Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A No Frills Birth

Jesus was not born in what we call a barn, with a metal roof and a concrete floor, and a place for cars, tractors, and tools. It wouldn’t have looked like one of those red barns we see in rustic paintings. It also wouldn’t have been a small structure made with rough hewn wood.

In fact, you know the pictures we’ve seen of the stable with the gentle farm animals, sweet hay, and the warm glow from an oil lantern?

None of that is in scripture.

The innkeeper that’s in all our skits about Jesus birth? There’s no mention of him either.

We are told only that there was no place for this family to stay inside at night. All available rooms were occupied.

Perhaps they had a lean-to. Or perhaps they stayed in a small cave on the edge of town. But they could have been completely exposed to the outside elements and they probably slept on the ground.

These were truly poor people, just on the edge of existence. There was no government assistance program to give them a roof over their heads. There was no medical care available. There was no food being distributed. Plus, they were out of town far from their own community.

People like Mary and Joseph are not even seen by the world.

In this poverty stricken state, a baby was born. And no one noticed.

He was given the name, Jesus. A common name for a common baby. But this pitiful baby born to these desperately poor parents also carried a title that was given to him before he was born:

Emmanuel. Which means, “God with us.”

And his name, which was very ordinary back then, is actually a powerful statement when we translate it. It means, “The Lord saves.”

Today, we celebrate the life of a child who meant nothing to his society, but is everything to the world.

The Announcement

When a king is born, everyone knows about it. Grand announcements are made. Events involving huge crowds are planned. Celebrations are arranged with music and cheering. Politicians make their speeches and foreign dignitaries send extravagant gifts.

None of this happened at Jesus’ birth.

However, there was one small group who heard the news: Shepherds.

They were field hands--guys who handled the livestock. They slept outside, stayed dirty, and smelled like the animals they cared for.

They were not important people at all.

But their profession had a royal legacy. David, the greatest King of Israel, was once a shepherd picked by God from the pastures to lead the nation. This king later wrote one of our greatest psalms, describing God as a shepherd.

So it makes a kind of sense that shepherds were the only ones who were told about the arrival of the Christ. It was their eyes that beheld a mighty angel and their ears that heard him announce that the Messiah was born. Their eyes alone saw the night sky explode in white celebration as the angels sang their praises to the newborn king.

It was the shepherds who first found their way to the baby lying in a feed box. They were the first to worship the newborn king who would one day be called The Good Shepherd.

Touched by Holiness

The scripture tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

To us, the words “manger” and “swaddling clothes” have a sweet sound to them, and they are reserved for the story of Christ’s birth.

But they weren’t special. Swaddling clothes were simply old rags used because there were no cute clothes given to them at baby showers.

A manger was a feed box for the livestock. Most of us would refuse to put our babies in one. But it was the only place where these tired parents could lay their new child.
In our minds this grubby little box is beautiful and the old rags appear like royal clothing. Paintings depict the scene with soft hay and a gentle glow and we sing moving songs about it that make us cry.

Why is that?

It’s because the tiny person who lay there was holy, and he made everything he touched holy.

His holy touch healed people and raised people from the dead. And his spirit continues to breathe holiness into our souls.

The Christ Candle

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.

                                                       --(Luke 1:46-49)

During the month of Advent we lit a new candle each Sunday, each one symbolizing a special gift. 

The Candle for week one stands for Hope.  Week two is for love.  The third Candle is for Joy. And the fourth one is for Peace. We believe these gifts are real and eternal.

Tonight we light the large candle in the center, which is a symbol for Christ. 

We believe the qualities celebrated at Advent exist because of Jesus.  He is the center of our hope, love, joy, and peace.  His Spirit of Holiness is a flame that shines throughout the world, as well as in our hearts. 

May the fullness of Christ’s holiness be recognized and celebrated tonight in each of our hearts.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Light of Peace

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward people!”

--Luke 2:12-13

It is interesting to note that Jesus later said in chapter 12 of the same book that he did NOT come to bring peace but division.

Before he would finish his task there would be a lot of violent conflict. And of course, there is still much violence in the world. 

Too many places suffer from the ravages of war.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have peace on earth? Where we could all lay down our armor and wrap our arms around each other? 

Where the lamb could lay down with the lion?

The angels sang about the day when peace would happen because the Christ child was born. Through Jesus, there will one day be peace. 

The candles of advent represent hope, love, joy, and today, we light the candle of peace. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Never Know

The minister introduced the young man to the Sunday school class. A lot of people knew who this fellow was although they didn’t know him well.

He was odd.

You know what I mean. Not a bad sort, but rather strange. In high school the other kids avoided him and he never once had a date. As he grew into adulthood, it never occurred to people that he was lonely and sad. Once, he felt so bad that he tried to take his life.

The minister found out and persuaded him to come to the Sunday school class. With his permission, the minister told the class of this boy’s struggles. 

“I thought we would make him a member of our group,” he said. 

Before the class dismissed each of the members hugged him and told him how glad they were to have him in the class. Every week, he came to get his hugs and to hear people say they were glad to see him. 

I don’t know the end of his story. I don’t know how well he’s doing these days.   

But I know that he never picked up a gun and went on a shooting spree. 

The Third Week of Advent

On the first week of advent we lit the candle of hope

Last week, we lit the candle of love. 

Today, we light the candle of Joy.  

 It is hard to acknowledge joy in the face of the dreadful act of violence that occurred in the Connecticut school two days ago. For the survivors who suffer greatly, we wish for them the tender compassion of Christ. Even at this distance, we bless them with our wishes of healing.  We pray that one day the gift of hope will return to them. 

We celebrate this third week of Advent because we will not shy away from the idea that joy is with us even in the darkest of times.

Today, as we light these candles, let them be for those who died in that tragedy, as well for the Christ child who one day will rescue us from dark times such as these.

From Psalm 30:5:  “Weeping may stay through the night. But rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bless All the Dear Children

I offer these fumbling, anemic words for the people of Newtown, Connecticut.  

We’re upset and afraid.  For this moment, without intending to rebuke or argue, could I ask each of us to set aside politicized subjects, and focus on the poor people who are devastated by violence? 

May the Lord bless them with compassion and healing. May God bless each of you with a peace that passes understanding.

And may he “bless all the dear children in His tender care, and take us to heaven to be with Him there.” 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Transitional Moments

Everything goes from order to disorder, according to old Newtonian Mechanics. However, quantum physics takes things in a different direction and suggests that everything is made of energy and it is never lost, but rather changes form. They’re discovering new insights all the time in the science world, and these newest thoughts will probably change again (In fact they already are). As a distant onlooker, I find these things fascinating, and I wonder if we’ll ever reach the point where science and faith actually meet amicably. 

Most of us conduct our lives under the old assumption that things break down and diminish. Buildings don’t last, cars quit running, and all living things get old, sick, and die.  We hate it. We fight hard to resist it. We try not to think about it. We pray for it not to happen. We cry and mourn when our loves ones succumb to it. But we believe it’s inevitable.

But there is another law at work in spiritual realms and perhaps physics, too, where all things break down, but then there is rebuilding or regeneration. We see it all the time in nature, where living things break down into elements that are used to form and nurture new life. 

We see it in other ways, too. In moments of increased enlightenment, we note that our failures are not defeats, but defining moments that allow us to rebuild our lives into something greater. I see it when a person’s childhood faith is dissembled and makes way for deeper spiritual insight. We perceive of these transitional moments as catastrophic, but perhaps they are more like growth pains. 

The end of physical life can be seen this way, too.  We remind ourselves that life does not end, but changes forms when we step into eternity.  It’s a difficult transition, but it’s not termination. 

How many times did Jesus talk about this, especially in John:

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24). 

He was speaking of all kinds of transitions where changes feel like loss but are really gains.

I often think of how Jesus gave up a lot of himself when he left heaven to come to earth as a child. And yet when he went through the entire transition that led to death on a cross, he was brought to an even higher place and is bringing us with him.  (Read Philippians 2:1-18 and get back to me). 

Remembering this makes me less scared of impending losses and less sad about the ones that have already occurred. Perhaps it can help me enjoy more of the moments I have here, and I can make better use of them.  Perhaps I can even be more generous in giving myself away. 

When I become less, I become more.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Candle of Love

The second candle of Advent usually  represents Love. 

The hymn says:

Why did my Savior come to Earth
And to the humble go?
Why did he choose the lowly birth?
Because he loved me so.

He loved me so.
He loved me so!
He gave his precious life for me.
For me.
Because he loved me so.

 First John 3:1 says, “How great is the love of God that he has lavished on us that we should all be called his children.”    

 *from "Why Did My Savior Come to Earth" by J.G. Dailey

A Happy Jesus

Evidently, Jesus liked to have a good time. Everybody talked about his going to the parties where the real action occurred with wealthy tax collectors and prostitutes.  Plus, he was known to keep the fun going at wedding feasts, where he could be counted on to provide the very best wine.  

Then the very next day he would go to worship in the synagogue like some kind of saint, even daring to take the seat of authority to preach.  The truly religious people thought he was the worst kind of hypocrite.

No wonder he was so popular with regular folks. 

I have lived in religious communities where the people cultivated dour looks of pained endurance as they sang dull songs and listened to dull sermons, and claimed to feel joyful about it.  They would insist that heaven is like one long worship service, and I’ll admit when I was a kid, the worship time sure seemed like an eternity. 

I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

Maybe it’s to say that occasionally, we should change our perspective of Jesus.  Perhaps he was more than a “suffering servant,” or a religious reformer.  He was a shepherd, a storyteller, a healer, a prophet, and he liked to go to parties.

Maybe it’s to say that it’s okay to enjoy the moment, to laugh, sing and dance, just like Jesus did. 

Perhaps it’s to say that churches ought to “loosen up” instead of making people feel so guarded and self controlled.  Perhaps we could help each other get more in touch with freedom and joy.

And, I confess I might simply wish to entertain myself by teasing my friends who take themselves just a little too seriously.  Perhaps it’s also a reminder that I should refrain from taking myself to too seriously. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent 2012, Week One: Hope

Every year I write the meditations for the weeks of Advent and this year I thought I would publish them.  

Today we begin the celebration of Advent, which starts every year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Like a family awaiting the arrival of a new baby, we await the designated anniversary of our Lord’s birth.

The presence of the Christ child appeals to the tender place in our hearts where we discover great love for small children. The Child awakens a sense of loving obligation and generosity where we aspire to be the best persons we can be.

With a sense of anticipation, we light a candle each week of Advent, each one signifying something special about the season. Today, we begin Advent by lighting the candle of Hope.

I know that my redeemer lives, 
     and that in the end 
     he will stand on the earth.

I myself will see him
     with my own eyes—I, and not another.
     How my heart yearns within me! *

These words were spoken by a man named Job who had lost everything: his wealth, his family, his health, his dignity, and the respect of his community. But even though he had lost everything, and even though he was confused and bitter about God, Job held onto the hope that one day someone would come to rescue him.

His Redeemer didn’t come in his lifetime. In fact, the Redeemer didn’t come for a thousand years… maybe two thousand years.

But he did come, arriving late in the night. No one noticed his arrival and relatively few knew him during his life, but many have come to know him since then.  

Like Job, we have not seen our Redeemer, but we believe he did arrive and that his name is Jesus. 

Because we share that hope with Job, we believe that one day we will be delivered from our struggles and pain, and we will see God clearly.

May the Hope of Christ, which combines powerful longing with great expectations, bless each of you this season.  Amen.

*From Job 19:25, 27.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fall Feelings

From my journal on 11-12-12:

The grip of summer heat has loosened and I can breathe in the cool air that energizes me as I walk among colorful trees.

My spirit joins with poets and musicians who are stirred by this season to express a joy that has more than a pinch of melancholy.  I think all beauty has a touch of sadness.

The falling leaves and the gray skies remind me of the losses that come with the passage of time and they remind me that my time is limited, too.  But their beauty reminds me to enjoy, celebrate, and love as much as I can with the time I have left.

 *Photo by Garry Liddell, 2008

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Adjusting My Faith

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

Jesus was taking direct aim at his culture’s understanding of the entire cosmos.  Not only was he defying their understanding of the Sabbath, he was saying that the universe is quite different than what they understood, going back all the way to the beginning.  He was also saying that he had a role in that creation because he was the Son of God.

Not only that, but he was telling them that this was only the beginning. They would see even greater (scarier) things than this (5:20). 

To be thrown into a state where we question everything is frightening and most of us won’t do it unless some crisis comes along and forces us to make adjustments.

It’s important to remember that faith has to have enough elasticity to adjust to growing insight. But for some reason, we want to insist that faith is a rock solid attribute, where nothing ever changes. 

However, there’s always something more to learn. And every time we learn, we have to adjust our foundation, or add to it. 

Consider your house. If you decide to increase your square footage, you also have to add to your foundation, thus changing it.  It wasn’t wrong before, it just wasn’t adequate for growth.  And sometimes, when we get into building improvement, we find flaws even in the foundation that have to be fixed.  It’s just part of the job. 

This is true in matters of faith and spiritual insight. As we grow, we have to go back and adjust our original beliefs. And that’s okay. 

We could shut everything down and cut off any new teaching and decay like an old empty house, and we all know of whole churches where that happens.

But the will of God continues on today and tomorrow, raising the dead and living new life. The question remains do we want to claim that new life, rather than die the old one? 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Measuring Spiritual Growth

I had this up earlier, but somehow it was dropped, so here it is again.

A couple of years ago, I tried to address how we can measure spiritual growth. I mentioned things like frequency of prayer, Bible study, and good deeds. How often did I go to church? How much did I tithe? And so on...

These may be symptoms of spiritual growth, but I thought of some other things that might help me assess myself better:

Am I looking at people more often to notice if they are sad or confused or lonely or hurting? And how often did I interrupt the flow of my day to pay attention, and even help one of these that I noticed? 

How often in my prayer life did I interrupt my list of personal concerns and ask what God wants? 

Can I think of times when I set aside my anxiety and replaced it with faith and action? 

I'm betting that if you are reading this that you did better than you give yourself credit for. And bless your heart if you're looking at this and intending to improve.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Walk Away from Shame

From John 8:

They “brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery.” (verse 3).

“In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say?” (5).

“Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” (7).

It’s a visual image of the feeling of shame: caught in the act of a sin, guilty beyond all doubt, vulnerable in front of an angry, disgusted crowd that was poised to kill as they screamed at Jesus about her guilt. 

Consider that feeling of shame and imagine carrying it in your spirit every hour of every day for years. You stuff it away and ignore it while you go about your business, but it’s never far away. How would that affect you? 

Would it make you agitated? Would you be defensive over the least little thing and prone to angry, irrational words?

It might be a relief to point out someone else who was guilty too so you wouldn’t have to think about yourself, and for just a moment you’d be safe from others’ scrutiny. You might channel some of that agitation toward another, and perhaps even pick up a rock to throw it. 

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, I think the woman was in better shape than the crowd. She may have been humiliated but they were on the verge of murder.

In the past, I’ve always looked at that crowd with loathing, but Jesus was gentle with them.  In a fit of holy vengeance he could have ripped them to pieces, but he didn’t. He waited for a quiet moment and reminded them that they were just like the woman in front of them. 

And their rage faded for the moment as they walked away. Jesus' words had led them to walk away from a heinous act.  

The woman was in a position to receive even more help than the crowd. When Jesus told her to go and sin no more, he was telling her that she was not trapped in condemnation. She could walk away with freedom, dignity, and strength to start again and be better than before.

For her, for the crowd, for you and for me, the New Testament message is very clear:

“Neither do I condemn you…” Jesus said. (John 8:11).

“For there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus….” Paul said. (Romans 8:1)

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).

Because there is no condemnation, we can drop our stones, our pretenses, and our shame to walk in newness of life. 

The Cover Up

In the beginning, before sin was in the world, Adam and Eve lived happily in the Garden of Eden where we are told they were “naked and felt no shame.”  (Gen. 2:25) But when they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, the first thing they noticed is that they were uncovered. When they heard God coming, they were afraid to be naked in front of him so they hid.   (Gen. 3:7-10).

I have always thought that the biggest loss they experienced was their utterly genuine relationship with God.  I also think the biggest barrier we have with God, as well as with each other, is the one we put up in ourselves in order to stay hidden, and supposedly protected. 

I’ve never found shame to do anything but make things much worse. It leads us to loneliness, dishonesty, and fear. It causes us to defend ourselves when no one is attacking. The craziness takes us on spiral downward, sometimes making us physically, as well as spiritually sick.

I know from counseling that it can take a long time to peel back all the protective layers so we can begin to find healing. 

I see God as someone who tries hard to help us find our way back to our unfettered relationship with Him.  He gave the Hebrews their sacrificial ceremonies and then gave his Son as the ultimate sacrifice so all of us could lay down our foolish walls, look fearlessly at ourselves, and make whatever changes need to be made.

And yet most of us continue to hide like Adam and Eve, isolated in shame while God waits for us to come out to resume our relationship. 

It wouldn’t fix everything but if we could drop the shame we could make a giant leap of progress in the healing of our souls.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Holy Meals

The hospital had hired a chef to run the cafeteria. When I had an occasion to visit, I stopped in and saw him behind the counter serving people. I asked about a certain entre in front of me and he launched into a passionate description of how he had prepared it. 

“Sounds delicious,” I exclaimed, and he beamed as he heaped a portion on my plate. 

It was delicious—a Mexican dish with chicken, cheese, tortillas, and marvelous spices.  I realized as I was eating that this was the man’s art.  Some people paint or sculpt. Others write. Others perform music. And still others design great buildings. In fact, most people have something in their lives that is their art. 

This man’s art was in his cooking and he was pleased that I recognized it.  And since it pleased him so much, I went back to the serving area after the meal and expounded on how good the meal was. 

It made his day. 

I’ve been thinking about Barbara Brown Taylor’s thoughts in An Altar to the World, where she says that to bless something is to notice and point out its worth--its holiness.  A Mexican dish at the hospital cafeteria may seem like an unlikely item to be recognized as holy, but on the other hand, it was a man’s joyful expression.  What’s holier than that? 

We can take that thought and expand it to other people and the things that they do.  In fact, Taylor says that everywhere we look there is something wonderful even in the ordinary where God has made something with a purpose.  To recognize God’s work (His holiness) in that thing is to bless it. 

I’ve also come to appreciate the efforts of the waitress, the lawyer, the mechanic, and the teacher. Their work, as well as all other work can be brought to an art form and can be used for noble purposes. 

I also appreciate trees and wheat fields and birds and dogs and caterpillars and mountains and blades of grass, all of which have a place in God’s holy creation.

When we express appreciation we help each other remember our holy place in a holy creation.  So at meal time, I remember to offer a blessing, not just for the food, but for the person who made it. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Paraphrase of Psalm 42

I’m dying of an awful thirst.
Where did he go?
What happened to that life-giving Presence?
There is no water.
I have only my tears to drink.

Voices taunt me.
“Where is your God?
Did he ever exist?” 

“Yes!”  I answer to silence them.
“I remember joyous moments
Where I was the LEADER
And I was STRONG.”

I comfort myself: 
“Why are you sad?
Put your hope in God.
You weren’t dreaming before.

“Remember the mountaintop moments,
The heights from which you saw God all around you?
Remember when you and He were two rivers
Crashing together into a cascading shower?”

Yes, I remember. 
But the waters are gone.
And my thirst remains.

My voice continues but do I hear an echo?
At least I’m talking to You and not about You. 

“Where did you go?
Why did you forget me?
I ache with loneliness
And I’m left with only those voices that taunt me: 
‘Where did your God go? Did He ever exist?’”

But I still have a voice:
Why so sad? Why so disturbed?
Let hope be your compass and keep moving.

I raise my voice once more 
To sing the song of victory again. 
The thirst remains
but it drives me onward. 
The water is still there, somewhere. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012


A sacrament is a holy act of God that celebrates his grace and presence in our lives.   

Baptism is a sacrament in which we experience the symbol of cleansing and rebirth. It’s not just the individual’s moment with God, but the witnessing congregation’s as well.  Last Sunday when we baptized a young child, it was not her act of obedience, but God’s act of grace which blessed not just her, but her parents and family and all of us who were watching. 

It was also our opportunity to join with God and express our love and commitment to the child. 

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament in that it allows the presence of Christ in our midst. Again, it is not our act of obedience, but rather Christ’s gift to us.  As we take in his body and blood, we take in his love and grace. He embraces us in his compassion and reminds us that we are worth a great price. 

I’m not sure why it’s so hard to hold onto the idea of sacrament. Even those of us who know better are often tempted to turn them into acts of grudging obedience, as if they were something difficult or unpleasant, which leads us to turn these gifts into points of contention where we would deny people God’s gift.

“You HAVE to do this or you’re not a child of God!” 

“You MUST do this the proper way to be right with God.” (and I am the only one doing it right).

Such sentiments indicate that grace is still a total mystery to some of us.  That’s a shame because we can’t give it until we have it. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Would God Pray For?

During prayer time at church, we focus on the safety, success, and health of our loved ones, and it’s usually a rather lengthy list of children, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, longtime friends, and fellow church members. We express thanks for their good fortune and achievements and more often we’re anxious about their welfare. 

Now turn it around and think about God’s concerns

What does God care about? Look through the scriptures and see that he is concerned for the poor, the children, and the elderly. He cares for the suffering and the ones we often write off as unimportant.

Just as we bring our concerns to him, he shares his concerns with us. 

“I’m worried about my child.” I say. 

“I’m worried about the child that no one sees. There is probably one on the street you live on.”

“I’m worried about my finances.” I share.

“I’m worried about the person who will die today because he is starving. For that matter I’m worried about the family that lives within a block of you that didn’t eat today.”

“Please watch over my nephew who was arrested last night.” 

“Please consider the man who was arrested for worshipping me.”

“Protect our youth group while they’re on their band/athletic/church mission trip.”

“Help the innocent who are caught in the violence of war.”  

Okay, I don’t really think God is trying to play a game where he trumps our every request. I think he cares for the things that affect us personally.  But I think he wishes that we showed a bit more concern for the people he cares about. 

Here’s a challenge: When you pray, ask God what’s on his mind today. See where that leads you. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wanting More

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). 

It’s not exactly news that people hate change.  In church we bump against this tendency if we try to change the music, or the position of the furniture, or the color of the carpet, and other superficial issues.  Tragically, we often can’t get past those to the more important issues.

As a pastor, I’m interested in helping all of us go deep to discover a greater relationship with God.  Doesn’t it make sense to assume that there is always more to see and know and experience, and that we could discover things that have never been articulated before?

Am I making anyone nervous yet?

The Church, not just our congregation, not just our denomination, but the whole Church, has expended an enormous amount of energy in establishing doctrines and then debating the finer points of them with each other.  Each church reminds its members over and over as to “what we believe.”

It’s not wrong to review church doctrine, but we need to recognize that it is an attempt to have conformation rather than encourage transformation.    

I want to learn new things. I want new insights. I want to be more than I was yesterday. I want to know God more. 

I want transformation.

Jesus wants nothing less for us, and frankly, I won’t settle for less.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hosea 6:6

Publicans, prostitutes, and lepers--swindlers, tempters, and the disease ridden.  These were the riffraff with whom Jesus spent time.

The refined, educated people were indignant, even outraged.  They demanded that the rabbi explain himself. 

But Jesus never answers to others. He made them answer to him.  He told them to go back to school and learn their scripture again. He quoted Hosea 6:6

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6).
Mercy is more important than any religious trappings we might display.  

How well we understand God depends on how kind we are to those who don’t deserve it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Hosea 6

God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute who continues to be unfaithful when they’re married. It’s kind of a live action sermon illustration to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, and which God is justified in punishing.  

Yet the prophet holds out hope that all can be restored if they go back to a God who waits for them. 

The words of verse 1 trouble me:

He has torn us to pieces
   but he will heal us;
he has injured us
   but he will bind up our wounds.

It bothers me that God is on record as being vengeful. 

There have been times when I thought God was hurting me deliberately. It wasn’t that he was standing back to let me reap from what I had sown, but as Hosea wrote, he was actively punishing me.

In order to find my spiritual equilibrium I had to forgive God for hurting me just as God chooses to forgive me for hurting Him. 

That sounds presumptuous in the context of my Christian theology, and no doubt people will want to straighten out my thinking.  But I doubt they’ll say anything that I hadn’t already considered. 

It’s what I had to do to be friends again with the God I serve.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Psalm 150

 1 Praise the LORD.

  Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
   praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise him with resounding cymbals.
 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

   Praise the LORD.(NIV)

The urge to praise is especially strong when I am very happy or very sad. 

Perhaps praise during time of celebration makes sense, but it’s when I’m grieving that the need to praise becomes acute.  Loss makes us feel helpless and defeated. Praise reminds me that I’m neither. 

I remember when a death in the family hit me hard that I cranked up the stereo to play “The Hallelujah Chorus,” along which I sang with my voice cranked up at full volume, too.

It was my way of defying darkness and declaring my loyalty. 

It felt right.