No Turning Back


Following Jesus, true discipleship, is not for the feint of heart. Jesus is not of a fan of the familiar, routine, or status quo. Jesus likes to challenge assumptions, rouse the rabble, and provoke the powerful with truth. Once you put your hand on this particular plough, there is no turning back. It just isn’t possible because Jesus is unconcerned with what the past holds and far more interested in liberating people from oppression right now.

In the last four weeks I’ve been in four different cities and three different states. I’ve spoken at two different suicide prevention conferences, participated in a workshop at the United Church of Christ General Synod, and attended the Minnesota Conference UCC Annual Meeting. I’ve been in four states (MN, NH, MA, and WI) and met up with friends I haven’t seen in decades, and friends I haven’t seen for a few weeks or months. Waves of nostalgia wash over me as I drive through the mountains and walk on the beach. I’m overwhelmed with a longing for what used to be when I encounter friends I haven’t seen since seminary (more than 25 years). This last month has given me plenty of prompts to think about the course of my life and the unexpected twists and turns of my ministry.

June began with a trip to Western Massachusetts where I spoke at a conference. I met up with a high school friend and talking with her took me right back to the days when we were inseparable. We talked about the weirdness of aging where the body feels the years, but the mind and spirit have no concept that time passes; we could easily have been out on a night when we would have to go to school in the morning (except for the multitude of years between then and now).

This experience was followed by the MN UCC Annual Meeting. While I have made friends in MN, I was momentarily consumed by a longing for folks I’ve known a whole lot longer in other states. In those moments, I would have turned back the clock to years gone by without hesitation. At least I would have until I realized what I would not have in my life if I turned back the years. No time machine for me.

Then I went to General Synod and stood at the intersection between now and yesterday. I was there on behalf of the UCC Mental Health Network doing good work. Then I encountered people from across my years in ministry. The longing for what was threatened to overwhelm me once more. Those close friendships from seminary that nothing else quite replicates… those conversations in the dining hall… the hopes and dreams for serving the church… Oh, to begin again! No, not really.

Today, I stood at the ocean’s edge after speaking at another suicide prevention conference in New Hampshire. Nothing renews my spirit quite like the song of the sea and the feel of the sand on my bare feet. As I watched the tide (and the fog) roll in, I reflected on my ministry and where following Jesus had taken me. Never in the proverbial million years would I have ever guessed where Jesus would lead me. Once I figured out that I was called to ministry in the church and not in academia, I thought I had some idea of what that would be. Nope! Not even close.

The church I had prepared to serve no longer exists, and probably didn’t really exist even as I entered ministry. I had visions of youth group mission trips and adult spiritual formation retreats, with some preaching and Bible study in between. The intersection of mental health and faith, let alone suicide prevention, wasn’t in my wildest imaginings. The fact that I speak openly about my early struggles with mental health, being bi-sexual, wrestling with an archaic theology, and telling my story of suicidality and suicidal behavior, is not what I had envisioned. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

65116850_10157392583029375_1975425480005779456_oIn those moments when I think I would, when I think about going back when I kept all these things secret, it’s like watching the fog roll in on the beach. While the illusion of solitude is good, the temperature drop is a little chilling. Sure, I can tell myself that life was somewhat easier “back in the day,” it’s a lie that takes my attention away from the challenges of today. If I am distracted by the church of yesterday, I can miss the joys of today. If I think the past holds the answers, liberation of any kind may prove impossible.

Following Jesus has taken me all over the U.S. My journey of discipleship has made me go places I wouldn’t have the courage to go on my own. While the beach sings to my soul like no place else, I’ve also been restored by songs of the mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the desert, and the prairies. Without my hand on the plough I would never have come out as bisexual and wouldn’t have given a thought to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. I wouldn’t have marched with Black Lives Matter or protested with Latinx folx, or carried signs protesting the current administrations policies on refugees, or shared the journey with those struggling with symptoms of mental illness, or a thousand other things. Once I put my hand on the plough, I committed to leaving behind the shy, fearful days of my youth to become one who shows up and bears witness and tries to lend my voice to those who often go unheard.

It’s been a weird and wonderful journey. But looking back with yearning for what was takes me off-track. Jesus wants us to carry the lessons of where we have been not so we can recreate the past, but so that we can build the Realm of God here and now with the wisdom and compassion we’ve gathered on the way. And lest we forget, the plough creates the best furrows when many hands are on it. We do not and cannot follow Jesus, be healthy disciples, if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are alone. There’s Paul’s great cloud of witnesses and there is also the folx who are with us, hands next to ours making sure we plough a continuous row.

May we all stop looking back with yearning and celebrate all those whose hands guide the plough with courage and strength, wisdom and compassion.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Musings Sermon Starter

What are You Doing Here?


What are you doing here? Are you running away? Are you exhausted? Are you without hope? Are you looking for God, hoping God will show up and fix all that is broken? Will you eat the bread that is offered? Will you withstand the truth of where God is? Will you get up and go out to the wilderness to continue working to bring Divine Love into the world?

I feel for Elijah, I really do. He’s worn out by the resistance to God’s ways he continuously encounters. He would gladly go to sleep and not wake up to face another day of threats to his life. He has fled, seeking rest for his weariness. Maybe he’s even hoping that God will tell him he doesn’t have to be a prophet anymore. Instead, he’s offered food and told to move on to a place where he will wait for God to show up.

There’s the wind, but God was not in the wind. There’s an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. There’s fire, but God is not in the fire. Then there’s the sound of sheer silence that compels Elijah to come out of the cave and answer the question again: What are you doing here? He recounts his failures – covenant broken, altars torn down, and prophets killed. I can almost hear God saying yet again, “What are you doing here?” Seriously, there’s nothing to be done in a cave, hiding out. Sure, the people have turned their backs on God’s holy ways, but that is no reason to give up. Whatever it is you think you are doing here, go on your way. The wilderness waits for you.

Church, what are we doing here? We are still looking for God in the storms and chaos. We still want to flee when the weariness, fear, and hopelessness prevent us from experiencing those moments of sheer silence. We might even miss the nourishment that God places before us. I’m not sure what we are doing here. Are we hiding? Are we being prophetic? Are we taking in nourishment? Are we soaking up the silence? Probably not as much as we are hiding out, desperately hoping that God will show up and fix all that we have broken.

June is Pride month and I can’t help but think that the church is still hiding out in a cave. We want to blame the current stormy political environment for all that ails us and for obstructing the work of God. We can’t blame our disunity on the current administration, though. When it comes to LGBTQ+ folx, we have long been divided. Not only have we missed God’s presence among us by participating in the storms, we have also failed to hear Paul’s words that remind us of the unity we are find in the body of Christ. You know, in Christ there is no immigrant or resident, no refugee or naturalized citizen, no queer or straight, no Trans* or cis, no POC or white, no disabled or abled, no mentally ill or well, no rich or poor. We are to be one in Christ. We cannot continue to hide from that which divides us.

Jesus himself went out to the wild places and called people to himself. He offered healing and wholeness without exception. Even the Gerasene demoniac was restored to wholeness and told to proclaim all that God had done for him. If any of us have survived the winds of rejection that shatter our sense of self, the earthquakes of division that drive us to the edges of society, or the fires of ridicule that diminish us, and then experienced the sheer silence, the still, small voice of God, we must share this healing. We must do has Elijah did, as the healed demoniac did. We must continue on the journey, proclaiming all that God has done for us. How else will others find their way, find their place, within this wounded body we call church?

What are we doing here? Are we huddled in fear and protecting ourselves or are we cleaning up after the storms, strengthened by the moments of sacred silence? We can continue to yearn for the church of years past or we can expand our understanding of what the body of Christ looks like and be a vital presence in the world today. It’s time we continued the journey and proclaim all that God has done for us. In Christ we are one. In Christ we are whole.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Photo: CC0 image by Sharon McCutcheaon

Musings Sermon Starter

Cleaning up God’s House


When I was very young I thought God was the “man in the moon.” I had heard people talking about the moon having a face and referring to it as the “man in the moon.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make out the face that is supposedly visible in profile on the quarter moon, but I was an imaginative child. I had a whole story about how God lived in the moon. When there was no moon, God had either gone to bed early or was out visiting friends. When the moon was full, God was having a party with Mother Nature. I liked to sit at my window and talk to this faraway, but friendly, God.

As I got older and started attending church, I realized that God couldn’t possibly live in the moon. God was closer to people than the moon would allow. As I learned more words to describe this all-powerful, ever-present, somewhat scary being that was God, I started to think that God was much more likely to be the ocean than the man in the moon.

My nine-year-old brain was very active in sorting this out. God was always there, always powerful, always a little different with each encounter, always moving between life and death. Growing up on Cape Cod with ocean all around, I thought these words all described the ocean with all it’s mystery and moodiness. It sustained life and swallowed life. If God was too huge to be the man in the moon, then maybe God was the ocean. This thinking was the beginning of the beach becoming sacred space for me.

These memories surfaced as I read through account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and, essentially, inviting God to dwell there. This story has me remembering my childhood beliefs and wondering where people think God lives today. The psalmist tells us that God’s dwelling place is “lovely” and that a day there is better than a thousand years anywhere else. I know God doesn’t live in the moon and God is not the ocean, nor did God live only on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking about just where God lives today.

Jesus, of course, spoke about abiding in God and God abiding in him, and in his disciples. I’m not sure how seriously we take this. We seem to forget far too easily that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that together we make up the body of Christ. When the writer of Ephesians tells us to be put on the “whole armor of God,” it seems all we can hear is the militant metaphor and say, “No, thanks!” far too quickly. If God abides in us such that we are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and the body of Christ collectively, don’t we need some protective armor?armor-1709127_1280.jpg

With the evil generally afoot and wreaking havoc, and atrocities committed by world leaders daily, and the human rights violations near and far, and everything else that contributes to our apathy, our fear, our sense of powerlessness, and the spread of hopelessness… With all of this, don’t we need some protective spiritual armor, the kind of armor that will hold us up and enable us to withstand the horrors? That belt of truth doesn’t sound so bad in the era of fake news, does it? That breastplate of righteousness might come in handy when confronted with heartbreaking news of more violence and we are tempted to give into that sense of powerlessness that lurks in every corner. That footgear that readies us to spread the gospel of peace sounds pretty enticing when we remember how much war and destruction truly exists right now. How about the shield of faith? I could do with one of those for those moments when the plight of refugees makes my knees weak and my stomach sour. And the helmet of salvation might be useful for all those times when we are told just who is going to hell for some “biblical” reason. I’m not sure about the sword of the Spirit, but I might like to have it nearby just in case it’s needed to cut through the gaslighting nonsense.

We might all benefit from these protections, if not as individuals then as the body of Christ. If God dwells in us, then some spiritual armor to protect the fragile, fickle human parts would be very helpful. If we aren’t able to put on the whole armor of God as the body of Christ (not to do harm to others but to protect and uphold the vulnerable among us), then we might as well turn away from Jesus like so many did on that long-ago day Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Bread of Life.

Where does God dwell? Not in the moon or in the ocean or in anything made by human hands. God dwells within and among human beings. It’s time for some house keeping and maybe time to dig out that old armor because it isn’t as useless and outdated as we thought it was. We should polish it up and try it on to see how it fits so that we can withstand the evils of our day. Maybe if we pay enough attention to God’s dwelling place(s), one day we won’t need any armor, the real kind or the spiritual kind. Might be worth a try…

RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Top Photo: CC0 image by Patricia Alexandre

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Alina Kuptsova

Musings Sermon Starter

Maybe Elijah or Maybe the Demoniac


As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

I have no words this week. No words to embrace or challenge the texts. No words to speak into the void that threatens to swallow us all. I understand Elijah’s exhaustion and desire to end his journey. The great prophet experienced an overwhelming sense of failure, a recognition that he was no better than all his ancestors. People had abandoned God and killed all the prophets. This is how I feel in the wake of the shooting at Pulse in Orlando. I, too, am exhausted. I, too, feel that I am no better at preaching the word of God than all those who have come before me. It’s possible that my life is in danger. I have failed. We have failed. People have abandoned God and the prophets are silenced.

The winds of violence destroy everything in their path. The earthquake of injustice unbalances and rattles the foundations of society. The fire of hatred burns ever more brightly. The cacophony of political rhetoric drowns out the sound of sheer silence. What words can I say that will change any of this?

I can speak of the heartbreak shared by LGBTQ people of all ages, colors, and races. I can tell you that it feels personal. I can tell you that dance clubs and bars are sanctuary spaces in this community. I can tell you that shooting people in Pulse is equal in devastation and violation as the shootings at Mother Emanuel. I can tell you that tears come to my eyes when I read about the open support for the survivors and those reaching out to LGBTQ family and friends. Tears come just as readily when people spew words of hatred and judgement on the victims, the LGBTQ community, and Muslims. I can say these things, as others have, and they will not be heard.

It startles me that people have gone back to their everyday routines so quickly. I want to scream out that these people who were murdered last Sunday in a place of sanctuary are my people. More importantly, they are God’s people. When did we become so immune to violence and hatred that we can just go on with our lives as though nothing has happened?

Perhaps we are more like the person in the Gospel story than we would like to admit. Perhaps we are lost in the tombs of denial and bound by the chains of outdated beliefs. We are possessed by Legion, more than we know, if we aren’t moved to compassion at the loss of any human life. Yet, that ancient Legion recognized Christ there in that barren, broken place. Are we so far gone that we fail to recognize Christ in Sunday’s victims?  Look at them here, and tell me that you don’t see beloved children of God.

Elijah responded to God’s call to go back into the wilderness and continue proclaiming God’s presence to a wayward, violent people. The man who had been possessed by Legion responded to Jesus’ command to go back to the people who had exiled him and proclaim all that God had done for him. Now it is our turn. We are being called to go back into the wilderness filled with violence, fear, hatred, and separation of one human being from another. We are being called to go out with truth on our lips, courage in our hearts, compassion in our hands, and justice in our feet. Maybe if enough of us go, the still small voice, the sound of sheer silence, will be heard and we can breathe again knowing that Love will triumph over violence and death once more. Maybe together we can change what is.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 19, 2016
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Photo: CC0 image by Naeim A

liturgy Prayer

Pastoral Prayer for Humility


Mysterious and wonderful God, throughout human history you have been present. You have shown up and repeatedly demonstrated your power, a power beyond human understanding. We want to believe that we know the whole truth of you who are. We lament when you don’t seem to act in the dramatic, awe-inspiring ways as you did in the days of the Prophets. We want you to consume our offerings—plates, coins, altars, and all. But we are also terrified for what that might mean. Forgive our self-serving foolishness, and remind us of the depths of your mystery and wonder.

God of all people and places, you are known throughout the world by so many names. You are honored by worship and songs of praise in countless tongues. Somehow, still, we want to know that the name we call you is the one true name and our worship is the one true worship. Our quest for certainty often closes us off to your abundance. We forget that all the people of the world are your children. We are filled with fear and hatred when we ought to be living in love and praying for peace. Forgive us when we believe that our small view of you defines the whole of you for ourselves and for all peoples.

Singing and creating God, you make all things new again and again. You want us to sing you a new song, a song that opens all to the glories of your love. We are so easily swayed by shiny, fleeting things or fooled into believing that the gods of our own making are enough. We blame you when things go wrong and we suffer. Yet, we fail to sing your praises when we are well and happy. We judge others as less deserving when compassion and justice are what you ask of us. Stir your Spirit within us that we might let go of a faith too small and open ourselves to all the possibilities you hold for us. Forgive us when we forget to sing to you and when we are too comfortable to create what needs to be.

God of love and mercy, you claim us as your own. You know our names and you hear the secret whisperings of our hearts. You thought Creation wonderful enough to send Jesus to show us the way of love. Even when humanity responded in fear and violence, you did not let the story end there. Instead you spoke Love and breathed out Life. Still, we seek the approval of those around us long before considering you. Show us your way once more; call us off paths that lead to violence, hatred, and harm. Forgive us when we act as if your love and mercy do not exist.

Patient and steadfast God, you love us as we are. You so patiently wait for us to see you, hear you, love you. We think faith is something to be measured even though Jesus made it clear that even faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. When things go wrong or we didn’t notice the answer to our prayers, we think we did not have enough faith or that we did not pray correctly. We worry too much about how much faith we have or what “right” faith might look like. You tell us simply to believe – yes, I believe; help my unbelief or no, I don’t belief. That’s all it takes. You provide the rest. Forgive us when our narrowly defined faith gets in the way of our experiencing the miracles all around us.

Holy One, you are beyond our knowing. With humble hearts we lift up to you all the places of pain in the world. Teach us anew how to embody Christ right here and  for all those whom we meet. Fill us with humility enough to walk with you, bring justice into the world, and act only with kindness. In gratitude, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For sermon help, you might want to go here.

Photo: CC0 image by 547764

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost – May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 with Psalm 96
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 with Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

Emerging Church liturgy Prayer

Confessing the Need for More Bread

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Litany of Confession

One:  Holy One, you call us to a life of loving-kindness. Yet, very often, we resort to violence with our words or actions forgetting our responsibility to love our neighbors and ourselves.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are self-absorbed.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Gracious God who comes to us in the sound of sheer silence, we admit that we don’t seek you very often. We get caught up in busyness and storms, choosing to ignore how much we need stillness.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are so easily distracted from what really matters.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Ever-living God, you have shown us how to live a life of peace. Somehow, though, we lose our way and fail to offer your grace and forgiveness to those whom we meet.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we create more discord than peace.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Steadfast God who claims all of us as Beloved, turn our hearts from hateful, ignorant ways. Open us to a life that excludes all hatred and racism.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for failing to notice you in our midst.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  God of all nations, you created us all in your image and called us to live in community with our neighbors. We seem to forget that your kindom doesn’t have borders, developed countries, language barriers, or economic preferences.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for drawing arbitrary lines to determine the value of nations and peoples.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Patient God who came to us and lived among us, you spoke peace that challenged the powerful and love that healed the hurting. We often desire to be powerful and to dismiss those who hurt.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we neither hear nor listen to your Word.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Loving God, you offer us a life of abundance, a life filled with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. How often do we overlook your blessings and fail to express our gratitude.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for the many times when we have dismissed the joy of life in the Spirit.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Musings Sermon Starter

Some Unwanted Truth

My immediate response to this week’s readings is, “Yeah, that!” There is something about the stories of prophets that resonates deep within me. I don’t like it. I don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. Many years ago, I was preaching on Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. I described the role of Moses as prophetic leader of God’s people. I then went on to enumerate the ingratitude he received for all his efforts. The Israelites did not want the hardship of change and transition. They wanted familiar food and drink and comfort. They didn’t like the desert and they didn’t care what Moses was going through trying to keep God from smiting them. (Not to mention the absurdly long duration of movement from one place to another.) At one point in the sermon I said that being a prophet was the ultimate bad career move and thank God I had not been called to be a prophet. The entire congregation burst out with laughter. And I scratched my head; it wasn’t that funny.

The joke was truly on me. After worship, one of the parishioners told me I might be a bit confused. Had I not spent the last year telling the congregation that they were not being the church God created and called them to be? Had I not endured much criticism and a whole lot of resistance for the very little progress? She concluded with something like, “So tell me again that you are not a prophet.”

I like to ignore this aspect of my calling, really I do. But then I read texts like this week’s lectionary and it names the yearning I have for more justice, more action, more transformation. If that’s not enough, I also seem to have this compulsion to keep urging myself and others to be more engaged in the world. I read about Elisha picking up Elijah’s mantle and I want to applaud his persistence, question his reasoning, and affirm his cry for God’s presence. But mostly I think, sure pick up that mantle, shake the dust off, and keep moving. I’d do it without even thinking.

But the problem is that I see so much potential in people, churches, the world and I am baffled when we do not live into that potential. The fruit of the Spirit is much more enjoyable in the long run than the works of the flesh. I can’t help but rail against the acceptance of the status quo. This week I was told by a well-meaning colleague that “sometimes you just have to accept the way things are.” No! Not when there is injustice and human suffering involved. I can’t. I am simply not capable of standing around to merely witness a lack of justice. It is not in my blood.

Essentially, not only do I want more, but I believe more is possible. I want more for the people the recent Supreme Court decisions most impact. I want the hatred, fear, and ignorance to stop. I want Israel and Palestine to coexist in peace. I want Afghanistan to stand proudly on its own with peaceful relations with its neighbors. I yearn for justice in a way that often keeps me awake at night. I see the potential for us to do better and I can’t understand why we don’t.

Why is there still a death penalty? Why the inequity in our sentencing laws? Why do people fear gay marriage so much? Why do people hate and fear people who speak other languages, worship other gods, have different skin color? Why are voting rights still in question anywhere? Why is women’s health secondary to men’s health? Why does everyone not have access to healthcare? Why are people starving anywhere in the world? Why does anyone think it’s okay to genetically modify food? Why do people advocate for the continued use of carbon fuels? Why do we not demand a world that honors the fruit of the Spirit? Why do we not keep our hands on the plough?

I’m not kidding! This stuff makes me nuts. I do not understand why we let those corrupted by power and money make decisions for everyone else when the end result is often so destructive. It doesn’t make any sense to me and I have this deep yearning for more justice for all people. And, yes, I feel compelled to write such things. I truly believe that when the human spirit and the Holy Spirit join forces, all things are possible. Why do we settle for less?

2012-10-05 16.39.02

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday After Pentecost – June 30, 2013

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62


Do You Know Where God is?

This week I have written a prayer that is drawn directly from the 1 Kings, Galatians, and Luke readings. These are the prayers  that emerged as I read the passages. By praying the texts in this way, they become more alive, more relevant for me. Maybe this will be true for you also.

God who is present all the time – when we notice, and when we do not – hear these prayers. I lift up to you:

Those who see nothing wrong with violence and threats of more violence to get what they want

Those who need to flee to places unknown in order to save their lives

Those who feel overwhelmed by the tasks before them

Those who grieve for what was lost in tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes

Those who grapple with wild fire

Those who fail to sit still long enough to hear the sound of shear silence and the still, small voice it holds

Those who spend more time focusing on whom are heirs to the promise than on the promise itself

Those who live as outcasts

Those tormented by today’s demons, legion or not quite so many

Those who are fearful of who they find sitting in the presence of Christ

Those who are afraid to sit with Jesus

Those who are terrified of transformation and healing

And for all the times and ways I am like all of these…


2013-05-20 15.35.06

RCL – Year C – Fifth

1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or Sunday After Pentecost – June 23, 2013
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Musings Sermon Starter

Not Exactly Original, But Sin Nonetheless

Scriptures about power, greed, sin, and forgiveness aren’t always welcome today. Somewhere along the line, talking about sin has gone out of fashion almost to the extreme. I was once the short-term interim at a church that wouldn’t allow a prayer of confession even on communion Sundays because the idea of sin made them uncomfortable. Sin, especially our own, should make us uncomfortable. Sin by definition is that which separates us from, or breaks relationship with, God, ourselves, or others. Forgiveness should alleviate the discomfort sin creates. If we don’t acknowledge our sins, how on earth can we accept anyone’s forgiveness, including God’s?

The readings from 1 Kings, 2 Samuel, and Luke all address people in power who succumb to greed in one way or another, commit some serious sins, and face forgiveness or not. These texts can easily inform many contemporary contexts. The obvious invitation is to examine our own lives and see where power, sin, and forgiveness interact. On another level, asking similar questions of a congregation could be fruitful. And I can’t help but think about our national identity and the sins we commit as a powerful nation (not that I believe or think or want this to be a Christian country).

When I read about Jezebel getting Naboth killed so Ahab can have his vineyard, I’m amazed at the brazen abuse of power. Neither Jezebel nor Ahab saw anything wrong in doing whatever was necessary to get what they wanted. It didn’t matter to them that an innocent man was killed. Even when Elijah pointed out the wrong doing, Ahab was unphased. The questions that come to my mind are these:  When have I used the power I have to get what I wanted without regard for another’s needs? Did I defend these actions or did I ask for forgiveness? Has the church (the congregation I attend or the denomination I am part of) acted without regard to its neighbor’s needs at any point? Does the church acknowledge this sin and seek forgiveness? When has this nation taken from others without regard to consequences for others? Do we stand unphased or do we seek forgiveness?

Like Jezebel, King David used his power to get Bathsheba for himself. He acted on impulse and desire. As a result Uriah the Hittite was murdered. When Nathan pointed out David’s sin, David recognized that he had indeed “sinned against the Lord.” God offered forgiveness, but the consequences for David’s sins were not wiped out. Here my questions are: When I have acted on impulse and caused harm to another, have I been able to acknowledge my sin and accept forgiveness? Do I view painful consequences as punishment for sin or am I able to face the situation knowing that God has forgiven me? When has the church acted on impulse and caused harm to others? Has the community explored forgiveness even as painful consequences may be felt for years? As a nation, when have we taken what belongs to another and made it our own? Have we acknowledged this sin? What role does forgiveness play as we deal with the long-term consequences?

After these two stories of power and sin, there is the third. Luke’s version of the woman who anointed Jesus comes at this theme from the opposite direction. The woman is clearly a SINNER and she offers Jesus what others did not. Simon the Pharisee offered Jesus nothing in the way of typical hospitality even though Simon would have believed himself to be a much better person than the woman. She recognized that Jesus deserved all she had to offer. She brought her whole self – pricy jar and costly tears – and she showed Jesus hospitality like no other. And no one understood. For this passage my questions are: When have I believed myself to be better than another and, thereby, missed offering Jesus radical hospitality? As a church, whom have we failed to welcome? How have we withheld hospitality from others and from Jesus? As a nation, whom do we judge unworthy? Is there a place for forgiveness and hospitality in our national identity?

All these texts are rich and relevant. But I will end my reflections here since this is not a sermon and is only meant to stimulate thoughts and further reflection on the relevance of lectionary texts for the modern reader. So may it be.

For you are not a God
     who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.

The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
     you hate all evildoers.

You destroy those who speak lies;
     God abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
     will enter your house,
I will bow down towards your holy temple
     in awe of you.

Lead me, O God, in your righteousness
     because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

pennyRCL – Fourth Sunday After Pentecost – June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a with Psalm 5:1-8 or
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15 with Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

photo from

Musings Sermon Starter

Faith Questions

The benefit of six weeks of sick leave when recovering from surgery is that there is plenty of time to think. I have had many, many thoughts over the last several weeks and have kept most of them to myself. But this week’s scriptures deserve much time, attention, and prayer.

Elijah was the last prophet of the Lord and his task was to prove that the God of Israel was alive and well. He managed to do this in a spectacular way. God very obligingly burned up his offering. Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to happen these days. But the question asked of Elijah is a good one. In an increasingly secular world, how do we show our faith in a God who surely is alive and well?

The Psalm reminds us that God wants us to “sing a new song,” one that recognizes that we are not God. It’s tricky. We easily forget that the gods we make are not truly God. In what way do we “ascribe to God glory and strength”?

In Galatians Paul asks an essential question, one that I do not think Christians of any stripe ask often enough:  Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?

Then we have the faith of the centurion in Luke. He was not raised to believe in God. He was a man of power and position, but he sought Jesus to cure a slave who had value to him. Then he showed humility and trusted that Jesus could heal with a word. This short passage points back to the question raised by the 1 Kings passage. How do people who are raised without faith come to have faith? Do we who have faith live in such a way that truly embodies Christ, invites others to believe because they have encountered something Christ-like in us?

This is what having much time to think does to me. I have more questions than answers.

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RCL – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 2, 2013

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 with Psalm 96
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 with Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10