Sewing the Armor of Light

Ahem.

Chooga-chooga-chooga-bzzzzzzzzzzz.

Kerchunk, kerchunk.

Chooga-chooga-chooga-bzzzzzzzzzzz.

“Mom, can I look at your buttons?”

“Yes, dear, you can play with the button box as long as you clean up what you spill.”

Chooga-chooga-chooga.

“Today on Oprah, a breakthrough in healthy weight loss.”

“Merideth, don’t let the twins put buttons in their mouths, they might choke.  Whitney, come over here and let me hold this up to you.  I think you’re having a growth spurt.”

“Okay.  Mom, why can’t I have white like Maggie’s dress?”

“Because you look so pretty in green.  And look at this beautiful lace for your collar.”

“I want beautiful lace too!  Mooommmm!”

“Merideth, your dress will be lovely, and do not make me ask you again to keep those buttons away from the twins.”

Chooga-chooga-chooga.

Kerchunk.

Chooga-chooga-buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Continue reading

Gospel Tornado Siren

In our Gospel today, Jesus is speaking of very real threats to his followers.

They are walking in the temple and admiring how beautiful it is, adorned with rich stones and ornamentations, and he has to bring them abruptly back to Earth with a wake-up call.  While you are thinking about how beautiful these material things are, Jesus says, dangers are creeping up on you all around.

Jesus warns his followers of three types of danger.

The first is being led away by false teachers and false Messiahs.

The second is great external calamities like wars, earthquakes and famines.

And the third is losing faith because of betrayal by friends.

His original disciples were in danger of all these things happening to them literally.

How blessed we are that we as twenty-first century Americans are not in danger of famine or being put on trial and condemned to death for our faith.

Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are not so lucky. Continue reading

Can You Lose Control?

Most of the time when Jesus is arguing with someone in the gospels, it’s the Pharisees. But this time, he is confronted by a group that we only see once in the Gospel of Luke: the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a group in the upper social and economic strata of Jewish society who jockeyed for power with the Pharisees. They are known in our story today for what they don’t believe: that there is such a thing as resurrection.

It’s a cold and strange life to contemplate, living with the idea that our souls are as finite as our bodies.

The positive part of it for the Sadducees is that it makes them emphasize that what we do on Earth really matters because it is our only chance to make things right. There is no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by for the Sadducees. You have to take responsibility for your life and your society now because there is no afterlife.

But it’s clear that at least this particular group of Sadducees in this particular moment are not exactly focused on “living your best life now.”

They are concerned only with tripping Jesus up on orthodox Torah interpretation so they can humiliate him and threaten his power and his standing with the people. And so they create this bizarre hypothetical scenario in which a childless woman has to marry a series of seven brothers as each of them dies without leaving an heir.

They think they’re so smart with their tricky question. Continue reading

Hailstorm and Hernia Protection

There is something magical about the Feast of All Saints. It’s mystical and serene and joyful and reflective.

But unfortunately I’m going to have to cut through the clouds of mental incense here for a minute and talk about…wait for it…doctrine.

Shudder.

Doctrine is frankly the last thing I want to talk about at the worst of times, much less on such a beautiful, mysterious day as All Saints Day.

But mystery is the key here. We want to have informed mystery. We want to have mystery because that is the nature of an ineffable God and an afterlife beyond our imaginings.

We do not want to have mystery simply because we are ignorant and have not done our homework.

If we’re going to celebrate All Saints Day, we need to talk about what saints are and why they get their own day all at once. Continue reading

Are You Worth It?

Today Paul writes to us in 2 Timothy: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” And the lion we find stalking us in our gospel story today is pride.

Pride is such a sticky trap that I for one am always struggling with, or rather the pride-humility polarity that is so hard to balance.

We all know that being overly impressed with ourselves like the Pharisee in our story is not the way to go. But a humility that becomes twisted with self-hatred, a self-esteem crushed to the point that we believe we are worthless, does nothing to please God either.

Today we must look at our scriptures and ask the question: what is our true worthiness?

We begin with the two characters in our gospel story, the Pharisee and the tax collector. Their respective worths are even labeled by how they are named—the Pharisee is capitalized in the text and the tax collector is lower case. You can see the capitalized Pharisee and lower-case tax collector in the temple in your mind’s eye: the one standing tall and proud, the other diminished and sinking low in his grief and shame.

But consider on what the Pharisee builds his self-worth. First, it is by comparing himself to others.

The first words out of his mouth are, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

He places himself in a hierarchy against other people and gives thanks that he ranks higher by virtue of not having committed these notorious sins.

And then he values himself for the deeds he has done. He proclaims before God and all the other people in the temple praying, “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” The Pharisee can point to a list of the sins he is not guilty of and the good works he has accomplished and count himself on solid ground before God.

Except it is not solid ground at all. Continue reading

How to Be an Unjust Vessel of Grace

Our epistle today from 2 Timothy tells us that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

That does sound like Paul, doesn’t it?  Bless his heart.

You can practically hear him harrumph at the end of that.  Paul can be a great theologian when he’s not getting too hung up on gender roles, but he does get a wee bit stuffy and uptight-sounding from time to time.

The word “inspired” comes from roots connected to the word “breath.”  The breath of God, the wind of the Holy Spirit, can blow through any verse of scripture and breathe new life into it, but it is up to us to open our hearts and minds to that inspiration by applying our holy gifts of creativity and imagination to these old stories that we have heard a thousand times before.

Take for example our gospel lesson, the story of the widow and the unjust judge that Luke tells us Jesus related to teach us about the need to pray always and not give up heart.

The widow convinces the unjust judge to change his mind and grant her justice because of her annoying persistence.

Whom do we usually cast in the role of the unjust judge?

God. Continue reading

Build a House Inside The Problem

Last week we talked about when Jesus was having a bad day.  Today we begin with the Israelites in the Book of Jeremiah, who are having a bad century.

Jeremiah is speaking to a people who have been utterly decimated by Babylon.  They have been invaded, lost the war, and been carted off to exile in a foreign land.

They have lost friends and family members in the siege of Jerusalem.  Their last memory of their homeland is of their beautiful temple lying in smoking ruins, fading slowly into the distance behind them as they are dragged away.

They are beaten, humiliated, devoid of hope.

Now Jeremiah writes to them, and he’s writing to everyone, from whomever is still alive among the leadership down to the common people: “These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

This is a people hurting and embittered.  They are desperate to hear that even now God is stirring up God’s wrath, ready to rain down fire and destruction on Babylon and rescue God’s beloved people to bring them home.

What they hear is totally shocking and jarring. Continue reading

When Jesus Has a Bad Day

Today’s gospel is always a nice little putting on of the brakes for my ego.  Whenever I start to get too proud of myself for my work and my efforts and my ministry, I can remember what Jesus says here, which is basically, well, that’s just your job.  And I don’t mean the job for which I get a paycheck.  That’s our job as Christians.

To be faithful servants.

Jesus says in our gospel today that we are not to expect any thanks for that good and faithful service, but I wonder about that when I take a look at the very next part of Luke, the part we will in fact read next week.  Let’s put both of them side by side and see what we can discern about where Jesus is in this moment.

First we read: “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

The very next verses in the text that we will read next week, say this: “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.””

Now think about that for a moment.  First, Jesus says, rather vehemently I may add, don’t expect any thanks for what you do in ministry.  Then, not five minutes later, he complains, rightly of course, about not getting thanked for his ministry.

Do you know what I think is happening here? Continue reading