A Poem for Pentecost


She Speaks a Language Not Our Own

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
we pray over and over again
expecting an answer
suitable for our sanctuaries
and comfortable for our souls
forgetting that she’s the one
who set holy heads afire
and blew away notions of
what ought to be

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
we pray once again
asking for blessings and affirmations
of our way of being and doing and believing
as we maintain our illusion of control
over the flow of God’s grace into the world
trusting our ways are holy ways
and the only right ways at that
all the while forgetting she’s the one
who blows where she wills

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
we pray yet again
expecting comfort and consolation
in our complicit pews
never minding the discomfort of our neighbors
or the cries arising in the night
forgetful of the days when
she hovered over creations waters
and called the world into being
more than what we know

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
we speak the words
seldom hearing their power
scarcely ever being still
long enough to see her
hear her feel her
remember her
as one who speaks a language
not our own

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
set our holy heads on fire
free us from foolish expectations
of rightness and rules
shatter our shallow beliefs
unfetter sacred visions of community
tied together in love and service
break open our fearful hearts
open our hands to receive the heartbroken
and the devastated ones in need of sanctuary
shake our sleeping souls
awaken us to your power
your presence
your holy ways

Come, Holy Spirit, Come
with wind
with fire
with whatever it takes
to teach us that new song
in a language not our own

RCL – Year A – Pentecost – June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:34-39

Photo: CC0 image by Holger Schue

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Now is a Good Time to Move


“You can’t stay here!” said the angels to the disciples as they stared up into the sky. “You can’t stay here and wait for Jesus. You have work to do after you receive the Spirit.” The disciples did not want to hear this as they stared in awe, amazement, wonder, and fear at the place in the sky where they had last seen the Risen Christ. I do not doubt for a second that Peter was ready to build an altar, pitch a tent, and wait for Jesus to come back. He had a pretty good track record of wanting to do such things. Who could blame him for such desires?

Imagine being in Peter’s place. Filled with a sense of the Holy, knowing something sacred just happened, why not hunker down and worship until the Holy shows up again? After the Transfiguration, Jesus was very clear that staying on the mountain top wasn’t a good idea because there was so much to be done in other places with other people. So, too, after Mary discovers the empty tomb, she is told that Jesus was not there and she should look for him among the living. She quite likely wanted to sit down and wait until Jesus showed up again or until someone could explain what happened. Why would Ascension be any different?

The angels didn’t have to wait to hear the disciples’ thoughts. They knew. They knew the very human desire to hunker down, hold on, and wait for God to show up again. That just isn’t the way it works. Why haven’t we figured this out?

We can say that the Gospels tell us how to be disciples. They tell the stories of Jesus’ teachings and interactions with the world and make clear that we, as followers, are to love one another. We are to love with a love so fierce that it leads to a kind of holy oneness. As a consequence, there’s no stopping and staying in the holy moments, the holy places. We are to fuel up for the journey ahead because there is work to be done with other people in other places. This is how it is with faith.

Now if we can take the leap and say that The Book of Acts is a continuation of the story that is more about being church than being individual disciples, we would do well to pay heed to the message. There is no hunkering down. There is no staying in one place. There is no staring up into the sky while waiting for Jesus to show up. Best get going because once the Spirit shows up there’s going to be a ton of work to be done.

Church, we haven’t done a very good job of paying attention to the angels who have told us, “You can’t stay here.” We’ve done a really good job of hunkering down. We’ve created rituals, traditions, polity, and buildings all in the name of worshiping God. This isn’t bad in and of itself. However, we’ve forgotten about the journey that will lead to other people in other places that need us to be church, to be Christ in the broken, wounded, suffering places. We have become far too comfortable sitting in our pews, saying our prayers, and waiting for God to change the world.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples heard what the angels had to stay. They heard the “you can’t stay here” and returned to their upper room. They didn’t return there to continue to wait for Jesus to show up and fix everything. They joined with the wider community and they prayed and listened and prepared (as much as anyone can) for the Holy Spirit to blow through their lives and set their heads on fire. Then they were on the move.

When will we as church move? When will we let go of all that does not bring the realm of God into being? When will we hear the angels saying, “You can’t stay here?” Shouldn’t we be spending time in prayer, in listening, and in preparation for the Holy Spirit to show up? I hope she shows up soon. There’s a lot of outdated, useless debris that needs to be blown out of church as we know it. And there’s more than a few heads that need some holy flames to clear away the long-accumulated clutter.

It’s clear that we can’t stay here. We can’t sit comfortably in our pews with our familiar rituals and traditions while the world around us continues to break open and bleed all over our streets. We cannot remain comfortably silent while racism runs rampant and too many people actively cling to the ignorant dangers of white supremacy. We cannot whisper our prayers and wait for God to show up while hatred, bigotry, homophobia, ableism, sexism and transphobia are written into law. We cannot continue doing what we’ve “always done” while the government gives permission to keep those who are poor, hungry, homeless, or sick invisible to the wealthy and powerful. We cannot stare up into the sky at what used to be while gunshots echo through our streets and war ravishes the homelands of our neighbors. Church, we cannot stay here.

In these last days of Eastertide, let us spend time in prayer, in listening, and in preparing for the Holy Spirit. It is time for us to move. It is time for us to leave behind the holy moments and places of yesterday. We cannot keep silent and wait for God to fix what we’ve had a part in breaking. It is time for us to come down off the mountaintop we’ve been camped out on and be church, be Christ for one another, for our neighbors, for all whom we meet. If ever there were a time when the world needed to experience a Love so fierce as to create holy oneness, that time is now. Let’s get ready to move because we really cannot stay here.

For other thoughts on this week’s readings and sermon help try here.

RCL Year A – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 28, 2017
Acts 1:6-14
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Photo: CC0 image by Hermann Traub

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A God Still Unknown


The summer before I entered ninth grade I went to a youth group meeting at a friend’s church. During that meeting, they all seemed to be very concerned about whether or not I knew Jesus. I thought I did. I thought I was a Christian, at least I did until they started talking about their experiences. The leaders and some of the older members shared their conversion stories and wanted to know if I believed that Jesus is “Lord and Savior” and if I had a “personal relationship” with him. This was all new to me. I didn’t know what to think or say. No one at the church I attended seemed concerned with my salvation. I was baffled by these strangers who were very worried about my soul. They told me I was not a Christian and that they would pray for my salvation.

Even though I never went back to that youth group, I thought about all the things they talked about and wondered about their concerns for years. I didn’t have any profound conversion experience. My journey was more of a slow awakening to the mysteries of the Spirit at work in my life and in the world. I wasn’t sure if Jesus was my Lord and Savior but I liked the idea. And I had no concept of what a personal relationship with Jesus would look like. I mean, I prayed often enough, but it’s not like Jesus and I sat down and had a conversation. That youth group meeting left me with a lot of questions. It took me years to sort out the answers.

While my theology and understanding of who God is turned out to be very different from the church whose youth group I attended long ago, I am grateful for the questions raised that day. I started to pay more attention to the stories of Jesus, what he did and who he was. I listened more carefully to what it was Christians were supposed to do and be in the world. I didn’t want to be just religious, just going to church and youth group, I wanted more. I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to search for the “more” if I hadn’t attended that youth group meeting.

I wonder how long the Athenians would have gone on being religious without knowing God if Paul hadn’t spoken in the Areopagus that day. I wonder how long any of us will go on not knowing this God we worship. How long will we continue to be like those ancient citizens of Athens, religious in so many ways, yet somehow not knowing the God who gives us life, breath, and being?

Every time I read this passage, something in me yawns, stretches, and awakens. It’s a yearning for something more than religion, ritual and practice, something more than what I already know and believe. It’s the same thing that awoke in me during that youth group meeting the summer I was 14. It’s the same thing that pushes me to be more than I am now, to reach for all that is holy and draw it closer. I imagine the Athenians who listened to Paul that day felt something stir within them, also. What if we all let this awakening yearning for God guide us in new ways that reveal something about this God whom we think we know? What if we followed this restless desire into whole new ways of living, moving, and having our being?

Paul was undoubtedly a brilliant preacher. The echoes of his words have the power awaken sleeping souls generations later. Who does not want to know this God who claims us as offspring and desires only that we love in return? With all the chaos, violence, and hatred in the world, the truth of Paul’s words is just sharp and convicting as they were in Athens. Whenever we remain silent in the face of all the isms and phobias that drive hatred and violence in our society, we show how empty our religious ways are. We seem to think that God is something that is shaped by the “art and imagination of mortals” more often than we realize that God is so much more than we can possibly imagine.

I’m still not one to talk about my faith in terms a personal relationship with Christ or to claim that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. However, I do feel the Spirit moving, calling us and urging us to live into the abundance God offers. I also know that if there is hope for the world, repentance is needed. Once we repent of all the ways we’ve made God in our image and participated in the ugliness of the world, then, together, we reach for the Truth and embody the Love and Justice that will save and transform the world. After all, are we not the Body of Christ? If we are not Christ with and for one another, who will be? Our religious ways should in no way promote fear, ignorance, and hatred. If our religious practices and beliefs are divinely inspired, then they will bring life and love into the world. Otherwise, it’s time to leave them behind and embrace that in which “we live and move and have our being.”

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Easter – May 21, 2017
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

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Lessons from a Crime Scene


I never thought I’d be spending time at murder scenes. Yet, too often, this is where I find myself as a member of a Police Community Support Team. When there is a critical incident, team members receive a text. Just as I was preparing to sit down and write, I received such a text. There had been a shooting and a man was dead and support was needed at the scene. When I arrived, everything seemed quiet and almost normal. Yet, there was the yellow crime scene tape and the familiar faces of homicide detectives. Then a little further up on my right was the body of the man who had been shot.

As the detective escorted me across the scene and told me what they knew, I noticed the scattered groups of people. Some were standing in silence. Some had tears flowing while they talked on their phones. Others were openly weeping for the man who had just been killed. Others greeted new arrivals with hugs and smiles of welcome. I was a part of it and an observer. My heart ached for those gathered. Yet another shooting in a neighborhood with far too many. It was not the first time these folks had gathered at a murder scene and it won’t be the last.

“Royal blood flows through our streets,” was my thought as I introduced myself to the newly widowed woman and stepped into the process of getting her immediate needs met. Her husband was killed for no reason. He just happened to be in the wrong place when the bullets were fired. How could no one see his holiness, his chosenness while police collected evidence and mourners cried?

The words of 1 Peter have been echoing through my head all week while getting louder this afternoon. We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” Yet, we spill the blood of our neighbors so easily. When did it come to be that young people cannot see the value in their lives or in the life of another? When did it come to be that violence is the only solution to a problem? When did it come to be that one’s value as a human being is determined on such insubstantial things as where you live, the color of your skin, your abilities, or where you happen to be standing?

God has chosen us for something other than destruction. God has chosen us for something other than violence and death. Why do we still live as if we were still “not a people” when we are God’s people?

That relationality that Jesus proclaims in John, “no one comes to the Father except through me” was not an exclusionary statement. It was a statement of great love and welcome. Jesus and the Father are the same, yet there is a relationality that is essential to life, to faith. My favorite word in seminary was “perichoresis” and it literally means “inner dance.” This is the dance of love that moves through the Godhead. It is the dance to which we are invited. We are invited, not as observers but as participants. Join in the relationality. Claim the dynamic movement of the Spirit that unites Father and Son as your own. Follow the footsteps of this holy dance and you will know Divine Love, the kind of love a parent has for a child but so much more than even that.

It’s this Love that marks us as chosen, royal, holy, and God’s very own. It’s a gift freely given. It’s a gift that comes with a cost. Once we accept the claim God has on us, we are obligated to live accordingly. We are obligated to love our neighbors with that same kind of Love. We love to save lives, to stop the blood flowing in our streets. We love without condition or expectation of reciprocation. We love hoping it will be contagious and others will join the sacred dance and pass it on.

I don’t want to go to another homicide scene. Murder happens when fail to see our neighbors as residents in God’s holy nation or because we fail to participate in the work of justice, the work required of the royal priesthood. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life for you, then you cannot afford to sit still while the blood flows. Invite everyone you know to join you in the sacred dance because we are all members of the same royal family. As one of my colleagues frequently says, “There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.” Let’s start living as though we really believe that we are one in Christ before it is too late.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 14, 2017
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5,15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

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Hate is Not a Human Value


With the news of Jordan Edwards’ death echoing the deaths of so many others, I find myself asking where all the fear and hatred has come from. It is not hard to answer this question from a sociological perspective or a historical one. I could even make a stab at a psychological explanation. What I want to know is how hatred has infiltrated the human spirit in general and, more specifically, those who claim a religious practice.

Thirteen faiths and religious philosophies espouse a version of the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you wish done unto you. Add to this the fact that approximately 84% of people on the planet ascribe to a faith tradition, how is it that hatred and violence continue to play a significant, if not dominant, role in our society? We can explore the surface of planets lightyears from our own, but we cannot solve our differences without violence? We can cure diseases that once were a death sentence, but we justify racism that results in the death of innocents? We can have conversations with anyone, virtually anywhere on the planet (and sometimes with those in space), but we cannot come together in civility to discuss our grievances with one another?

As Christians we worship a God of justice and love. Jesus walked the earth to teach us how to love one another, to save us from ourselves, and we have yet to learn the lessons. I am baffled by how we can advance our technology, we can use science to improve the quality of life for many people, but we cannot use our faith traditions to learn a better way to live. Did Jesus not say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”? Hatred never leads to any kind of abundance, unless it is the abundance of violence.

A core message of Christianity is that love leads to abundance, the abundance of life. It’s easy to conclude, then that fear, hatred, violence and all their offspring, result in scarcity and death. Now I know that some of us think that if we don’t commit hateful acts or say hateful things, then we are not participating in the culture of scarcity. We tell ourselves that in avoiding expressions of violence, we are doing our part. If this passivity was ever enough, it is not now. If we do not actively live in love and mercy, then we are contributing to the violence.

The current administration, by its actions and policies, has given passive permission for hatred, racism, and xenophobia to run freely through our streets. You may think that you are safe from whatever “ism” or “phobia” directs the violence now, but can you be assured that you won’t be next, especially if you ignore what’s happening to your neighbor? If you are not a person of color, you may think you won’t be shot in the streets. If you are not a refugee, immigrant, or undocumented resident, you can believe you are safe from the xenophobia that vandalizes Mosques and threatens Jews and views you as a criminal. If you are not LGBTQ+, you may believe that you won’t be touched by hands that ridicule, maim, and kill. If you are not diagnosed with a mental illness, developmental disability, or physical disability, you may tell yourself that your needs won’t be ignored and your voice remain unheard. If you are not low-income, you can continue to tell yourself that minimum wage increases are not your concern. If you are not a woman, you can allow yourself to believe that you won’t be devalued, objectified, and harassed. If you are human, you can continue to believe that hatred and violence are someone else’s problem. Or can you?

We can do better than this. We have to do better than this. This is the season of resurrection and new life and the body count is what’s rising. Psalm 23 assures us that God is present even as we walk through the “valley of death.” What have we to fear?  Acts tells us that when the church comes together, amazing things happen and needs are met. How disappointed would Jesus be that we have yet to hear the message that fear, hatred, and violence are not meant to be the whole of human narrative? None of these are Christian values. None of these are spiritual practices found in any faith tradition. All of these are harmful to the human spirit.

What will we do this Eastertide to become the embodiment of Christ the world desperately needs?

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Photo: CC0 image by Jackie Samuels

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Emmaus Encounters


I’ve been struck by the question of how the disciples failed to recognize the Christ until after the disappearance. I’ve been turning this over in my mind all week. The result is the following poem:

Their feet were not quick that day
their hearts were heavy with
grief and anger
they carried an immeasurable
unbelievable loss from Jerusalem
to Emmaus
on a road made famous
by an encounter with a stranger
who became Christ
when bread was broken
at a table
so much like another

Words came before recognition
they heard their own history
their own story
told from a new perspective
ignited a smoldering fire
in their hearts
so smothered in grief
the flame hardly registered
until they sat
staring at the place
Christ had just filled

How light and quick were their feet
on the return trip
undertaken in a darkness
no longer dark to them
filled with confusing news
they ran to proclaim the Risen Christ
to others who were still waiting to see
for themselves the meaning of the tomb
newly made empty
when Christ walked out of death

Jesus acompanies many of us
for much longer than seven miles
revealing to us our own stories
made new with the Word
kindling fires deep within
Why do we so often fail to notice
until we encounter the space
Christ so recently filled?

If you are looking for sermon help, you may want to try here.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Eastertide – April 30, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Photo: CC0 image by Unsplash

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Blood, Sweat, and Tears

20130612_152754Grief has wrapped itself around my house this week. We’ve had to say goodbye to Lulu, our elderly cat. Lulu’s death brings waves of grief for the woman who entrusted Lulu to us, my wife’s beloved Gram. It is also the second anniversary of my mother’s death which sits heavily on my heart. And if this were not enough, some serious health issues have emerged for me. Holding all these things has proven to be quite difficult. Strangely, the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ helps.

I’m a fan of this story, anyway. I love how matter-of-fact Thomas is. He ventured out into the wider world, in spite of his fear and grief. When he returns to the other disciples, they tell him a fantastic tale of Jesus walking into the room and breathing on the them the Holy Spirit. Thomas is, of course, having none of it. He isn’t willing to believe unless he sees and touches Jesus’ wounds. It’s that simple for Thomas. And who can blame him? Would you believe a story like this if you were Thomas? Probably not…

Then a week later, Jesus returns. Locked doors mean nothing to him. He breathes words of peace and then holds up his wounds for Thomas. He even invites Thomas to touch them if that’s what Thomas needs. Apparently, seeing is enough. Thomas professes his faith then and there. And all is well in this post-resurrection story.

However, the words that mean the most to me right now, are Jesus’ invitation to Thomas. Jesus identified himself by the marks of his human frailty. We’re talking about the risen Christ who can walk through walls and locked doors. The same Christ who, just a week before, breathed out the Holy Spirit on a room full of people after walking out of a tomb. Any of these actions could have identified him. But, no. Instead he holds up his hands and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. It doesn’t get more human than this.

Pain is not weakness. Grief is not weakness. Physical limitations are not weakness. Wounds are not weakness. I wish we’d all pay more attention to this passage. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that perfection is to be prized and that we should keep other things quiet. This mindset is causing us harm. If the risen Christ identified himself by his wounds, then why do we go to such extremes to hide our own?

We are enamored with perfection in western culture. We must look perfect, act perfect, be perfect. We shy away from any displays of imperfection. Many of us still carry some notion that mental illness is a sign of weakness, a lack of willpower. Similarly, we tend to tell people with physical disabilities who are just living their lives and doing their thing that they are “such an inspiration” just because they live with limitations. We keep people who have visible limitations at a distance and we ignore many “hidden” disabilities or illnesses because they make us uncomfortable. How many people are afraid to be honest about their own struggles for fear of judgement? For fear of being seen as weak or in need?

Funny how we have done this to one another when we worship a God who conquered death but saw no reason to remove the marks of human frailty. The risen Christ was not made perfect, the marks of sin and death were clearly still visible,  reminding us of our true nature. We are fragile and finite. We can bruise, bend, and break in countless ways for reasons sometimes beyond our understanding. Many things can wound us deeply. Why deny that? Why hide it?harmony-2164363_1920

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. Most of us say these same words every week in worship. “The peace of Christ be with you.” What if, instead of viewing this as an opportunity to greet folks we haven’t seen all week, we take the “passing of the peace” as an opportunity to expose our woundedness to one another. What if we allow ourselves to breathe in that peace and know that God claims us as we are? What if we take this time in worship to revel in the fact that we, as church, are the embodiment of Christ and we are both wounded and whole? What if this moment in worship becomes about healing and hope rather than “hi” and “how’re ya”?

In my own fragile state this week, I’m grateful to Thomas for his honesty and I’m more grateful that Jesus saw fit to hold out his wounds as proof of his identity. If the Son of God, the risen Christ, can use his wounds as proof of his life, experience, and identity, shouldn’t we be doing the same thing? Here I am. Here are my wounds. Touch them if you need to. I am God’s beloved. Peace be with you.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Top Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Gerald Altmann

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