A Patience for JEsus

July 26, 2020

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I know that we have each found our own unique ways to respond to the current pandemic that we find ourselves. Many people have taken up crafts that had long been put outside. Others have been seeking their inner musical abilities. Personally, I have been more consistent in playing and practicing the ukulele. It is fun and even a bit relaxing, other than when learning to make those awkward transitions between certain chords. Don’t look for me to lead music in worship anytime soon!

There is one thing that I have thought about doing during this time of quarantine and social distancing but have yet to follow through. My family loves sourdough bread and it seems that one of the trends of this quarantine has been to begin a sourdough starter. However, reading just the instructions can seem a little daunting. It requires patience as it requires daily attention for at least the first week. What if I want a slice of sourdough now?

In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus teaches in several parables, one right after the other. One such way to look at these parables is in a manner that Jesus is trying to instill a sense of patience among his followers. Just like there is patience required in making a sourdough starter, the kingdom of heaven does not come immediately and usually requires patience as we listen for God’s guidance in our life.

In the parable of the mustard seed, the seed grows into a large tree to provide shelter for the birds of the air to take rest and be renewed. This tree does not grow overnight though, and it requires patience. In the parable of the yeast, the woman mixes it in with flour and must wait for the bread to leaven. Thus, a need for patience as one waits for the bread to rise.

In the parable of the hidden treasure, the person sells all his possessions to buy the field that contains the great treasure. This does not happen over night and it requires patience once again. It is not much different from the parable of the pearl where the merchant spends who knows how long looking for this one pearl of great value and when he does, sells all he has to buy it. In both of these parables, they persevere with patience as they know that once they find what is treasured and valued, it will last. It is like the kingdom of heaven.

I wonder, why does Jesus rattle all of these parables off? Shouldn’t one simple teaching be enough? Jesus knows us though. And I mean, he truly knows how to speak to our hearts and what makes them sing. I believe that it is hope that one of the many parables he teaches about the kingdom of heaven will catch within our hearts so that we may continue to share that same good news.

The parables may seem difficult to comprehend, but so is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven disrupts. It afflicts the comfortable, rattles cages, and turns over tables. The kingdom of heaven is not about business as usual but is still about a new economy of God’s justice that doesn’t make sense to the way of the world.[1]

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reminds us that nothing will get in the way of God’s love for us and all of humanity. Do we sense that love all the time? No. Sometimes, it appears empty and we are left waiting. We can learn patience from the parables and a sense of comfort, that as we wait patiently, the kingdom of heaven is drawing near.

That same patience can be utilized today as we long for life to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal, where all seems right in the world. There are some teachings of value that we will bring into the future, in our lives, in our community, and in the church. There are also some new teachings that we will learn along the way that will guide us into a new normal. Our gospel lesson concludes this morning with Jesus saying, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

God is continuing to work and reveal a new creation in our very being. A creation where all things are made new and the kingdom of heaven reigns on this earth.

[1] Pulpit Fiction, https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/proper12a

Be Good Soil

July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

You could say that Sam did not know any different when he was growing up.

It was not unusual for him to come home from school and see at least one person passed out in the house from drinking or to find illegal drugs spread out on the kitchen table. As he became a teenager, this is what he knew. This was the environment that he was raised, and he witnessed his grandparents doing drugs as well as his parents. It should not really be all that surprising that for his fifteenth birthday, he received a bag of methamphetamine.

I would meet Sam several years later as he came in front of the panel for entrance into the Methamphetamine Court, where he could be given the opportunity to enter recovery. He was being housed in the same correctional center as a parent and a grandparent. I was serving as a clergy representative and had no vote in whether he could enter the program but was present to provide spiritual support.

The question was, did he have the desire and willingness to sow in good soil?

In our gospel lesson this week, Jesus shares the parable of the sower. One that many of you have heard before. Jesus continues to stick with these agricultural parables because that is what is familiar to the people of 1st century Israel. It is an agrarian economy, and Jesus speaks to the people in a language in which they will understand. He is also not afraid to turn everything upside down to show that the current teachings of the authorities may be a little off base.

Now, I am not even going to pretend that I know anything about agriculture, because I could be quickly called out by some of our members. However, I am sure that we could all agree that Jesus’ discussion of the farmer scattering seeds is haphazard. Wouldn’t you want to plant the seeds in the good soil where you know it is going to root and have the best chance of survival? It would be wasteful to just throw seed to the birds or in the rocks.

Jesus goes as far to say that in the good soil you could have a 100-fold return. A farmer in 1st century Israel would be ecstatic if this happened because it would mean that they could probably retire to a nice lake house on the Sea of Galilee.

The farmer is not that precise in his planting though. The farmer scatters seed throughout the fields, no matter the condition of the soil. Yes, the good soil will produce the most, but just maybe one of those seeds will take root somewhere else and have an incredible impact. Perhaps the bird that eats the seed travels across the countryside and the seeds end up being deposited for someone in need after the birds had digested them. Sounds kind of like the gospel being spread!

We have that same opportunity to encounter the Word of God through the gospel anytime we open scripture. It is the Word of God that nurtures the soil in which we choose to take root. Now, lets be realistic. Not all of us have had that opportunity to be nurtured in the good soil that Jesus speaks of. Some of us may have grown up between a rock and a hard place as the saying goes. Some of us have had more more opportunities given to us than others. It can be dependent upon the environment in which we were raised, the financial means of our parents, and the color of our skin.

I believe that there is a great desire for the majority to want to live and be that good soil that Jesus speaks about in the parable. We want his teachings to take root and shape our lives so that others can encounter the same grace we have come to know. It is this hope that we share with our siblings that are stuck between that rock and a hard place.

Sam was one of those people. You could say that his environment was like the rocks where the seeds were scattered, and it was difficult for them to take root. This was the life he knew, and he did not know how to move beyond the drugs he had grown up with on the kitchen table. Yet, it was the hope of the court to provide him with the proper support and tools to move beyond the cycle of drugs his family had become accustom. We were offering to show him the way to the good soil and he had to choose whether his was ready to receive the love and grace that was so ready for him. It is a long road to haul, and it is not easy.

God’s abundance is available to all and once the kindom of God is fully here, it will not matter what soil we find ourselves in because God’s grace and love will wash away all differences. We are far from perfect and our soil is not always the greatest. However, Jesus invites us to let the soil and in turn us be nurtured by his welcome and love. In the meantime, how are you (a follower of Christ), and our community, welcoming people to see how rich and vibrant that good soil is?

Last Stop on the Z Train by Jason Storbakken

This collection began as stories that Storbakken would tell his children while riding on the New York Subway. They are fantastical and some of the stories are true creative genius. Others will also make you go, hmm.

I have never been on the New York Subway, but have ridden the trains in D.C., Chicago, and public buses in Columbus. I can imagine that one sees many different characters. It is these characters that help inspire the stories for this book. It is a great escape from the present and invites the readers to let all things go and enjoy these gifts to the reader.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

A fitting novel, especially in this time of continued struggles between Israel and Palestine and the talk of further annexation by Israel. My trip their earlier this year helped bring the book to life as I could picture many of the places that McCann writes about.

McCann weaves together a wonderful story based upon the true events in the lives of Rami, a Jewish Israeli, and Bassam, a Muslim from Palestine. Their lives come together as their young daughters are killed in the ongoing violence between factions. It is a story of how one can overcome death and loss.

Apeirogon is a beautifully written novel that leads the reader on a journey into the lives and struggles of families seeking peace and the end to occupation. The details that McCann writes invites the reader nto the timeline of the story as it spans the life of current day Israel. It is a must read!

The Green Good News by T. Wilson Dickinson

How do we connect God’s creation with with the thought of empire that seems to take the front seat more often than not in the world? This is nothing new, as Jesus came preaching about the exact same thing. Dickinson takes an in-depth look at what it means to truly follow Christ today and how we can live out the “Green Good News.”

Utilizing scripture and the radical way of Jesus, Dickinson leads the reader to look at scripture in new and exciting ways that brings it to the heart of the gospel. He is not afraid to call out the “empire” that we find ourselves today and states, “we must lose some of the “peace” and “prosperity” that the empire of wealth has promised.”

He includes an in-depth discussion on food-systems and how they have been shaped by the society live and how they are much different from what Jesus had in mind. This leads to the theology of sharing food at the table and the deep relationships it can create. This book would make a great addition to a church book study and shared among colleagues.

Thanks to Speakeasy for providing the opportunity to review this book.

Whole Identity by Dr. Jerome D. Lubbe

Just when you are wondering how many more books about the Enneagram can be written, Dr. Lubbe presents Whole Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagam Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving. While the Enneagram is centuries old, the recent rediscovery of it in the past century has led one to a deeper knowledge of the self and how one interacts with others.

Whole Identity looks at the Enneagram in a neurological way that can connect more people to the wonders of its ability to find one’s true self. Dr. Lubbe states, “The goal of this work is to foster physical, mental, emotional, and relational health for the purpose of spiritual well-being by increasing self-awareness and practical application via the Whole-Identity Model.” He explains the science and how it works within our brains and like the majority of resources on the Enneagram, he walks through the nine types of the Enneagram and presents a SWOT analysis on each one, along with some exercises to strengthen or get more in touch with that type.

This is presented much like a research paper, yet it is very easy to read and for those that have studied the Enneagram for years, could be a nice addition to one’s library.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

a riff of love by greg jarrell

Jarrell’s book, A Riff of Love, reads like a melodic tune that touches your heart and empowers you to reach out to others with love.

He speaks to what it means to be in a loving and caring community that has the best interest of all its members in consideration when making decisions. The chapters are arranged like different tracks on an album and to see community at work in the divine within those communities is moving.

His book is also a call to action to be in the community and be with those that live in the community. When writing of preparing for a funeral, he addresses the neighborhood and the churches role. He writes, “The Christians, they worship a dead man come to life on Sunday morning, but cannot bear to be with the dying and broken-hearted during the week. This is a Broken Windows Theology–in America, the churches do things to the poor, but they cannot bear being with the poor.”

What a call for us to come to terms with who we are as a church and even more so, a church in America. May we learn from Jarrell what it means to live in community through being the hands and feet of Christ.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

The universal christ by richard rohr

“How might the notion of Christ change the whole equation? Is Christ simply Jesus’s last name? Or is it a revealing title that deserves our full attention? How is Christ’s function or role different from Jesus’s? What does Scripture mean when Peter says in his very first address to the crowds after Pentecost that ‘God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36)? Weren’t they always one and the same, starting at Jesus’s birth?

And so Fr. Richard Rohr lays out his premise for one of his most transformational books yet. He says that he is slowing down and in the waning years of his life, however, his writing of the last few years has been an eye opening experience into his walk with Christ from the time he started the journey.

Some will say that Rohr encroaches on the edge of universalism in this newest venture, and yet, is that necessarily a bad thing? To encounter a loving God that loves all of creation, which God has created? While discussing other religions, his focus remains true to the Gospel and what Christ means to all of humanity through that lens.

I have been sitting on this book for some time now and not sure why I had waited so long to finally pick it up to read. Rohr brings his experience as a Franciscan Friar to the table in much of his discussion and he brings as greater understanding as to what it means to be Franciscan in the world today.

When we make Christ about us and how Christ interacts for us, we discount the greater world. The world is an entire ecosystem that is called to work together in harmony. Yet, that is where we fall short as humanity. Rohr states, “Unless we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life and ecosystems on our planet, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our quest for personal safety and sanity. Privitized salvation never accumulates into corporate change because it attracts and legitimates individualists to begin with. Think about that.”

The reader is invited into a deeper reflection as to what God means and ultimately who Christ is in their life. It is an invitation that elicits prayer and meditation. It is an invitation that is much needed at this time in our society.

rest in jesus

July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

These are the last few verses of today’s gospel lesson from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation. This scripture comes at a time when many of you may be on vacation and amid Independence Day celebrations. While celebrating freedom, have you thought about the rest that you have longed for and the ultimate freedom that can be found in Jesus Christ?

As we move past this Independence Day, and the unusual nature of the holiday this year, many of you are probably already looking at your calendars and wondering what is on tap for the week coming up. It is difficult to fully rest like Jesus invites us to do. To take a deep breathe, and fully sit in the presence of God is difficult. Why, because it has been ingrained in us that we must be busy, and if we are not, then we are not being useful of our time.

What is your typical response when someone asks you, “how’s it going?” My guess would be that a lot of the time, our response is, “I’m busy.” We may then run off a list of those things that we are so busy doing. While many of those tasks may be important, I doubt that few require our immediate attention and we could afford to stop and rest. It is even possible for you to delegate to someone else a task that may not necessarily be completed by you. Once again, we run into the conundrum that we know how it should be done and thus want to do it ourselves to ensure that the task is completed properly and to our satisfaction. Thus, this endless cycle of being busy never ends, because being busy means that we are being productive. Or so, many would like you to think.  This does not even consider the constant way our brains continue to function and keep us up and thinking at all hours of the day and night. I have heard stories that this has become an even greater issue during this pandemic. I know that I have had my own struggles.

Amid a holiday weekend, and for those looking forward to vacation time, these verses from Matthew’s gospel this morning bear permission to simply rest in Christ. It is a message of welcome from Jesus to let us know that we are not alone. Resting in Christ can happen anytime. We do not have to be on vacation. We do not have to be alone. We simply must be willing to let Jesus bear our burdens that are too much for us at this time. While Jesus takes on our burdens, he invites us to take his yoke from him. Are you ready to take that yoke?

“What do you expect when you come to Jesus? Someone who will say you are ok just the way you are? Someone who invites you to follow in a way of love and to give up security, comfort, power and prestige for the sake of God and neighbor?[1]” Jesus never said following him would be easy. Peterson’s translation resounds deeper, “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” In taking Jesus’ yoke, we receive his presence and teaching to guide us and lead us from now to eternity.

As we celebrate Independence Day, Jesus offers us a freedom of his presence. It is a freedom that can envelop our entire being and does not mean we are free from work, but from burdensome labor that steers us away from a life in Christ.

Jesus invites us to rest in God’s grace and mercy. It is here that we are transformed in our living as we turn toward Jesus and live out the gospel. It is this unforced rhythm of grace that we long for and is available to us if we just slow down to rest in Christ.

[1] https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/proper9a

Welcoming Christ

June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever even gives a cup of cold water…”

In 2016, a movement began at an ELCA congregation in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jessica McClard launched the grassroots mini pantry movement, when she planted the Little Free Pantry Pilot, a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time no questions asked. She hoped her spin on the Little Free Library® concept would pique local awareness of food insecurity while creating a space for neighbors to help meet neighborhood food needs. Little did she know the impact that it would have just four short years later. There are nearly 1200 registered locations on the mini pantry website, which includes locations in 6 different countries. Grant it, these are just the registered ones. Perhaps, you have seen the mini pantries around Richmond. Near the beginning of the pandemic we have found ourselves in, the Richmond Lions Club installed four mini pantries to provide for the community.

“Whoever even gives a cup of cold water…”

In the gospel lesson this morning, Jesus concludes his instruction to the disciples before they are sent out to proclaim the Good News. Jesus has welcomed the disciples into his sphere of influence and now he engages with them to instruct them into not only welcoming others but also being welcomed by others into their homes and communities. When Jesus speaks of welcome, he also implies that they should receive and be received. Whoever receives you, also receives Jesus.

This is a powerful reception into being connected with God and the start of a relationship that will grow over time. Jesus welcomes us in first so that we can hear the Gospel through various means. We can hear it at church. See it out on the street. Experience it in the words and compassion of our friends and neighbors. All these avenues have their foundation in Christ.

As humans, we make this difficult.

Somewhere along the way my studies, I learned the word, Anthropocentric. For those of you that may not be familiar with it, it means putting the human person at the center, the end all be all, of what we do. When we focus on ourselves, we begin to love humankind over and above God. Examining the predominant culture in the United States, we live in a highly me-focused culture. It is an anthropocentric worldview that dominates our thinking and actions. We have a desire to be in control of everything and it is difficult handing it over to God or any other type of authority figure. When we come at things with an anthropocentric worldview, we let our pride, ego, self-doubt, and the like keep us from connecting with each other except in self-interested ways. When we read scripture then, we can let our own bias get in the way of truly hearing the word of God. We carry this bias so closely to our hearts at times, it makes it difficult to open ourselves up to welcome and be welcomed by others.  

Jesus brings us an open invitation to be received into his love freely with nothing required on our part. This is something as Lutherans that we should be fully aware. When Martin Luther was reading Romans, he came to the epiphany that the grace and mercy of God is a gift and we are welcomed by Christ in this way.

Christ then invites us to be transformed by that welcome as we are received into a deep loving relationship with the Trinity. And, just as Jesus prepared to send the disciples out to welcome and receive, we are sent out to welcome and receive others in our communities. As we are received openly in Christ, we too should receive others openly without any expectations on our part for something in return.

This welcoming can be difficult in times when we have been isolated. Yet, we are also living in the twenty-first century with the gifts of technology to share the gospel in new and exciting ways. Just as people are welcomed to the little pantries, we can welcome others to hearing the Word of God and sharing the love of Christ.

Who have you brought a cup of cold water to these past few months?