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Being Born From Above

Lent 2:  Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

Through rain, desert, wind and snow
Abraham and Sarah had to go
even though they nothing know.
- Oskar Sundmark, 11 years

Even though they nothing know.  This is what it means to trust in the God we see revealed in Jesus, what it means to be Christian – to drop our nets, pick up our cross and follow Christ.  Or as Soren Kierkegaard puts it:  “To be joyful out on 70,000 fathoms of water, many, many miles from all human help – yes, that is something great!  To swim in the shallows in the company of waders is not the religious.” Read more

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God Abstracted

Matthew 4:1-11

Lent begins with Jesus fresh from the waters of his baptism, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  At baptism, Jesus is reminded that he is called as God’s anointed, the Messiah.  But what kind of messiah is he going to be?  It is in the wilderness, where everything is stripped away, in prayer and fasting that Jesus seeks to clarify who he is and what he is going to do.

Satan, the Great Deceiver, shows up to steer Jesus away from God’s call upon him and uses three of the greatest temptations for those who want to change this world: economics/money – turning stones to bread; religion – spectacular religion which will make the crowds want to follow you anywhere; and politics – to get the power to make things turn out the way you want. Read more

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Valley Girls (and Guys)

Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Growing up just north of Los Angeles, I was hyper-aware of the San Fernando Valley.  Neither suburban nor Hollywood-cool, the Valley boasted its own style of dress and peculiar language.  Like, fer shure.  Living in the Valley had its difficulties:  stop-and-go freeway traffic during many hours of the day and an oppressive layer of smog bearing down upon the residents most of the year.

Our denomination had nine summer camps scattered all over southern California, and all of them were located in the mountains.  Kids from that Valley and the one I grew up in (the San Gabriel Valley) could get away for a week to find God and a little fresh air.  We hiked among towering pines, sat on rocks to sing songs around a fire, and when we did give in to sleep, did so in log cabins.  Lasting relationships were forged for campers, both among themselves and between them and God. Read more

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The Economics of Anxiety

Eighth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

One of the steadfast realities of following the lectionary is the predictable rhythm of its three-year cycle of readings. Preparing a sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday in 2011?  You might go back to your files from 2008 to see what text(s) you focused on, what themes prevailed, what prayers and hymns were chosen for worship. You might—depending on your congregation’s current needs and challenges—revisit, rework, recycle, as it were, the riches of the lectionary cycle.

But because Easter is so late this year—a day short of the latest date possible—there was no eighth Sunday After Epiphany in 2008 or 2005 or 2002. In fact, the factors that determine the date of the Church’s prime moveable feast are so unusual this year that an eighth Sunday after Epiphany is an astronomical and liturgical rarity. This means that, with a longer stretch of Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, we take in much more of the Sermon on the Mount, Year A’s appointed reading for the Sundays after Epiphany. And this week’s portion from Matthew 6—rare in the Sunday cycle but familiar in our hearing—couldn’t be more timely. Read more

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Realist of Grace

 Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

“Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus commands. That’s nowhere near as rosy and naïve as the bumper sticker I once came across, in a boutique full of inspirational art and Buddhist tchotckes, that read: “Love your enemies and you won’t have any.”

There once was at time that I, too, believed I could change the world and others by wishing or willing it so. I was fortunate to unlearn that nonsense before I caused too much harm. Read more