Show and Tell: The Sacred Version


When I read about Stephen Hawking’s death, tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I felt an acute sense of loss. It’s not that I had ever met him or had any deep understanding of his work. But there is something about a person who continues to speak and work and change the world even as their body is ravished by disease. He gave me hope. His way of being in the world reminded me that there are no limits to what I or anyone else can accomplish when we focus our gifts and use them well. Stephen Hawking made me believe that I could do whatever it is I’ve been created to do even when my body imposes limits on my energy and movement. When I listened to his words or read his books, I believed “more” was possible. When he died, I felt like the world had a little less hope in it now that this vibrant person is gone.

On the other hand, I know that folks with Stephen Hawking’s tenacity have been around as long as human beings have. The Prophet Jeremiah was likely one such person. I cannot imagine having to deliver his message to the people of God in his time and place. On the other hand, there is such power and promise in his message that I want people here and now to receive it. God is forever expanding and reshaping the covenant God has made and will make again with the people of God. Rainbows weren’t enough. A personal invitation didn’t hold the people to God. Stone tablets were broken even before the people even grasped them. All through the wilderness and through the years, the people of God wandered away from God’s covenant with them. Then along comes Jeremiah to say that God is going to make a new covenant that will be unbreakable because it will be within them, on their hearts in God’s own handwriting.

Jeremiah’s words weren’t heard very well. We still don’t quite get it. There’s only one word God would ever want to write on our hearts and we struggle with it so much. God would write LOVE on our hearts – love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of creation. It’s a word that is engraved within each of us as surely as we are created in God’s image. Yet, humanity on the whole is pretty awful at loving the way God calls us to love. Imagine what the world would be like if our children didn’t have to advocate for gun control… Or women didn’t have to take to the streets to bring attention to sexual harassment and abuse… Or People of Color didn’t have to plead for their lives… What would the world be like if we all went in search of this indestructible covenant that is our birthright?

Years after Jeremiah tried to describe this amazing gift God places within each human being, Jesus embodied this covenant of love. Simply to show us how it can be done. Even then, people didn’t understand what he was about. Even in moments of Show and Tell, or, more accurately, Tell and Show, people still didn’t get what Jesus was about. In John’s Gospel we have this curious interchange right after Jesus as entered Jerusalem, triumphantly I might add. Palm branches have just been strewn at his feet and the “Hosannas!” still echo through the air. Yet, the momentum stopped right there.

Jesus spoke about letting go of life in this world to be one of his followers, bear fruit, and honor God. I’m sure he received a lot of blank stares as he spoke. Maybe even a few shouted, “I don’t get it” before Jesus gave a very real example. He just finished telling people to let go of all the things they valued to make room for the love of God, when he demonstrated exactly how it’s done. He told God that he was anxious about the events unfolding round him. He didn’t want to do it, even though he knew that this demonstration of God’s love for the world was exactly why he had been born. God affirms this, and people continue to do what people do. The reminder buried in the example is that God’s love is for all people.

We have been told. We have been shown. God has written LOVE on our hearts. When will we live it? When will we embody Love without question or hesitation? When will humanity reach the point where hope and life will shine brilliantly through all people, not just a few of the extraordinary ones? Jesus changed the world to show us that it’s possible. As Lent draws to its end, what will you do to follow Jesus with more than words?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2017
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

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Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny


Biology was not my favorite subject in high school. The workings of a microscope frustrated me because I couldn’t close one eye and keep the other open. Dissecting worms and frogs wasn’t particularly enjoyable, either. I don’t honestly remember much, but the phrase, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” has stuck with me. It was first used by Ernst Hackel, though I don’t remember that being clarified in class. However, it simply means that embryonic development reflects the development of the species. I’ve recently realized the same general idea can be applied to faith development in the people of God.

Think about it. Back in the days of the early Israelites, they believed that God was the cause of all things. If life was good, it was because they were pleasing God and God was rewarding them. If life was difficult, they were displeasing God and God was punishing them. We see this kind of theology in the passage from Numbers which recounts the encounter with the deadly serpents. The Israelites were complaining against God because of the challenges they faced in the wilderness. They were not happy to be hungry and thirsty and they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt. They believed God was affronted by their distress and doubt, and God punished their sins with venomous vipers that killed with one bite. Moses played intermediary as he often did, and God gave the people a way to survive the serpents.

Children often display a similar kind of faith. A very simple faith that says if I am good, God will give me what I want. If God isn’t pleased with me, then God will give me things I don’t want. Many of us get stuck in this way of thinking about God for a very long time. But we don’t have to. Jesus expanded this view of God quite dramatically.

God so loves the whole of the cosmos that God sent God’s own Beloved so that all who believe might have eternal life. God’s love was and is for the whole of creation. Jesus was meant as a display of God’s love, a path to bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. Jesus’ life, ministry, and resurrection were a radical departure from the tribal God whose wrath flowed freely in response to human behavior. Jesus invites us all to live in a world where Love has ultimate authority, not sin or death.

If we are able to move beyond the perceptions of the ancient Israelites, and even those who lived in First Century Palestine, our understanding of God shifts. We can literally leave behind a rather punitive, reactionary God and move toward a God who is Agape, unconditional, unlimited love. The hints of this are recorded throughout scripture. “God’s steadfast love endures forever” is repeated in numerous verses. There is no place we can go where God’s love is not – depths or heights (Psalm 139). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). Even the Creation stories of Genesis point toward a God who lovingly creates; God deems Creation “good.” If we can move beyond a literal reading of the scriptures, we might be able to see, hear, feel, and experience a glimpse of God’s unimaginably vast love for Creation in general, and humanity in particular.

We have a better understanding of how the world works in 2018 than folks did in Moses’ day or even in Jesus’ day. We know that when times are good, we think of what God wants less than when times are challenging. It would be easy to conclude that prosperity is from God and when hard times come, God is punishing us for failing to remember God’s ways. However, there are natural consequences for abandoning God’s ways in favor of human ways. When we humans start thinking that all we have accomplished and all we can do is a result of our own efforts, we tend to become rather self-absorbed. We tend to stop paying attention to the “greater good” and the needs of our neighbors. Then someone with more power comes along and reminds us that we are not God. Then we remember to seek out the Holy and care for our neighbors as ourselves. We can see evidence of this throughout history. Nations don’t fall because God punishes them for their arrogance. Nations fall because they begin to think of themselves as infallible which creates weakness that stronger nations take advantage of. Israel wasn’t conquered again and again because God was punishing them. They fell to their enemies because they forgot to care for the whole nation, not just the wealthy and powerful.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Let’s take another look at the Numbers passage from the understanding of God as Agape. The Israelites escaped from Egypt and were in the wilderness. They were hungry, thirsty, and frightened. There were things that happened in the wilderness that caused destruction and death. When the people remembered their liberating God, they were able to find a path through the painful desert. They were not alone – every person for themselves. No. They were a holy nation and could help one another through the pain and grief of seeking new life. God, Agape, was with them, leading them, shaping them into a new people.

This Lent, as we wander through our own wildernesses and deserts, let us remember that we do not go alone. Let us also remember that our God is not hiding around the next bend, waiting for us to screw up so God can punish us accordingly. Let us remember that God is Agape, Love beyond our capacity to imagine. This God whose ways liberate us from oppressive sins and lead us to new life, this is the God who accompanies us on the journey. Not only is God journeying with us, but God is waiting for us to leave old, constricting ways behind and embrace ways of being that lift the whole of Creation to new life.

We, as people of God, are no longer infants. Isn’t it time we embody the fullness of Christ’s love for our neighbors and ourselves?

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2018
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

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The Wisdom of a Covenanting God


When I contemplate my little life, I marvel at God’s extraordinary patience. With me, yes, and also with the rest of humanity. How is it that God has remained steadfast in God’s love for us? I mean, how many times does God have to spell out what we need to do to live in peace before we grasp it? I can’t even get through a day without losing patience with someone or something (usually some electronic device that I can’t make work). How has God made it through millennia without smiting the entire planet and starting over?

Winter weariness has definitely contributed to my thought pattern, but my thinking is more a result of contemplating covenant. God has covenanted with humanity for longer than we can remember. I think about Noah and the covenant that stated a truth not understood then or now – God does not destroy. To participate in this covenant, human beings should also refrain from destruction of one another and the planet. Look how well we’ve done that! Then there was Abraham. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants who would become great nations. Abraham got his descendants but God is still waiting for the great nations to emerge. We haven’t even begun to try to walk blamelessly before God with any consistency.

With the echos of “do not destroy” and “walk blamelessly,” we come to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. The Ten Commandments. So, if we want to refrain from harm to one another and Creation and we want to be blameless before God, all we need to do is follow these Ten Commandments. Simple enough. God must have thought so. Moses must have thought so. Yet, we human beings can’t make it through a day without breaking at least one commandment. Then we have the audacity to blame God or someone else for our inability to live in Love. All I can do is shake my head and marvel at God’s tenacity. God hasn’t given up on us yet.

Paul reminds us that God’s foolishness is beyond human wisdom. Good thing, too, or we’d all be dust by now. God foolishly loves the whole of Creation. So much so that God continued to expand on the covenants of old. God keeps making them bigger, bolder, more dramatic to see if we will ever catch on. Instead of paying attention, we point and say that even Jesus got angry and flipped over some tables. Right. Jesus got angry and did something to restore justice. He didn’t just post on social media that the situation was horrible. He went to the money changers and kicked them out of the Temple courtyard. Jesus didn’t do this because he was having a bad day. He did this because people had failed to live in Love and were profiting off of the poor. Jesus tried to show us how to live in Love, a Love that does not abuse its privilege but ensures that all are valued, particularly in God’s house.

In case you can’t tell, I’m in need of some soul reviving. Perhaps you are as well. The world is an exhausting place and trying to live into the Covenant writ large in Jesus takes a fair amount of energy. I wonder what it would take for us to trust in the perfection of God’s ways enough to experience the sweet life that would flow into us. Wouldn’t it be something if we could live without destruction, be blameless before God, honor and strengthen the community around us, and take action to ensure justice for all of God’s beloved? I know these things are easier said than done. We have a few millennia of practice behind us and we have yet to succeed.

The good news here is that God’s steadfast love truly does endure forever. While I feel like humanity might just be running out of time, I’m not sure God would agree with that assessment. As we journey through the wilderness, barrenness, chaos of this Lenten season, perhaps we can search out the places where God’s love breaks through all our foolishness. Perhaps we can look around us and see the signs of God’s continuing covenant with us and be thankful. Perhaps we can join with others to create communities of faith committed to embodying Love, the very opposite of our tendencies toward destruction, self-focus, and individual needs. Maybe this will be the Lent in which we give up our human foolishness (that insists we don’t need God) and embrace God’s foolishness (that insists on Love)…

For further sermon ideas, try here.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

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Can We Be Blameless and Unashamed?


Have human beings always been so egocentric, so self-focused, often to the point of narcissism? Last week 17 people died in a school at the hands of one gunman. This week some schools are auctioning off guns as fundraiser, one of which is an AR-15 – the gun used in the school shooting in Florida. The worst of this, the school calls itself Christian. How is it that God would want anything to do with raffling/auctioning guns to raise money for schools? How is it that anyone following Christ could think this is a good idea?

Let’s take a moment to consider Abraham. No, Abraham did not own any guns since he walked the earth long before guns were invented. However, Abraham’s story tells us something about what it means to follow God, to live in covenant with the One who created all that is. God called Abram when he was 99 years old. Surely, an old man would have better things to do with his time and energy than pack up all he owned and follow God out in the wilderness. Abram chose to do as God asked, though. Abram changed his name and grabbed hold of the promise God offered. God would give him and Sarah a child, a child who would be the first of many nations, of many kings. To an old man without children, this probably sounded pretty good.

There was a catch, though. Abraham had to agree to walk blameless before God. This is tricky business. Abraham had to avoid sin. He had to think about God, neighbor, Creation, and self, taking care not to bruise, break, or otherwise damage, his relationship with any of them. This was Abrahams part in the covenant. Yes, God would give Abraham and Sarah offspring more numerous than the stars, but Abraham had to agree to walk before God with the intention of honoring God, neighbor, Creation, and self. That’s a significant commitment!

We like to hide under the covenant that God has made with us, like it’s a security blanket keeping us separate from the evils of the world. Jesus is the New Covenant which somehow makes it stronger and better, right? Yes and not exactly. If Abraham had to keep up his end of the covenant, then we, too must keep up our end of the New Covenant. The new one does not negate the old one.

If God covenanted with Noah (and all living flesh) not to destroy the world, then Noah (and all living flesh) were meant to hold up their end of the bargain and not be forces of destruction in Creation, either. This covenant didn’t end with subsequent covenants; each is built on the last. If Abraham had to walk blameless before God to keep his end of the covenant, to ensure that his heirs would give rise to nations and kings, then Abraham’s heirs were meant to do the same. Because we humans are terrible at holding onto and living into God’s covenants, God keeps renewing and reshaping them, but, at no point does the new one negate the previous one.

So, we come to the New Covenant made in Jesus. This is a covenant made in Love, to show us how to Love one another, and to remind us that death and destruction does not have the last word. What’s our end of this? What must we do to participate in this covenantal promise? We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Not all that unlike walking blameless or avoiding destruction… We just don’t particularly like that bit. We want to think about how God loves us no matter what. While this true, shouldn’t we be more active in our participating in the Covenant? Why do we expect God’s steadfast love to continue to endure when we aren’t even willing to try a little self-denial?

You know, like realizing that sometimes what is needed for the good of all is more important that what I might want in the moment. I’m not anti-gun. However, not everyone who wants a gun should be able to have one. Not everyone who wants one needs one. Not everyone who owns a gun for sport needs a semi-automatic rifle. And a school, a Christian school at that, who wants to raise money ought to think twice about raffling off AR-15 in this moment (or ever, really). We tend to think that denying ourselves is a bad thing. In many cases, a little self-denial is a good thing, maybe even a life-saving thing.

Self-denial in the age of self-care is not denying who we are and it’s not denying our status as God’s beloved. It simply says that we think about the greater good and make sacrifices accordingly. You know, lack of gun control is a problem in this country. Are you willing to deny yourself the right to have a gun like an AR-15 if that means keeping children in schools safer? Another example, the use of plastic water bottles and drinking straws is a problem globally. Are you willing to deny yourself this convenience and use reusable bottles and straws? You get the idea. Self-denial and carrying one’s cross is the Christian version of walking blameless before God, you know, living where all the world can see without shame and mindful of one’s relationships with God, neighbors, Creation, and self.

Isn’t it time we start putting the needs of the many, particularly the vulnerable among us, ahead of the needs of the few? Denying myself some of the things I want sounds a whole lot better than children dying or contributing even more to the destruction of the planet. I’ll try to be more intentional about carrying the cross of my self-focused tendency if that means I take a couple of blameless steps before God. How ‘bout you? Crosses don’t weigh much when you think about the cost of not picking it up… Death and destruction aren’t supposed to have the last world. Isn’t it time we tip the odds in favor of Love?

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

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A Prayer of Confession as Lent Begins


One:  Holy One, we gather at the edge of the wilderness, reluctant to go forward. We do not want to give up favorite foods, time on social media, set aside our phones, or make any other sacrifices that would lead us closer to you. We are comfortable in our routine and our ambivalence. Seeking you might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Left:  God of all nations, we stumble when we encounter someone who is “other.” We forget that all people are created in your image and your covenant of love is for the whole of Creation. We want to believe that your love is for us, and those just like us. We want to stay where we are and not move to where your love in our hands could do the most good. Going where you call might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Right: Peaceful and loving God, we sit back in silence while gunshots echo through our schools, our streets, our houses of worship. We tell ourselves that violence won’t touch our lives and that there is nothing we can do to prevent innocent deaths. We offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims of violence and wait for you to fix what we have broken. Responding with Christian love might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Left: God of Creation and Covenant, we do not trust in your steadfast love. We do not trust that all your paths are steadfast love and faithfulness. We insist on having our own way. Satin does not have to chase us out into the wilderness, our own fear and foolishness will have us worshiping at the Tempter’s feet more often than we want to admit. Listening to you, believing we are Beloved, might mean we have to change.

All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Right: Merciful and patient God, we have failed to listen to you. We have let fear take hold of our lives more often than not. We have listened to those who would tell us that your love and your covenant with all Creation has limits. We have dismissed the needs of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. We have denied the power of white supremacy and racism. We have turned away those who are hungry or homeless. We have devalued LGBTQ+ people. We have mistreated people with disabilities. We have ignored people with mental health challenges. We have not served our neighbors nor loved them as we love ourselves. Opening our lives to you might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

One: God of the mountain tops and ocean depths, we need you as we make this journey to Jerusalem. We are powerless over the gods of our making. We are easily fooled into believing that human ways are better than holy ways. We do not want to give in to all that tempts us. We yearn to trust you and believe that your love for us has no limits of quantity, quality or duration. We as that you would meet us once again as we endeavor to confront the Tempter and try again to live into your great love for us. We know we need you. Give us the courage to seek you in wilderness places in our lives. Teach us to know your ways even as…
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake. Amen.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

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T-Fig: Terror, Tabernacle, & Travel On


The trudge up the mountain can be exhausting. After feeding four thousand people, witnessing Jesus open the eyes of a blind man, a startling recognition of Jesus as Messiah, and some teachings about what it means to be a disciple, climbing a high mountain seems daunting. Peter, James, and John must have wondered what Jesus was thinking as they followed him up the mountain.

Quite honestly, I often wonder what Jesus is thinking as I follow him, up mountains and back down again. As I look at my calendar for the next few days, there is, quite literally, not enough time. Yet, somehow, come Monday morning, I will have done all the things needed. Right now, though, it looks like a huge mountain, one that I’m not sure I can climb. After a week of meetings, emails, conference calls, deadlines, grief counseling, hospital visits, and all the usual business of being church, getting ready for what lies at the top of the mountain (and what awaits in the valley below) feels just a little overwhelming.

Whatever Peter, James, and John were expecting as they followed Jesus upward, Transfiguration was not it. Imagine the shock of Jesus all dazzlingly shiny chatting with Elijah and Moses. Who wouldn’t be terrified? It’s the proper reaction to seeing that your teacher is next in line to the great prophets of old and is filled with the power of God in a never-seen-before kind of way. Who wouldn’t be stunned into silence, grasping for words, for breath?

Peter interrupts his hyperventilating to suggest that they build three tabernacles and hang out for a while. This idea has quite a long history. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, folks build tabernacles in places where they have encountered the Holy. Surely, that would be an appropriate thing to do when Jesus reveals his true nature to a few trusted disciples. Right?

Nope. Not it. Guess again, Peter. You can’t stay in this terrifying, holy space. Now that you know who Jesus is and the power that he carries within himself, you have to go back down off the mountain, immediately. There’s no time to spend building dwelling places for a God who is not interested in hanging out with the high and mighty. It’s traveling on back down to the everyday places with the meek and lowly that Jesus is after. Bring the dazzling power with you and share it with all in need.

It’s a great story! One of my favorites, really. It touches a yearning within me to see God’s power so dazzlingly displayed. On the other hand, I’m content not to experience the terrifying Transfiguration so directly. I wouldn’t need to build a tabernacle to protect and prolong the holy encounter because I would be unconscious. I might even need CPR. What could stop a heart beating if not immediate, divine, dazzling revelation? I’m okay without the special effects, mostly. Though I would like to catch a brief glimpse maybe like Moses did, just seeing the back side of God…

So here we are. At the foot of the mountain where God’s glory will be revealed once again. We’ll want to linger here where we can celebrate radiant holiness in Jesus, in us as the Body of Christ. We might be tempted to build those tabernacles after all, because we know Wednesday is coming and we will be reminded of our fragile humanity. It would be so nice to linger on the mountain top, especially considering all that happened before and during the climb.

We can’t stay, though, no matter how tiring the journey. Jesus didn’t linger in the dazzling moments. He took a breath and went back down into the valley with villages full of needy, broken, lost folks, folks who need a bit of the brightness from the heights to provide hope in the depths. With the journey into the wilderness of dusty, drowsy humanity waiting for us on the other side of the mountain, let’s take a few minutes to brave the terrifying Transfiguration. Let’s soak up some of the power and light on display. Jesus wasn’t Transfigured for his sake; he undoubtedly knew who he was. He was transfigured for our sake, to remind us of the glory and power we carry into the world as we follow him.

May the terror of the Transfiguration awaken us to the wonder, glory, and promise that we carry within us as we travel on into the deep needs present in our communities and in the world. May the dazzle of the moment shine through us as we seek to be the Church, the Body of Christ, bringing hope and healing wherever we go. There’s no time for tabernacling in the aftermath of radiant holiness; there’s only time for touching others with the sparkling power of the Holy Spirit awakening holiness in all whom we meet.

RCL – Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

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Something About Those Wings Like Eagles

Nature is a funny thing. We tend to observe its beauty and attribute it to the Creator. We experience God more readily in the woods, the mountains, at the beach, watching the sunrise, or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. We’ve all had that overwhelming sense of awe when confronted with the beauty and wonder of the natural world. What happens to that surety of God’s presence and power when nature is not passively beautiful?

water-3119563_640When I was a child, I thought that God was the ocean. I suppose only a child growing up in a coastal area could come up with this, but I believed this for quite a long time. Everything I heard about God, matched what I knew about the ocean. God is always present, so is the ocean. God sustains life, so does the ocean. God is both known and a mystery, as is the ocean. God’s power is limitless and uncontrollable, so, too, the ocean. God is both beautiful and terrifying, just like the ocean. My childish reasons made sense. As I grew older, I was reluctant to let go of my understanding of God as the ocean. This image of God as ocean remains a powerful metaphor for me, and the beach is still my primary sacred space. There is no place I’d rather be when a storm rolls in.

To watch a nor’easter or hurricane roll in off the ocean is to be reminded of humanity’s finitude. Waves leap up with a terrifying grace and swallow all the humanmade boundaries – breakwaters, beach walls, and parking lot demarcations – with an insatiable hunger. When water spouts dance on the horizon, creating swirling funnels of water and wind, it’s impossible to think that human beings are the most dominant force in creation. If any of those spouts make it to the shore, devastation and destruction will be the monument to its fleeting presence. And in this time of superstorms, none of us need to be reminded of a hurricane’s power to destroy all that human beings have created.

It’s easy to see God’s power in the beauty, but what of those times when creation rises up to demonstrate her refusal to be tamed and displays her capacity to wreak havoc? Do we see the God’s power in the less passive aspects of nature? Perhaps we should, then we would not be so arrogant in our use (abuse) of the planet. We like to think of the softer, more beautiful side of God. We like to think of God’s love as a tender affirmation of our being, a gentle reminder of our true parentage. However, God’s love is not always gentle nor is it predictable or passive.flash-845848_640.jpg

Many years ago I worked a summer camp in Wisconsin. Living in the woods that summer was the first time I’d experienced God’s wonder and majesty away from the ocean. I was fascinated by the strange birds and creatures I encountered in those woods. It rained often that summer and I failed to take those mild storms seriously until one of them knocked me on my butt. I was enjoying my free time away from main camp when a rain suddenly started. I turned back toward main camp with every intension of enjoying a leisurely walk back to my tent. But the clouds darkened and the rain fell heavier and then the thunder and lightning began. I quickened my pace a little, but let my poet’s eyes wander around the path dreaming up lines to capture the imagery of the wet woods. Then it happened. A tree with a trunk nearly two feet in diameter was split by lightning. Before I knew what was happening, I was thrown back several feet to land on my backside, staring at the smoking tree with my hair standing on end. I bolted. I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life. I’d just seen a raw power unleashed and came with in a few feet of being toast. I’ve had a healthier respect for lightning since that day.

To be clear, I am not saying that God causes any of these storms. I’m also not saying that nature is God. However, if we can see the beauty and wonder of God in the natural world, ought we not to be seeing the fierceness, the wildness, and the unfathomableness of God in the storms and the unexpected intensity nature can throw at us? The many aspects of the natural world can be an excellent reminder of the many aspects of God. We don’t get to choose just the sweet, quiet moments of affirmation and say that there is nothing else in the world or in God’s love. We must also accept the powerful, chaotic moments that point toward our finitude and the mystery that lurks in nature and in the fullness of the Creator.

bald-eagle-1606699_1280.jpgThe power that can raise us up on eagle’s wings, cast out our demons, heal our brokenness, can also bring us to our knees, humble our arrogance, and reveal our fragility. Yes, there is beauty in the world that points toward its Creator. However, there is also untamable, unpredictable power that does the same. Nature is not ours to control. Harness her energy, learn from her mysteries, watch over her with careful, intentional stewardship for sure, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we rule over all that is. God is not ours to control, either. We are meant to live in the love of God, strengthened by God’s mysteries and presence, sharing in the abundance of life that God offers, but we are never to fool ourselves into believing that we have tamed the Holy One.

Maybe if we are paying attention to what the natural world is telling us with all of the superstorms, wildfires, earthquakes, famines, and more, we’d all find ourselves knocked back on off our feet with our hair standing on end, recognizing that we are not as powerful as we thought. So, too, with God. Isn’t it time that we remember that the God we worship is not a warm fuzzy character from a children’s book, but the mysterious power that created all that is and claims us as beloved in spite of our foolish, self-absorbed ways?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Top Photo: CC0 image by Andrew Songhurst

Middle Photo: CC0 image by Jonny Linder

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Brigitte Werner

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