to blow up the gender binary?

I've often said that gender is a spectrum.  I have a BA in Sociology, so I will also say that I think that where one lives on the spectrum is deeply affected by our society.  I will also admit that recent advances in various scientific fields make me think that our biology has as deep an effect on our gendered lives.

How would our lives be different if we saw gender as a spectrum?  How would our societies be different if we thought less rigidly about gender?

The more I learn about life (and Physics!), the more I think the spectrum is wider and probably deeper than anything I can imagine.

I've also spent the last thirty years thinking about God and gender.  I've made fierce arguments about how damaging it is to see God as male.  In my search for alternatives, I've scoured the Bible looking for the female aspects of God.  I've found some, but they leave me uncomfortable too.  I've resorted to trying to think of God as gender-free.

But it never occurred to me to read the Bible looking for evidence that God's gender moves across a spectrum too.  I'm surprised to realize that I'm guilty of binary thinking too.

As humans it makes sense that we come up with metaphors in our attempts to understand God.  As an English teacher, I have seen how much difficulty many people have with figurative thinking. 

At a recent Synod Assembly, I received communion from female pastors.  I thought about the first time I received the elements from someone who looked like me, and how deeply moving it was.  I am not the first feminist to make this observation.

At Synod, I thought about transgendered people, and how it would be to receive the sacrament from hands that had begun life as another gender.  Would it make a difference to most people?  Would we even know?

I feel certain that a transgendered clergy member who was completely open about being transgendered would be a blessing for many, many transgendered people in more ways than we can imagine.  One of those ways would be sacramental. 

What about the rest of us?  I'm sure there are still people who are deeply uncomfortable receiving the elements from leaders who are different in any way.  But we can't allow the discomfort of others to prevent us from doing what's right.

We declare ourselves to be a welcoming church.  And with each passing decade, we get closer to that ideal. 

Some have thought that homosexuality is the last frontier, but now we're wrestling with transgender issues.  What will be the next frontier?

And how will these frontiers change the way we view God?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


We have moved the service that was tentatively planned for this Friday July 13th to Friday, September 21st 7PM-8:30PM in commemoration of the International Day of Peace. All Welcome! Family Friendly!
More information will follow later in the summer. 

Racial Divides and the First Creation Story

Our summer preaching series takes us all the way back to Genesis 1:  26-23.   This reading gives us a creation story, the first creation story, the one without a tree and a snake.  The creation story with the tree and the forbidden fruit and temptation was added much later.  I've always thought that it was added in part to answer some of the questions we'll ponder on Sunday.

This first creation story shows us God as maker, God as non-judgmental, God declaring everything very good and blessing it all.  It's a far cry from where we find ourselves today.

The science fiction writer Octavia Butler says that one of the things that gets humans into trouble is that we love hierarchy and because we're intelligent, we get into all sorts of trouble as we rank everything.  We're not like our creator God, jubilant at all the diversity.  We want to decide which is better and which is worse--and psychologists tell us that most of us will choose what is most like us to declare as something good.

We have now had centuries to see how this dynamic works in terms of race.  We have yet to arrive in a place where we no longer see racial differences--and perhaps we never will.  We are headed to a future where determining racial differences becomes more difficult, and perhaps that's as good as we will get.  People who study the differences between generations note that younger people in the U.S. and Europe are less likely to consider race when they decide who to date.  That's a promising development.  But we know that the tendency towards racist hatred will not be overturned easily.  We all have much work to do to create a world where the difference between races is negligible.

This week we'll talk about how to become more like God, who delights in all of creation.  We'll talk about how to be more accepting.  We'll think about what happens if we remind ourselves that God loves us all, even if we can't fathom how.

The second creation story, the one with forbidden fruit and failure in avoiding temptation, leads us to think that by following the rules we can get to that world that God envisions.  The second creation story makes us think that we should be like God, casting certain people out of Eden and punishing everyone who can't follow the basic rules.

But the whole of the Bible reminds us again and again that our love of hierarchy and rules will get us into trouble.  Jesus comes to show us God's complete love for all of creation.  On Sunday, we'll think about how we can emulate that.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Meditation on the Lord's Prayer

This Sunday, at Trinity, we'll read the version of the Lord's Prayer that's found in Matthew 6:  9-15.  In these times when we don't memorize much of anything, many of us can recite this prayer without words in front of us.

When I was younger, I hated the fact that so much of the church service remained the same, week after week. My attitude only got worse, as I got older and went to youth retreats. I couldn't understand why the grown ups in charge didn't do something new and fresh with the liturgy. Didn't they understand how boring it was to do the same thing again and again?

I also chafed against the parental imagery used when we spoke of God. Didn't the people in charge of church know how damaging that could be? I knew that I was lucky; I was one of the few in my high school who still had my original parents who were still married to each other and stranger yet, still loved each other and their children. But I had friends who had neglectful parents or worse, downright abusive. How could this language of a heavenly father speak to them?

Now I am older, and I hope wiser. Now I understand the yearning for parental love that we all feel--and those who weren't so lucky in our relationships with our earthly parents probably feel that yearning most keenly. Now I've seen passages (and they're not usually read from the pulpit, alas) that use maternal images for God too; the Bible, while not as inclusive as I might wish, is not the tool of male chauvinism that I always assumed it was, although it's often been used that way by women haters. The image of God as womb speaks to me in the same way that the image of God as Father giving us bread speaks to me.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he gave us this prayer. Anyone who knows humans knows that we do better when we don't have to make everything up as we go along. Most of us have memorized this prayer as children. In fact, I know grown up children of non-religious parents who were taught this prayer--perhaps as a sort of spiritual immunization? I imagine parents saying, as mine did, "Learn this prayer--you never know when you might need it."

It surprises me how often we probably need this prayer. It's good to have prayers pre-written for us. There are times when we try to pray, and we can't come up with what to say. This prayer that Jesus teaches us covers many of the concerns that we would bring to God, if we didn't feel so muted.

We pray for our daily sustenance. We pray for forgiveness. Some translations interpret this passage as a kind of debt relief ("forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"). Marcus Borg notes that these two aspects--food and debt--would have spoken to Jesus' followers in the first century, who often found themselves short of bread and currency. Many Jews found themselves in a downwards spiral as they leveraged their land, and eventually lost their land, to pay an increasingly heavy tax burden imposed on them from Rome.

We pray not to be led astray. I like the language "save us from the time of trial," but all the variations speak to me. I often pray an expanded version of the Lord's Prayer and include them all, praying not to be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil, and to be saved from the time of trial. Sometimes I meditate on the fact that I expand and focus on this part of the prayer, while I tend to assume the regularity of my daily bread. I suspect that people in other countries would focus on other aspects of the Lord's prayer.

Jesus gives us a simple prayer. Most of us have already memorized it. But how many of us pray it outside of church?

Maybe it's time for a mid-year resolution, something simple. Try praying the Lord's Prayer daily. Let's see how we've been recalibrated by Christmas.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 1, 2018:

First Reading: Lamentations 3:22-33

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

First Reading (Alt.): Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

Psalm: Psalm 30

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 130

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

Notice how rooted in physicality is our Gospel for Sunday. We've got a bleeding woman and a dying girl. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus orders food for the no longer dead girl. The Gospel practically oozes on the page.

Notice too how we've got a variety of people--all they have in common is their fierce belief and their willingness to do whatever it takes for healing. They will ignore all the years of ill health. They will ignore their rational voices that say that one man can't bring health. Even when they're surrounded by naysayers, they believe. They will ignore death, so powerful is their hope.

Notice that in this passage Jesus focuses his attention on some of the most outcast of his society: a little girl and a bleeding woman. If you've studied the Old Testament, you understand how outcast a woman who never stopped bleeding would be. Ancient purity codes were quite strict about body fluids, particularly when they came from women. And a female child would have also been seen as expendable, at least in the larger society. Yet Jesus doesn't withhold his power from them, even if they're not important to the larger society.

This Gospel echoes the story we heard last week. Here is Jesus again, talking to his disciples about their fears. Here is Jesus, doing what should be impossible for humans to do. Last week he's controlling nature. This week, we seem him controlling the human body. We even see him overcome death.

These stories make me think about my own faith, particularly during these hot, hazy days of summer, when it seems impossible to get off the couch. What would inspire me to go to Jesus in a similar way? I try to imagine Jesus saying to me "Daughter, your faith has made you well." I think of all the ways that my faith can--and does--fall short.

This Gospel is instructive, in that it shows what it might take to get our attention focused on what's important. If my little nephew lay dying, I would move Heaven and Earth to find a cure. If I had a disease that no one could cure, I might be moved to try things my rational brain wouldn't accept. Over and over again, in many a disease narrative, we hear people tell us that their disease redirected their attention and turned out to be a strange blessing.

I'm always wary of this approach--I don't want to glorify suffering and disease. I don't mean to imply that the sick ones are lucky, and the healthy ones are ill. But with this Gospel, it wouldn't hurt to take a look at our own faith lives. Where is God trying to get our attention? How strong is our faith? What would it take to make us yearn for Christ, to search so fervently for our Savior?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Don't Let Despair Swamp Your Boat!

The Readings for Sunday, June 22, 2018:

First Reading: Job 38:1-11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49

First Reading (Alt.): 1 Samuel 17:57--18:5, 10-16 (Semi-continuous)

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 9:9-20

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 133 (Semi-continuous)

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

We live in storm-tossed times. I write this sentence on a regular basis through the years, and frankly, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, except that this year than I have less faith that our politicians can find a solution, and I have less hope that we will collectively find our way to better times. In these early days of hurricane season, I feel haunted by the idea that a big storm will come along and finish us off.  I worry about literal storms and the larger storm clouds that seem to be gathering across the globe.  In these days, I wish I knew less about the 1930's and the events that brought us World War II.

Maybe we can relate to those disciples in this week's Gospel. The boat is taking on water. We're sinking. We'll die out here in the middle of this lake. It was bad back there with the crowds, but we don't want to perish this way.

And so, like the disciples, we call out: "Where are you God? Don't you care about us, Jesus?"

Look at the response of Jesus in this passage. Many theologians have noted that he doesn't mock them for their fears. Their fears are real and valid. But he asks them why they're letting their fears get the best of them. It's as if he's saying, "I'm right here. I'm with you. Have you forgotten what is possible when I'm in your boat?"

And then, he calms the storm.

Just because we're believers, that doesn't mean that we will never experience storms. We will, and we will likely be afraid. But Jesus assures us that even though we might feel alone, we are not alone. The storms will come, and storms will go. But God is always there, with us, in our boats.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us where we should place our loyalties, and it's not the nation-state.  Again and again, Jesus tells us how we can save our souls, and it's not by the ways advocated by politicians.  We will be judged by how we treat the poor, the oppressed, the outcast.  We may not be able to save them all.  But we cannot turn away.

In these times when we may be feeling that we're seeing our societal fabric unravel right before our eyes, it's good to remember that God is in the boat with us.  We may not have the solution.  We may have less power than we wish we had.  We may not be able to imagine how a just world will emerge from the wreckage.  We may despair over how quickly the world seems to want to return to wreckage.

That despair can be as deadly as any storm.  God has a vision of a better world, one where the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast finally find a home.  Don't let despair keep us blind to that vision.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel: Seeds and Sprouts

The readings for Sunday, June 17, 2018:

First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 15:34--16:13

Psalm: Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 (Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 20

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17

Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

In the Gospel for Sunday, we hear the teaching that compares the kingdom of God (think this world, not Heaven) to seeds, in particular the mustard seed.  It's an agricultural metaphor that makes me wonder, as I always do, how well these metaphors work as we move away from being a culture that grows plants.  If we've never planted a seed and tended the sprouts, is the parable lost on us?

What might a modern parable teller use?  Mold?  A virus that overtakes a human or a computer system?  A bit of code that destroys a computer program?

We might object to those ideas.  We might say, "Those metaphors are so destructive--surely Jesus didn't have that in mind?"

Many scholars, however, would point out that mustard seeds left untended do grow into plants that can be terribly destructive, even as they provide shelter for birds.  It's great for birds, but not so great for anything else that a farmer wanted to grow.  The mustard seed would grow into a plant that had the potential to strangle everything else.

The Kingdom of God is a weed that strangles the plants we intended to grow to become a huge tree that shelters birds--yes, we can see how the earliest audiences of Jesus might go away confused.

Return to that idea of a seed, something tiny that can grow into something huge.  Think about the self-contained nature of the seed.  This part of the metaphor might provide comfort.

The Kingdom of God doesn't start out huge.  It begins as a tiny seed that just needs some water, some soil, and some light--nothing revolutionary, but from humble beginnings, a revolution begins.

In these post-Pentecost times, it's good to remember that we're not required to arrive on the scene full-grown.  Often in the post-Pentecost narratives and in the letters of Paul, I come away feeling inadequate, as I look at what those early believers managed to accomplish with such few resources.

And here I am, with all sorts of technological advances, only to spend so much time stumbling and beginning again.

Yet the parables remind me that even small seeds can become fields of wheat that feed a nation or giant trees that shelter wildlife.

What do we need to sprout?  What soil and spiritual manure would help us become more firmly rooted?  Summer might be a great time to try a new spiritual practice or to return to a practice that fell away in the hectic pace of Lent and Easter.  More prayer?  More journaling?  A book and/or study group?  A service project?

What water would refresh us and encourage us to sprout?  A different kind of worship service?  A retreat at a church camp or a monastery?  An online learning community?  Some work to create social justice?

How can we get the balance of enough sunshine and shade?  For all the time we plan to spend in spiritual activity, we should plan for Sabbath time too, a time to stay still and unplug/unwind.

You may feel like a dried out husk that has no hope of sprouting.  The Gospels assure us that we are little pods of potential waiting to bloom.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 10, 2018:

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20; [11:14-15]

Psalm: Psalm 130

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 138

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13--5:1

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

We are used to the picture of the family of Jesus that we see at Christmas time:  the brave, young Mary, ready for whatever God has in mind for her.  Kind Joseph, who plans to leave pregnant Mary, but is convinced to stay beside her.  The couple fleeing the murderous Herod. 

And then, perhaps, a few weeks later, we might see the young Jesus who stays behind to learn a bit more in the Temple in Jerusalem.  In some lectionary years, we see Mary imploring Jesus to save a wedding where the wine has run out; Jesus says he's not ready, Mary persists, and Jesus puts aside his own plans and transforms water into wine.

Or maybe we're used to the Mary that we see around Easter, particularly the weeping mother at the foot of the cross.

We're likely not familiar with the Mary that we see in today's Gospel, the Mary who hears the rumors of her son's madness and comes to try to get him to change course.

What's going on here?  Is she embarrassed?  Did she not know that being the mother of the Messiah might mean some embarrassment when the neighbors started talking?

Those of us who have ever loved someone who took a different path that the world doesn't understand may feel some sympathy for Mary.  Those of us who have watched children grow up and go their own way may feel sympathy too. 

When Gabriel appeared to Mary and gave her an outline of the plan that God had for her, she probably didn't envision the Jesus that appeared some thirty years later.  Her whole culture trained her to look for a different Messiah, perhaps a Messiah who cleansed the Jewish homeland.  She probably thought of that cleansing in military terms, the ejection of the Romans, perhaps.

She likely wasn't thinking of a spiritual revolution.

After all, there were plenty of people running around Palestine leading spiritual revolutions, all sorts of people, some legitimate, some deranged, who were happy to tell first century people how to cleanse themselves and purify their religions and make God happy.  I've read one scholar who posits that the family of Jesus was upset because he could be using his powers to make money and instead he was giving away his miracles for free.  In these early chapters of Mark, Jesus does a lot of healing which attracts much attention.

Or perhaps Mary was upset because she saw her son was on a collision course with any number of authorities.  Maybe she wanted him to fly under the radar more.

We might argue that she has no right to feel that way, because, after all, Jesus came precisely to be on that collision course--that's what he had to do to create the salvation that he came to bring.

Even if Mary understood God's plan thoroughly, she still might want to protect her child.  That's what good parents want, to save their children from harm and destruction.  She still might protest the fact that the salvation of the world required the precious life of her beloved child.

For those of us struggling to chart our own course, we might take comfort from today's Gospel.  If even the family of Jesus didn't fully embrace his path, we, too, can expect a bit of resistance.

For those of us struggling to live an integrated life, where our weekday selves don't contradict our Christian values, we can take courage from today's Gospel.  It's not an easy task, this living an authentic life.

Of course, the Gospels don't promise us a happy ending.  Even if we live honestly, we may find ourselves on a collision course with the larger world, with the forces of empire, with the culture that shoots other messages at us and infuses our surroundings with poisonous values.  Even authentic people can end up martyred.

In fact, authentic people are more likely to end up martyred.  But throughout the Gospels, Jesus promises that the life we achieve through our integrity will be worth the price.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 3, 2018:

First reading and Psalm:

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Alternate first reading and Psalm:

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Psalm 81:1-10

Second reading:

2 Corinthians 4:5-12


Mark 2:23-3:6

This week's Gospel asks us to think about why we adopt the religious rules and rituals that we do.  We see the Pharisees, those old adversaries of Jesus, feeling and acting offended when Jesus ignores the laws of the Sabbath.  We see Jesus in what seems to be a confrontational mode.

We might ask why Jesus had to take this approach.  The man with the withered hand could have waited for healing for one more day.  The disciples plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath seem to be doing it mindlessly.  They could have found some other food.

We could ask similar questions of the Pharisees.  Why do these rules have to be so rigid?  It's important to remember that although we think of Pharisees as hypocrites largely because of their interactions with Jesus, this could not be further from the truth. They were very sincere and committed to what they believed, far more committed than most of their contemporaries.

And it's vitally important to remember that their motivations for keeping strict standards were very good. In The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian D. McLaren notes that the Pharisees hoped that their own purity would prompt God to send the Messiah to liberate them, specifically to liberate them from Roman oppression. Therefore it's understandable that they would try to recruit others to this cause, and that they would grow frustrated with people who couldn't meet their own requirements--the actions of those people polluted the whole population, thus resulting in more alienation from God.

Before we get too snooty about those Pharisees, before we feel too superior to them, it's important to look at our own time. Anyone who has done any kind of church work probably recognizes the Pharisees in Mark's Gospel.  Whether we're fighting over big issues or small, it's always been astounding to me to see the energy that some devote to a fight.  And I'm sure there are people who would say the same thing about me.

Of course, it's not just in our churches.  I've also described many of our workplaces, and the larger world of international relations.  Some of us may recognize our family life.  Some may recognize ourselves.

Let me stress it is important to recognize our own inner Pharisee. No one is blameless here.  Let's return to the one of the questions the text asks us to consider:  what are these religious rules and customs for?

We live in a time period where it may seem that the very moorings of our society have come undone.  Like Pharisees, we, too, may fall in love with the idea that laws can save us and either restore past glory or propel us to the deliverance that has been promised.

Christ calls us to a different vision as he reminds us again and again that too rigid a love of the law is idolatry itself.  Christ calls us to create a world of open borders and solid bridges, not one of walls and impenetrable defenses.  Christ calls us out of our graves of fear and sorrow.