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

Celebrate!

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

To see as God sees.

I have had the delight this Lent to have always before me the picture of Charles McCollough’s sculpture, “The Return of the Prodigal.” (pictured*)

It has led me to contemplate not only the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents but also the suffering of God over the lost, the dead, the unrepentant. Perhaps it is parents who best glimpse this pain as we ache, grieve and pray for our children, at times tempted to shout out, as in Psalm 32, “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” As loving parent to the whole world and all its messy brokenness, oh, how God must suffer. Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking reflects that “…Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and sees us whole…The worst sentence Love can pass is that we behold the suffering which Love endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one.” Read more

Flunking Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; John 12:20-33 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

“I have flunked Lent. I flunk it every year.”

Fleming Rutledge writes these words in one of her many fine Holy Week sermons. But they’re my words, too, this week, and perhaps yours also. We’ve flunked Lent. We always do.

But this is not the bad news it may at first appear to be.

When we set out on Ash Wednesday every year to observe a holy Lent, we pray Psalm 51 together, asking for mercy and cleansing, for wisdom, for an erasing of the record that stands against us—a blotting out of our iniquities. We pray that God will “create in us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within us.”

And then we often act as if we must accomplish these things ourselves. We embrace Lenten disciplines—a good thing—but we easily mistake them for what they are not: self-improvement programs meant to make us better (thinner, smarter, nicer) people. We come dangerously close to narcissism, shifting our gaze from Christ and our neighbor in need to ourselves and our trivial preoccupations. Read more