Internalizing what Externals Mean

1 Samuel 16:1-13

We live in a culture obsessed with appearance.  Tanning beds promise us sun-kissed bodies year round.  Moleskine notebooks remind others of how creative we are and our designer eye wear helps us not only to see but to be seen.  In this image obsessed culture we are tempted to continually modify the external, often in an effort to avoid the work of tending to the inner life which cannot be so easily dressed up.

God, however, is not so easily distracted by the temptation of the external.  This episode in the life of God’s people is a brilliant example of the declaration God made to Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8-9) Read more


Engaging Jesus

John 4:5-42

How long does it take to know someone truly? A year, a decade, a lifetime? Whether working alongside someone, putting in the hard work of committed friendship, or sharing the blessings and labors of marriage, we can be confident that we can know a person’s identity, aims, and motivations with the passage of time.

Yet after two millennia, can we be so certain that we know Jesus? Read more


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


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


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

Sanctuary window

What it is, and is not, to be an EP Endorser

Early on, we said that The Ekklesia Project was a “school for subversive friendship,” an opportunity to discover friends you didn’t know you had who were busy letting Jesus turn the world right-side up (dethroning the powers in the process). That was in 2000. Now, thanks to Web2.0 social media, it appears that discovering ‘friends’ is as easy as clicking “accept” whenever Facebook invites me to. I’ve accumulated 180 ‘friends’ that way, some of whom I actually know. Read more


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


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


Reality Hunger

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; Matthew 5:21-37

Reality hunger.  I read a book by that title last summer and the title, more than the book, describes what many of us are feeling these days.  We long for the concrete, the real, the hard surfaced world against all of the abstractions of the Economy, of the powers and institutions that seem to dictate our lives without our understanding the what and who and why of their existence.  And yet, we must understand that this abstraction is a choice, that our hunger goes unsatiated because we continue to eat the high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fare of the convenience stores lining the interstate through nowhere and to nowhere.  Call them the temple foods of false gods—cheap, convenient, subsidized lies that seem like the real stuff, but leave us sick and unhealthy. Read more


Still the Crucified

Isaiah 58:1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Paul’s description of his preaching is enough to stop any preacher in her or his tracks.
It is certainly enough to stop this one.

What do I regard as essential in my preaching? Do I rely on sounding scholarly or worldly wise? Do I trust in having something new and captivating to say? Read more