Human Ways

I’ve been contemplating these texts for a while. If you are looking for sermon help, check out what I wrote here. The more I think about the events of the last couple of weeks along with the readings for this week, the more I am convinced that God is waiting for us. God waits for us to see the places large and small that God has already broken through the darkness. God waits for us to embody Christ for and with one another. God waits for us to be agents of justice and peace. God waits for us, prodding us, stirring us, leading us. Because I can’t shake this notion, I’m sharing with you my poem about this very thing. This poem is from A Circle in the Dark:  Daily Meditations for Advent and you can find more information here.


Human Ways

You keep your covenant with day and night
and populate the earth with Your people.
The sands of the sea remain as immeasurable
as our capacity to turn from You.

Never has the world known peace
which we seem to pursue with violence
again and again
rejecting Your ways.

We blame You for destruction—
earthquake, fire, disease, tidal waves—
while we spill oil into the oceans,
strip forests of life,
poison the very air we breathe,
not to mention valuing one life over another . . .

Yet, You remain steadfast in Your love for us.
Perhaps it is You who is waiting
with quiet anticipation
of something new.

Have mercy on us for our human ways.
Forgive our resistance to responsibility
and tendency to blame.

May Your waiting not be in vain.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday of Advent – November 29, 2015
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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A Bidding Prayer for the Living of These Days

Come, let us pray for faithful people everywhere.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Loving Creator, you are the Alpha and Omega of all that is. The names we have for you are more numerous than we like to admit. The theologies we have constrchurch-59514_1920ucted cannot define or contain you. Remind us that you call people of all ages and places and reveal to them a way of love and peace. While language, tradition, and beliefs may separate us, you make no distinction among those who honor you by seeking paths of loving kindness. Replace our judgments and fears with courage to see you in the face of neighbors and strangers.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the church as it gathers here and elsewhere.
people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God who lived among us to teach us the way of peace, you yearn for us to turn to you. Your heart breaks when war and violence are perpetrated in your name. If we are to be the Body of Christ here and now, then we must offer hospitality and sanctuary to all who seek it – especially when asylum seekers speak a different language, call you by another name, or look different than we do. Remind us of the ways in which you spoke truth to power and set people free. Strengthen and encourage us to speak that same truth until justice is available to all.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all people, especially our enemies.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Ruler of all, robed in majesty, Holy One, we cannot imagine that you love everyone with the same unconditional, unearned love. We like to pretend that our way is the only way that honors you and that you love us best. Yet, if we are truthful, then we know that you love those who hurt us including the people of ISIS and Boko Haram and their hateful, violent acts hurt you as well. Yet, your love goes on forever. We are to live in this steadfast love. Give us the courage to lift our enemies before you and respond to hatred with your love and reminding ourselves that hateful, violent actions do not come from you.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for this nation that is home to so many peoples.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Gracious God who is, who was, and who is to come, you have blessed us with an abundance and desire for us to share with those in need. We’d like to beliewelcome-976277_1920ve that our country is your favorite, yet we know that your love knows no bounds. We’d also like to believe that the troubles of other countries are not ours. You call us to bear one another’s burdens and to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Set us free from the fear that binds us to brokenness. Speak your truth to those in power and empower those who hide in shadows to join together in the work for justice and peace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the marginalized, the overlooked, the dismissed, and the forgotten people all around us.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Indwelling, ever-present God, you would make your home in us. All of us are created in your image and you would make each of us a temple of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can change that – not homelessness, mental illness, disabilities, economics, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other category we have created that enables us to devalue another human being. You tell us to love our neighbors and ourselves without qualifiers. May the day soon arrive when we can see you in whom we meet.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all who are grieving.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Eternal God of both the living and the dead, we turn to you for comfort and hope. Grief has touched us all this week. We feel the pain of Lebanon, France, Iraq, and Nigeria and of those much closer to home who have lost loved ones to violence and suicide. Remind us that the way of violence is not your way, that you came to show us how to live in love and peace. Even now, as we reach for that peace that passes all human understanding, we ask for your forgiveness, your healing, and your grace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us give thanks to God.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Patient and generous God, our words fail to express the gratitude we offer. Even in times of sin, darkness, and despair you continue to love us and wait so patiently for us to return to the light of your love. Your truth calls to us over and over again. May the gratitude we feel in this moment open us even more to the power of your Holy Spirit to transform us that we may transform the world in love to bring about your peace.
In Christ’s holy name we pray.


RCL – Year B – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 22, 2015
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18]
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

All images from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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The Simple Complexity of Prayer

baby-499976_1920Okay. I’ll say it. I have some trouble with these kinds of scripture passages. It’s hard to know what to make of the stories where the impossible is prayed for and God responds favorably. Hannah was barren. She promised to give God her child if God would grant her one. Shortly thereafter, Hannah conceives Samuel. It’s hard. As one who is childless it’s even harder. All those prayers that filled my heart and mind for so long… What made Hannah so deserving?

I can’t help but think that there is something else happening in this story. Maybe it’s more about Samuel than about Hannah. But the nagging question is still there. You know the one – “What must I do to get God to answer my prayers like that?” It’s a question that many of us have in one form or another. Prayer is tricky business and Bible passages like this one are distracting if not downright deceiving.

Looking back on my life, I can see where prayers were answered and I didn’t notice. Sometimes the answer wasn’t clear for years and sometimes it was right there, possibly before the prayer formed on my lips. But there were some big ones, like having a child, that went unanswered. Sure, I made choices along the way that hindered the process, but God is bigger than that, right? Just ask Hannah.

I used to believe that I was not good enough, that I did not deserve to have God answer my prayers. During those years I also believed that my faith was inadequate as well. Who wouldn’t? Women like Hannah and Sarah and Elizabeth had their prayers for children answered. So if mine remained unanswered the fault had to be with me, not with God. Fortunately, I didn’t get stuck in this self-blaming space forever.

Prayer in and of itself is easy enough. There’s no wrong way or wrong time to do it. It’s merely a conversation with God. Most of us don’t spend enough time listening to God, but that doesn’t make our prayers insufficient or unworthy of a response. So why are some prayers answered and some not?

I don’t know. I can rationalize an answer pretty well, though. I can say that God has an inordinate number of prayers that need attention and some get missed or delayed. I can also say that we put a lot of stuff between ourselves and God that make the responses hard to perceive sometimes. I can also suggest that the Bible stories that have direct answer to prayers are a distillation of events and offered from the writers’ perspectives. These sound good on the surface, but, ultimately, I have to return to the simple fact that I do not know.

On the other hand, I do know that God answers prayers. While I do not have children of my own, I’ve been blessed in many ways. It is too late for me to give birth, however, God could have something in mind for me that I am completely unaware of in terms of children in my life. A saying attributed to St. Augustine, “If your desire is without ceasing, then the prayer is without ceasing,” gives me hope. There are multiple ways for prayers to be answered and hindsight is often the only way to see how and when they’ve been answered.

God is more mystery than we want to acknowledge. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for things we want and need. I don’t recommend the bargaining kind of prayer, but God hears the need no matter what words we use. Even though I remain childless, I believe fully that God hears our prayers and responds to our needs. Things get in the way of what God would want for us all the time. This doesn’t mean that God is not responding. It just means we might have to look harder or wait longer or be willing to accept a very creative answer.

Hannah received the child she asked for according to the story in 1 Samuel. She is a model of earnest prayer for sure, but there were other reasons for telling this story that had little to do with Hannah. Had she written an account of her desire for a child, it might look a lot different. If your prayers seem to be going unanswered, don’t blame yourself or think that God does not care. Take a breath, listen to the silence, and then look to see where your life has been touched by Mystery. You’ll likely find your answer there. If not, there’s still time. Who knows what blessings God has in store…20131019_150318

RCL – Year B – Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost – November 15, 2015
1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Top photo from Pixabay. Used by permission.
Bottom photo is my own.

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A Poem about the Widow’s Mite

Here’s a poem from my book, Negotiating the ShadowsIt’s based on the Mark text for this week.

A Widow’s Wisdom

a simple offering
outweighed all others

two copper coins

almost without valuebusiness-72174
took on significance

she gave to You
all she had

with intent
others offered bits

pieces of notable

thinking they honor You
and themselves

giving what they will not miss
in abundance

they missed

the widow’s gift
lies unseen today

many cling to little
in hopes of more

or less
fear of losing

everything of importance
but gaining nothing of value

Your words were simple
directed at your followers

then and now
witnesses to You

two worthless coins
mean everything

when there is nothing else
to give

true life requires giving
to You

in abundance
without fear of emptiness

with trust and gratitude
for You offer


where two small coins
have value

canoe_01and one poor woman
has purpose

and wisdom

any and all who see her
as You did

giving every little bit
for the possibility

You hold out
to any and all

who give You
two copper coins

(or everything we have
and everything we are)

RCL – Year B – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2015
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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An All Saints Day Reflection

I’m taking a little break from the events of the world this week. There’s plenty going on and lots of preachers and bloggers who will be exploring how we show our love of God, self, and neighbor in a world filled with chaos. Instead, I’m going to focus on the reading from Ruth, All Saints Day, grief, and the anniversary of my ordination, not necessarily in that order. (If you are looking for sermon help or my thoughts on a variety of lectionary texts, try here.)


The words Ruth spoke to Naomi are chasing around in my head, “…Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” Ruth offered Naomi unconditional love, a promise to remain family even though she did not have to. There’s strength and beauty here that I wish permeated more of our relationships with one another. There is also a sacredness in the possibility that says we can choose family where our own might be inadequate or nonexistent.

I grew up in a church that did not observe All Saints Day at all. Later, I encountered congregations in which All Saints was a time to remember the members who had died in the previous year and this is fine. However, All Saints Day feels more personal for me because it is the day on which I was ordained. Each year on November 1, I spend some time taking stock of my ministry – where I have been, where I am, and where I might feel called to go – and I think of all the many lives who have touched and shaped mine.

As I reflect, this year feels quite a bit different from other years. Part of this is because I’ve moved to Minnesota which is quite a ways from all the places I have lived before. When we were talking about the possibility of relocating, my wife echoed Ruth’s words, “Where you go, I will go…” And I’m grateful. Following God’s call is challenging enough without a reluctant spouse.

Another significant reason that this year feels different is that my mother has died. She wasn’t exactly supportive of my call to ministry so it is not her support and influence that I miss. I’ve had to let go of the idea that she would someday come to a service and see that I was born for ministry. Somehow, though, in trying to prove to my mother that ministry is the right call for me, I’ve managed to prove it to myself. When I was called to my first church, I was convinced that they had made a mistake in choosing me over the other 26 candidates that they considered. My mother agreed with me. In spite of my mother’s lack of support and understanding, I can honestly say, I no longer have doubts about my call to ministry…

Of course, the other big difference is that I am serving a congregation as the full-time settled pastor for the first time since coming out in 1998. There is a powerful affirmation here that is long over-due. I’m just grateful that the church and the world are changing so that neither being a woman nor being bi-sexual is a reason to exclude a person from pastoral ministry. I hear the essence of Ruth’s words in the church’s growth toward inclusivity. “Where you go…”

There’s a lot tied up in the twenty-third anniversary of my ordination. I feel like I am surrounded by all those who have journeyed with me. Those from the church of my childhood who welcomed me and taught me the true power of being church… Teachers who encouraged me to develop and use my talents… Professors who challenged me to think beyond the words on any given page… Friends who stood by me, particularly in the wilderness times… Parishioners who embodied Christian faith simply and fully… Therapists who helped me discover my own strength… Colleagues who share the costs and joys of discipleship… The countless who invited me to accompany them in their most difficult times… The list is endless… All the ways in which my life has been shaped by those who embodied Ruth’s words to Naomi are beyond my knowing. I’ve been given home, family, faith and so much more. I could not be more grateful to God for the whole of the journey!

I hope that you, too, are blessed with home, family, faith and more as you remember and give thanks for all the saints who have touched and shaped your life.

RCL – Year B – All Saints Day – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 1, 2015
Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

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Bartimaeus, Black Lives Matter, and Blindness


May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

I don’t know about you, but I am appalled by the news of churches burning in St. Louis. Six black churches in a week and mainstream media has barely picked up the story! Why is it that when an oppressed people cries for justice the response is often more violence? I thought that the murders that took place at Mother Emanuel last spring were as bad as it would get; I was wrong. The fact that police officers around the country are still murdering people of color and getting away with it is worse. The fact that churches are burning and no one is paying attention is worse. The fact that I live in a city that has had eight fatal shootings in the last week is worse. These things are horrifying because the cry for justice has been met with an increase in the on-going violence.

Of course, this isn’t new human behavior. Look at the story of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had apparently lost his sight previous to our encounter with him. As a blind man he had heard of Jesus and his ability to heal. So when Jesus is traveling near, Bartimaeus shouts from the crowd, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd is none too thrilled. They try to silence him because he is both unclean and making a political statement even as he asks for mercy. It’s a risky thing to declare Jesus as the true king in a public place where tensions are already running high. Bartimaeus doesn’t want to be silenced; he wants mercy.

What follows is rather remarkable. Jesus ignores the crowds and calls Bartimaeus to him. He makes no assumptions about what Bartimaeus might want, but asks him directly. Bartimaeus is clear what mercy is for him; he wants his sight restored. Jesus restores Bartimaeus vision and tells him to go on his way. Bartimaeus doesn’t leave. Instead, he becomes a follower.

The church could learn a lesson or two from this brief encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus. Jesus did not ignore the cry for mercy even though it carried political risk. In fact, I suspect that Jesus responded as he did because it was politically risky. Jesus was demonstrating to the crowd that they had a choice about authority and who handed out justice. He also clearly demonstrated that offering mercy is an effective way to gather people in.

Churches tend to complain about losing numbers. Yet, we also tend to be pretty good at ignoring and shushing calls for mercy and justice. It is politically safer to stay quietly aligned with tradition than it is to ask that those crying out for justice come to us and answer what it is that we might do for them. In other words, why do we sit back and watch the violence caused by the systemic racism in this country instead of asking what is needed from us? Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus didn’t define what mercy or justice looked like for Bartimaeus. So we as the church, the Body of Christ, should not be defining justice and mercy for those who are crying out for them; we should be listening carefully to what is already being asked of us. Why are we not listening to groups like Black Lives Matter and responding to the cries for justice with mercy rather than the violence aimed at silencing them? And what might happen in our churches if we started listening better and responding accordingly?

Perhaps it is time that the church ask for Jesus, son of David, to have mercy on us and restore our sight…


There have been enough seeds sown with tears. Isn’t it time for reaping with shouts of joy? What better way to honor Reformation Sunday than to take the risk of responding to cries for justice with more than silence that permits violence…

RCL – Year B – Reformation Sunday – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 25, 2015
Job 42:1-6, 10-17                                                         Photos from Pixabay. Used by permission.
Psalm 34:1-8 [19-22]
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

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Beautiful Feet

2015-07-04 20.27.42

Many years ago while I was serving my first church as associate pastor, I horrified two elderly women one afternoon. It was a late summer or early fall day and I happened to be the only one in the office when these ladies stopped by. I went to open the door and they noticed my bare feet. My shoes were tucked under my desk where they were most of the time I was in the office. I hadn’t given a thought to slipping them on before I answered the door. These women took one look at my feet and expressed their disapproval. It apparently was not appropriate for a pastor to be barefoot in the church.

So, without hesitating I said, “Oh, I think you might be wrong about that.” They looked at me with raised eyebrows waiting to see what I was going to say. They had previously expressed concerns about a having a woman who was “so young” and now here I was telling them they were wrong. “It’s biblical to be barefoot in church, you see…” They didn’t think so. “God told Moses to take of his shoes for he was standing on holy ground. Aren’t we standing on holy ground?”

They gave me an odd look but said no more. The next Sunday as I was walking down the aisle during the closing hymn, I saw these women in their back pew seats grinning at me. I looked down at their feet and, yes, they were barefoot. And my relationship with them was much improved from that moment on.

I think of these women whenever I read the passage about Moses and his bare feet or the passage in Isaiah that describes the “beautiful feet” of the one “who brings good news.” That day was a turning point in my ministry at that church so it made those old, travel-worn feet beautiful. However, I don’t usually find feet beautiful and I’m not sure that we think every messenger who announces peace, good news, or salvation is very attractive at all. If James and John are any indication, we miss the announcement and don’t even recognize the messenger or the message, let alone his or her feet.

They were focused on glory. Something, and I don’t know what exactly, gave them the idea that Jesus would live on in amazing glory. They wanted to be close to him, to share his glory more fully than any others. They missed the announcement of peace, good news, and salvation. They were heading right for the fun part. Skip the trial and suffering and let’s just go to that brilliant power they’d seen at the moment of transfiguration. Never mind all that stuff Jesus was saying about leaving family, selling everything, radically changing their lives. Let’s just grab hold of the glory because that’s the good part.

Jesus was having none of that. Will you drink from my cup? Will you share in my baptism? I can only imagine the genuine look of confusion on the faces of James and John. I can see it on my own face often enough. No. No, I don’t want to drink from that cup that offers liberation, healing, grace, salvation and so much more to everyone. I’d rather just focus on my own two feet, thank you very much. And no, I don’t want to share in that baptism that cracks open the skies and demands  the receiving and giving of limitless, steadfast love in exchange. No, thank you very much. You keep the hard stuff and hand me the glory, okay?

That’s not the way it works, though. We are called to be a servant people in service to the whole of creation. It isn’t about who sits closest to Jesus in heaven or who gets to the pearly gates with clean feet. It’s about offering the cup that overflows with mercy and grace to those who are so very thirsty. You know the ones. They are the refugees, the undocumented workers, those who are mentally ill, those who can’t afford healthy food, those who can’t access health care, those experiencing homelessness, and all the others who challenge our comfortable, complacent lives. It’s also about living in that baptism of the Holy Spirit that enables us to embody love for all of God’s beloved.

Simply announcing peace, good news, and salvation are not enough. Our feet must become tired, sore, and a little bruised with the living out of the message. We’re supposed to show up and be in solidarity with those who suffer and are pushed to the margins. Beautiful feet are not the pretty, neatly manicured ones. Beautiful feet are the old, travel warn feet that tell a story of a life lived stumbling along the way of peace while trying to bring good news and salvation to those in the most need.

Glory is easy enough, but it is really insufficient for the journey and it doesn’t serve anyone. Isn’t it time we stop thinking about ourselves and start serving those most in need? Your feet won’t have to take you far to find someone in need of a sip from that cup or a touch of that baptism. And, by the way, in case you forget like I so often do, those feet tucked neatly in your shoes or barefoot under your desk, those feet are Christ’s feet; may we use them well.

RCL – Year B – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 18, 2015
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

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