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What Are You Afraid Of?

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Luke 12:32-40

The gospel writer, Luke, has a habit of prefacing good news with the exhortation “Do not be afraid.” This seems a bit odd since we’re more likely to think that it’s the delivery of bad news which requires a little no-fear pep talk. But over and over Luke’s pronouncements about God’s generous ways of working in the world—about the good news of the kingdom—are preceded by the words “Do not be afraid”:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”

In this week’s reading from Luke 12, it’s Jesus, not an angel, who says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Why tell your hearers not to be afraid when the news is so happy? Read more

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Ask And It Will Be Given

Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13

I heard a lecture by the philosopher Dallas Willard once in which he said that he believes that God wants to fulfill all of our desires and give us everything we want.  Of course, he said, there must be much work of transformation on the wanter before this can happen.  I am reminded of this as I read the Gospel for this week in which Jesus gives his disciples a prayer that will come to define their way of life and tells them, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

This is a radical opening for relationship, a possibility for fulfillment and actualization beyond anything else.  And what is it that is given for this asking?  The parallel passage to Luke 11:5-13 in Matthew 7:9-11 says that our Father in heaven will “give good things to those who ask him.”  But Luke doesn’t say that the gift awaiting the asker will be “good things,” but rather the Holy Spirit. Read more

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Knowing the One Thing

Amos 8: 1-12; Luke 10: 38-42

Luke tells us that Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha.  They welcome him into their home and Martha gets busy doing the many things a good hostess does: preparing food, setting the table, straightening the room, picking up the newspapers that have piled up, and on and on.  Meanwhile sister Mary sits in front of Jesus listening to what he has to say.  Martha, understandably frustrated says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister just sits there while I do all the work?  Tell her to get up and help!”  Jesus replies, “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part …”

Several years ago I attended a national meeting of about two hundred clergy from around the country and representing various church traditions across the ecumenical spectrum.  In preparation we were asked to name what we considered the major obstacles to our church members’ growth as disciples.  Without a close second, church members’ busy-ness was easily agreed upon by clergy as the number one problem keeping them from growing in Christ. Read more

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Whose Word is It Anyway?

In late summer 2004, I was approached by the Chair of the Democractic Party in the county in which I lived to offer a prayer at an upcoming appearance of John Edwards, then-Vice-Presidential candidate and pre-fall media darling. I received this phone call just weeks after returning to full-time pastoral ministry from maternity leave. I hemmed and hawed in response to her invitation, explaining that I was still trying to figure out each day how to get a shower, tend to pastoral duties, and be my son’s main food source. She was shocked at my lack of enthusiasm. Even though we had never met and she did not know me, she exclaimed, “I thought you would be honored to do it!” Truth be told, I faced the prospect with dread. The maternity issues were only part of my concerns. I knew I would have to speak the truth.
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Three Funerals and a Wedding

Maple syrup has no business running off my pancakes into the sausage links. Sweet and spicy don’t belong together. It’s a violation of the natural order of things.

This was my settled culinary worldview until something unexpected happened on a visit to Mexico City. At the mercado, my family ordered a heaping cup of sweet, succulent mango. But because we had crossed the border, the mango slices came with a liberal dusting of chili powder. Mango with chili sounded like an unnatural combination. But after we tried it, we couldn’t get enough of it. The union of spicy and sweet created something new and beautiful: a bold, vibrant flavor standing out from the drab palette of tastes we were accustomed to.

We’re used to Paul speaking of the cross as the center of his theology: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….” The cross has become conventional for us, our theological “meat and potatoes.” But what we may not be used to is the bold and vibrant way that Paul speaks of the cross intersecting with realities we would normally keep separate. Read more