Musings Sermon Starter

The Mustard Seed, Loving-kindness, and Creation Care

Image of a green stylized meadow with a full moon and stars in the background. The foreground has yellow flowers and a bee on the left and red flowers, a blue butterfly and a ladybug on the right. There is also a tree in the distance in front of the full moon.

If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.

In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in  the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.

For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.

Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.

It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.

If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?

Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 13, 2021 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20  • Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17  • Mark 4:26-34

Photo: CC0image by beate bachmann

Poetry Prayer Story

Imago Dei in the Aftermath

Pandemic. Protests. Uprisings. Fires. Vigils. Agent Provocateurs. Militarized Police. White Supremacy. All of it right here where I live. Part of me has been overwhelmed by it all this week. Part of me is stuck in the horror of watching police officers kill George Floyd. Another part of me is stunned by the numbers of cities joining in the uprisings. I’m lamenting not being able to be out on the streets helping because of the pandemic. And, if I am totally honest, I am proud of the relentless demand for change that has begun here and spread across the country. Still, the words are hard to find. Consequently, I am sharing this poem, “Imago Dei” from my book, Barefoot Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Be safe. Be well.

                             Imago Dei

On midsummer's eve, when the world is wrapped in magic,
all the children of the earth gather in the dreaming place. 
Mysteries call louder on this night than on all other nights. 
Whispers carried on ocean and mountain breezes lead
children to gather in the dreaming place.
They laugh and dance and splash in the magic surrounding them. 
The moon rises higher, children quiet in the whispering winds 
and ask the questions of their hearts.
One small girl stands and says,
My daddy doesn’t look like my mommy and
I don’t look like either of them. 
So who does God look like?
The answers are quick and from all around.
Some of us together.
All of us.
None of us because maybe there is no God. 
The winds themselves laugh and dance wildly though the gathering. 
Then they speak with the voice of One. 
You ask what the Holy One looks like? 
Do you not know? 
All of you bear my likeness.
Children wait, breath held, still.
I am the first light of morning;
I washed some of you in its soft fairness. 
I am the pureness of deep night;
I wrapped some of you in this sacred darkness. 
I am the fire of the setting sun;
 some of you have this burning in your hair. 
I am the richness of the soil—
red, brown, yellow, and black—
as are many of you. 
I am the depth of the ocean;
some of you wear these greens,
blues, and grays in your eyes.
I am the warmth of the summer sun
found in all your smiles and laughter. 
I am the stillness of winter snow
resting within each of you.
What does the Holy One look like? 
I am all the colors of the earth.
I am the softness of early spring
and the wildness of thunder. 
My reflection is in the ocean
and in your eyes. 
I am the first light of day
and the last dark of night. 
I am the power of the wind
and the gentleness of misty rain.
Look for me in yourselves,
each other,
and in all creation.
 Do not miss the holy in the setting sun,
the purple twilight,
the darkest night,
or the brightest noonday.
Wherever you are, I am.
 I am in your laughter and your tears. 
 I am in waking and dreaming. 
 If you want to know what the Holy One looks like,
 you will see me wherever you turn.
The winds quiet and the skies grow lighter. 
The little girl laughs
as the winds play through her hair. 
The children drift away from the dreaming place. 
Each takes a little of the magic of midsummer
and wakes bathed in the first light of day.

RCL – Year A – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2020
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Photo: CC0image by Pexels

Musings Sermon Starter

Something about Bees, Glass, and Humility

Once again I find myself thinking about Peggy Way’s “fact of glass.” She uses this line, borrowed from a poem, to describe human reluctance to accept fragility and finitude. The poem, “Up Against It” by Eamon Grennon, describes the difficulties bees have sorting out this fact of glass. We humans have the same struggle with our mortality. These days, I find myself keeping company with grief, fragility, and glimpses of finitude. It hurts when I bump against this fact of glass, those none too gentle reminders that my days are no more endless than anyone else’s. This knowledge sits right next to grief, waiting for me to notice and respond.

Yet, I notice other things, too. Last night as I was driving home, there was a rainbow tinted so pink with the sunset that I almost missed it. On my drive in this morning, an eagle hunted for fish over the Mississippi. On a lunchtime walk with my dog, I could almost hear the spinning of the autumn leaves as they fell to the ground. Miraculous beauty surrounds me. How often have I not seen the beauty of creation because I’ve been distracted with my own fragility, or that of another? How often have I thought my own concerns were more urgent than the need to see God’s creative hand still at work in the world? How often have I run headlong into the glass only to look up and see God’s grace? It would have been easier, if I’d looked up first.

Perhaps this was part of the trouble with the Pharisee Jesus spoke of in Luke’s Gospel. Maybe he wasn’t so smugly righteous as it would seem. Maybe his attention was on the wrong things. He wanted to be sure he was doing all the right things to please God and, in his perfectionism, maybe just forgot to look up. He could look around and see there were others around him engaging in unseemly behavior and he could feel more secure in his law-abiding life. Yet, he could do nothing to slow the years weighing on his body, or to make peace with an uncertain future. Perhaps he thought that doing all the right things could keep him safe. Perhaps this was his way of engaging with the fact of glass. If he had had a little more humility, he might have recognized the same struggle in the tax collector hiding in the corner.

Maybe that Pharisee hadn’t come up against the fact of glass often enough to see the need for humility. The tax collector probably had. After all, the tax collector was seen as a sinner by the religious elite, and wasn’t particularly welcomed by anyone else. A Jew would probably not have entered into the employ of Rome if he had another viable option for making money. Whatever the hardships, the challenges, the tax collector faced, he recognized his place in the world and his need for mercy. Did he also recognize that he was as worthy of that mercy as the Pharisee was?

Humility helps us keep things in balance. It does not let our fears or our victories fool us into thinking we are unworthy of God or more worthy than others. Humility allows us to bump against the glass and reach out a hand to others, to steady ourselves and our neighbors. Humility allows us to look up and to look around, see God at work in the world and in the lives of those around us. Humility reminds us that we are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and in acute need of grace, always. Humility says that no matter what we achieve or what we fail, from God’s perspective our lives have the same value as the person sitting next to us on the bus, on the train, in the theater, in church, and anywhere else we might go.

As I sit with grief, contemplate my need for a pacemaker, accompany those who suffer in body, mind, and spirit, and marvel at the beauty of creation, a renewed sense of humility allows me to breathe. There is no point in asking “why me?” for any of it. The reason why is less important than the meaning I make of it all. I am not alone. None of us are. For the moment, I am thankful that as I’ve come up against the fact of glass once again it knocked some sense into me. I have looked up. I have looked around. Beauty and awe and majesty are on full display. And I’m lucky enough to have a part in it. Yes, we are all fragile and finite. It is also true that this fact of glass isn’t all there is to living. May we all be humble enough to recognize, if even for a moment, our places in the wonder of Creation…

For sermon help, or at least other thoughts on the text, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 27, 2019
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7 and
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Photo: CC0image by 2751030-2751030

Musings Sermon Starter

Something About Those Wings Like Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Photo: CC0 image by Andrew Songhurst

Middle Photo: CC0 image by Jonny Linder

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Brigitte Werner

Emerging Church Story

A Modern Take on the Creation Story

When I was in fourth or fifth grade I read every myth I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter what culture they came from, Native American, Celtic, Greek, Roman, Chinese, I read all that I could find. I loved these stories for the imaginative way they explained how some things came to be. Even though I didn’t understand it then, I was drawn to the Truth in them that often comes through great stories.

Of course, it was years later when I came to understand many scriptural stories in the same way. It’s the Truth that gets me every time. This week’s lectionary contains a section of the creation story. It’s a story that is beautiful and Truthful. However, it has been a source of pain for some. I don’t think it was meant to be since it is an ancient story and could only speak to what was known at the time it came to life. So I’ve take quite a bit of liberty and written a version of this story that includes more of what we know now. You may or may not find it helpful…


In the days before time began to flow, there existed the One-Who-is-Many. The One-Who-is-Many was surrounded by sacred silence and was content for it to be so. Until one day when the One-Who-is-Many imagined a world filled with life and breath and hope.

Days were not yet days, but a span of time stretched and shaped in many ways and directions, when out of sacred silence the One-Who-is-Many pulled a solid sphere of matter. This matter came together because the imagination of the One-Who-is-Many willed it to be. There were periods of light and dark at the end of this first eternal day. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.

So on the second eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many, separated the sphere with all its gases and waters from the sky around it. On this sphere there was now above and below as well as light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.

prairie-679014_1280On the third eternal day, which may have been longer than other eternal days, the One-Who-is-Many separated land from the seas. Seeing the barren places, the One-Who-is-Many, touched them with sacred silence and brought forth plants and vegetation of all kinds. All kinds of growing things that would change and lead to other kinds of green and growing things as the eternal days went on and on.  Now the sphere had plants, land, and seas as well as ground below and sky above and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.

On the fourth eternal day, which also stretched on and on, the One-Who-is-Many set great lights in the sky. The sun would rule the day and the moon and stars would rule the night. The One-Who-is-Many enjoyed shining lights into the nights and bringing warmth to the days. The sphere turned slowly and seasons came into being.  Now there were sun, moon, and stars, growing things, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.

On the fifth eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many rejoiced to set living beings free in the water and in the air. Some were placed so deep in the waters that they have yet to be seen and some have long been forgotten. But on the fifth eternal day, bird song filled the air and whale song filled the seas. These creatures brought forth others and others as the sphere turned slowly day after day. Creatures of the air and creatures of the sea filled the sphere and enjoyed the sun, moon, and stars, plants of all kinds, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The One-Who-is-Many was pleased with creation for it was good. Yet, there was more to be done.

On the sixth, and maybe the longest, eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many set about makingbaby-feet-402844_1920 all the creatures of the earth. Things with fur and things with scales. Large things and small things and all kinds of hidden things. Some have come to be named and known while others remain hidden and still others have been forgotten. The One-Who-is-Many took great delight in fashioning all the creatures of the earth, for they were all good.

Late in the day, the One-Who-is-Many realized a loneliness. All the wonders and beauty of creation, yet nothing was like the One-Who-is-Many. So the One-Who-is-Many mixed sacred silence with the mud and matter of creation to fashion a human one. And it was very good. The human one went about naming all that the One-Who-is-Many had made. It was a good day.

As evening came, the One-Who-is-Many saw that the human one was alone. Neither the One-Who-is-Many nor any of the animals were much like it. Realizing that none should be alone, the One-Who-is-Many imagined a companion for the human one. Soon the human one was wrapped in sacred silence so that the One-Who-is-Many could shape another from flesh and bone. This human one was meant to keep the other human one company. Together they were more like the One-Who-is-Many than they were apart. They came to be known as male and female, man and woman.

Some think the sixth eternal day ended here. But others have come to know the story differently. These know that many more human ones were made in the image of the One-Who-is-Many. There is beauty and diversity, even more so as the day stretched on. These others would come to be known as queer people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, and many more. Together with male and female they were more like the One-Who-is-Many than they were apart. All made of flesh and bone and sacred silence, given breath and life and bearing the image of the One-Who-is-Many.

At the end of the sixth eternal day, the One-Who-is-Many looked over all of creation and saw that it was good. The human ones were given the honor of watching over the whole of creation. They were to be caretakers for the earth creatures, creatures of the air and creatures of the sea, everything that grew under the sun, moon, and stars, plants of all kinds, land and seas, ground and sky, and light and dark. The human ones delighted the One-Who-is-Many who was pleased with the whole of creation for it was very, very good.

bank-894308_1280Finally, the seventh eternal day came. It was the shortest of all eternal days. On this day the One-Who-is-Many rested and rejoiced over the works of Creation. It was good to rest on this seventh eternal day. Soon, time would begin to flow as it does now and the human ones would keep the One-Who-is-Many very, very busy because they often forget that though they are many, not one of them is the One-Who-is-Many. But these are stories for another day.

RCL – Year B – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 4, 2015
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Photos from Pixabay. Used by permission.