ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 31, 2023 What makes a child good or bad? You often hear someone say to a child, "Now be a good little boy (girl/child)." What is meant by that? I’m sure a few of you reading this were absolute angels when you were younger, but the rest of us were probably a mix of good and bad and a whole host of other things. But this raises the question of who is in charge of determining what is good and what is bad. Things that were once defined as bad have been revisited as we’ve learned that certain behaviors once deemed bad are actually pretty normal as a child explores what it means to be a human being. Or what was once ignored as just boys being boys is now understood as bullying, unhealthy, or just downright mean. And I’ve got to think that context sometimes plays a role in determining whether a behavior or set of actions should be encouraged or discouraged. Before becoming a parent, I was pretty sure such determinations were going to be easy, right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. I had worked with children and youth for fifteen years before becoming a dad, but in the daily grind of raising a kid, some of what I assumed to be good wasn’t as good as I thought, and some of what I judged as bad wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. And then some of it got turned completely upside down. This is all to say that on Sunday, I am preaching a sermon entitled: It’s Complicated! And though some of you might have this whole faith and life thing figured out, I hope this sermon might speak to the rest of you.
O Kind and Generous God, for those of us who continue to find life more complicated than we originally imagined, we pause and turn to you, even though you are in many ways an undefinable holy mystery. Yet, maybe there is something sacred in exploring the conundrum that Jesus attempted to explain with parables, acts of generosity, hyperbole, and a love that was willing to die. Guide me! Beckon me! This is my prayer. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 30, 2023 I recently read I John 4:8 in a way I had never read it before. I John 4 is a chapter in the Bible I know well, and our Identity Statement at Cypress Creek Christian Church comes from I John 4 (We love because God first loved us). Vs. 8 says, "The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love." Until yesterday, I’ve always read those words as an indictment of those who do not know God and thus do not love others. The voice in my head, as I think of the passage, is rather critical and even judgmental of such folks. But yesterday, as I was reading those words, I felt both heartbreak and compassion. If someone doesn’t know God is love, or, to put it another way, if someone doesn’t know that the most powerful force in the universe is love, then why should we expect people to reach for love in their daily lives? I’m not suggesting someone has to believe exactly like I do or perceive God the way I do, but if someone has not experienced the breath-taking beauty of love, then why would we expect that person to reach for love when it comes to daily interactions? This is where evangelism comes into play, but not in the way some people think of it. If God is love, and we introduce someone to love, then hasn’t that person met God? Maybe I should stop judging others who do not love and start demonstrating love in such a way that they might be so overwhelmed that they will love themselves and love others… and if I understand the passage correctly, they will thus know God.
As I continue to grow in my understanding of love, O God, may I continue to find new depth in the love I have for myself, for you, and for others. Maybe, somewhere along the line, my love for others will introduce them to you. That is my hope, though I always recognize that such an introduction comes only from your love poured into me. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 29, 2023 Prayer for the Week: We seek to live in such a way that we honor the gift of yourself, O Triune God, poured into your church in the form of the Spirit, the Sacred Wind, the Divine Breath. From a Formless Void seeking the touch of a Creative Spark to a Valley of Dry Bones waiting for the Gift of Life, we—the church—are a Body filled with hope and possibility being unleashed through your animating and purpose-filled energy. Continue to guide us and empower us for the realization of your dream. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 28, 2023 In the beginning verses of Acts 2, we read:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting...
Change is always right around the corner. All it takes is a good spiritual wind to blow through our lives, and suddenly we can find ourselves moving from the security of an upper room where we have sat in silence to the streets where we are proclaiming a radical message of love. If the disciples didn’t expect it, why should we? Yet I guarantee you that it will come—not just once, but again and again. It is hard, but some people can ignore it. Others can make excuses for why this isn’t the right time. And still others can make the whole experience into a nice creedal statement that sounds very righteous but requires nothing of the person who is actually reciting it. Next time you see the spiritual leaves being tossed around, make yourself ready for the spirit of God to push you out of the comfortable upper room and onto the streets. Take this as a simple warning: the spirit will blow through your life very soon!
Come, Holy Spirit, and drive me from my comfortable places and into those uncomfortable settings where transformative ministry is often found. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 27, 2023 I was checking the news headlines, and in the science section of CNN’s website, I read:
Ancient toilets unearthed in Jerusalem reveal a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease.
I had to stop everything and read the article. These toilets were from a time about 700 years before Jesus, and they were fancy. Middle-class people did not have toilets. These belonged to the uber-wealthy, yet what we learn from digging up their poop is that even the wealthiest of the wealthy were drinking water contaminated by poop. Scientists found dysentery-causing parasites. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but diarrhea was sort of the great equalizer in the ancient world. I’m sure it killed the poor at a much higher rate than the rich, but a lot of people, especially children, were killed by drinking water with some not-so-pleasant critters living in it.
Like so often, if you’ve read this far into the Etching, you might be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with anything?" I’m not absolutely sure if I can fully answer the question, except to say that I can fall so easily into a fantasy reading of the Bible—making sections of it idyllic and clean. We turn the nativity scene of Jesus’ birth into a well-sterilized, scent-free utopian birthing center, but it is thought that even the animals in the ancient world had the trots quite often, which would have made the stable a less than ideal setting.
Now that you are somewhat nauseated, I invite you to read scripture through a lens of earthiness and common discomfort and the downright yuckiness of the ancient world. Those of us living with indoor plumbing and clean drinking water forget how good we have it.
I am thankful, O God, for the dramatic improvements I enjoy without really acknowledging how good I have it. And in my gratitude, let me not forget those in the world who continue to die because they lack access to clean water and good sewers. It should not be that way. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 26, 2023 This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the Birthday of the Church. First of all, wear something red, pink, scarlet, ruby, wine, cherry, or whatever else might give a hint of fire. Yes, this is the Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Spirit igniting the church (Body of Christ). We read in Acts 2:3-4, "The disciples saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak." The image of fire can be frightening, but it is also a powerful tool. Its heat can reshape something that appeared unchangeable; remove all impurities; make food digestible; create warmth… (and the list continues). Fire brings about change in so many ways, and I believe it is also true of the Holy Spirit. Change is central to the Pentecost story—change within both the individual and the community. And it wasn’t simply a one-time thing. It is still happening!
Bring me into the Pentecost experience, O Spirit of Power and Change. Reshape me and make me into the best version of myself as I seek to serve you in the best way possible. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 25, 2023 Yesterday, I had a little container that had just a small amount of salsa in it. I brought the container home to recycle, but as I walked toward the pantry where we put the recycling, I dropped it. It exploded. Ugh! Double ugh! There was not much salsa in the container, but it was as if it multiplied and expanded as it was released from the container. It went everywhere, including my pants and shoes. In moments like that, we (maybe I should own it individually) have a tendency to act as if it is the end of the world. It’s almost as if we forget that some soap and water, plus a few minutes of time, will take care of this problem. My initial reaction was a bit over the top, yet within seconds I remembered that it was the anniversary of the shooting in Uvalde. I was embarrassed, feeling some necessary judgment in the moment. Remember, the Biblical notion of judgment is not condemnation but light and revelation. Judgment is the disclosure of the truth. Yes, it sometimes stings a little, but judgment is intended to bring change. I can’t say whether I have been cured of my overreactions. Probably not! But hopefully I can pause a bit more often and ask myself, "What needs my energy? What should shock my system to the point of righteous indignation? What is nothing but misguided frustration distracting me from the real issues?" On the issue of guns in this country, we have completely lost our moral compass, especially those of us who follow the stories of a first-century itinerant teacher who revealed the kingdom of justice and peace. I use the word compass intentionally, as everything about us should point to him. That’s where our greatest witness will be found. It takes a lot of work, and I believe we all need those moments when we are confronted with the ramifications of real suffering and violence. Salsa on my pant leg does not deserve another minute of my time, but gun violence, as the leading cause of death among children in the United States, deserves and demands my faithful energy.
Holy God, bring before me those things that break your heart, for those are the things that should cause mine to break as well. And in that ache, call me to be a faithful steward of the gifts given to me for the building of your kin(g)dom here on earth. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 24, 2023 A couple of times this past Sunday, I said to people, "I love doing baptisms." The funny thing is that a number of people responded, "It shows!" I’m glad to hear that my energy and joy around baptisms are visible, and though at times I might come off as being a little goofy, it is genuine. Sunday’s baptism of Joanna Andersen was so special for her and her family, yet it is important to acknowledge everything that goes into a baptism. We had a FACE concert the night before, so the baptistry could not be filled until the concert was done. Joel agreed to come to the church around midnight to make sure the baptistry was filled and the heater was working. When I arrived Sunday morning, it was full and warm. Paula got information about Joanna and did the introduction of the baptismal candidate during worship. Mariah made sure we had baptismal robes available to us and also printed the baptismal certificate. And Becca Clark was standing behind the scenes to help the baptismal candidate, making sure there were plenty of dry towels, providing an arm to lean on when the floor was wet, and just being a positive source of encouragement. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out, but this is all to say that I had the joyful experience of being in the water and actually officiated the baptism, yet so many others helped to make it happen. With that said, it is probably good to acknowledge God’s participation. That’s intended as a sort of joke, as each person’s participation is a response to the God who is the first actor (the One who loved us first).
Grace-filled God, we are forever blessed by the gift of your love. It heals, shapes, inspires, and calls forth the gifts within us. No matter who we are or where we find our gifts best utilized, we pray for the spirit’s energy to encourage our "Yes!" Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 23, 2023 I’m sure you have moments in life when a date on the calendar sort of hits you hard. Sometimes it's good, and other times it's painful. There are other moments when the date on the calendar is sort of strange, even surreal. That was my experience this past week. I graduated from seminary thirty years ago. If it were not for my achy knees, there are days when I don’t think I’m much older than thirty. And there are still other moments when my maturity level makes me wonder whether I’m still in my late teens.
When I was first starting ministry, I was introduced to some retired pastors who were part of a Disciple Clergy Group that gathered every month for lunch. During one of those lunches, the conversation around my table turned rather serious. One of the retired ministers began to reflect on his ministry, and he referenced some of the great martyrs of the previous fifty years, many of whom accomplished so much before they even reached the age of forty. He said with some grief in his voice, "I know I helped many people over the years, but there are times when I wonder how much of a difference I really made and whether anything I did was lasting."
You do not need to be a minister to ask that question about your life. I have sat at the bedside of many people as they found themselves at the end of life, and they too were asking similar questions. Now, it’s not supposed to be some sort of competition or an attempt to make sure our name is remembered in the history books. But I do believe it is a fair question to ask: Have I made a genuine impact upon the world, and has it been for the good? Have my life choices helped to build God’s Kin(g)dom here on earth, even if the impact is only visible to God? Those questions are not intended to make anyone feel guilty, but to challenge how we approach each day and the opportunities presented to us for embodying kindness, compassion, peace-making, just-living, and doing so with an attitude of joyful abundance. If you woke up this morning feeling as if you’ve not lived up to your God-given potential, it is a new day full of many opportunities. Don’t dwell on the past. Instead, live in the moment in such a way that it honors the life Jesus lived.
I desire to learn from the past without living in the past. Holy God, bring me into this moment and the opportunities I have for Christ-like living. There are a multitude of hurting people and unjust systems that cry out for help. I’m certain there are gifts within me for the good work of realizing your dream for all creation, and those gifts need to be put to use today. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 22, 2023 Prayer for the Week: You are patient, O God of All, yet our appreciation of your patience easily becomes the pretext for our procrastination and the pardon for our profanation. You are patient, yet it is a tangible expression of your grace. Provide us the courage to take full advantage of this moment and the many opportunities it holds for us to be faithful to the ways of Jesus. Amen.