I had to reach, deep down into my heart to retrieve this true story. It’s from a time long, long ago, thirty years long ago, in a place far, far away—McLean, Virginia.
My youngest daughter, Paige, who married last year, was maybe four and a half years old. Christina, her friend, also four and half, lived just around the block. She was at our house for a playdate. Paige and Christina were sitting on the family room sofa. So have in your mind now, two little people. Their legs are outstretched in front of them, because, you know, their legs aren’t long enough to sit as grown ups do, with feet to the floor. Their legs are even too short to dangle. Read More
Covenant. That’s one of the themes of today’s passage. And actually it was the theme of last week’s Old Testament lectionary passage, if you have been following that. In last week’s Old Testament lectionary passage, God covenants to never again send a flood of the dimensions of that first flood, which as you know, wiped out almost everything on the planet. In this week’s Old Testament lectionary passage, God covenants with Abraham and Sarah that they will be fruitful and multiply and be forbearers of entire nations.
I use the word covenant a lot—since I officiate at a lot of weddings. When I officiate at a wedding, I ask the groom, “Knowing that God has created, ordered and blessed the covenant of marriage, is it your desire and intention to enter this covenant?“ After the groom says yes, and no one yet has said no, thank goodness! I ask the same of the bride, “is it YOUR desire and intention to enter this covenant?” Read More
Ok. So Jesus is at the Jordan as he is every year, this time, which is the beginning of Lent. He’s at the Jordan River. He has just been baptized by his cousin John, and as he rises from the water, a miraculous thing happens. God opens the cellar door of heaven; crouches down and in what I imagine is a voice like thunder, God says, “In YOU I am well pleased.” It’s miraculous but you’ve heard it so many times, that it’s probably become ho hum with you. Yeah, yeah yeah.
The poet Rumi says, when we really need to pay attention, “Close both ears and hear with the other eye.” I am asking you to do that now. So, close the ears on either side of your head, and open the ear that is inside your heart. Listen to God with that third ear and THIS time, think about God’s inflexion, as God crouches beside that cellar door of heaven. “In you I am well pleased.” Read More
For many years I was in charge of planning and participating in church sponsored mission trips. Usually our one mission trip was to Marlinton, West Virginia, although eventually we added other mission trips to our summer offerings--to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and one year to Nogales, Mexico. So, Marlinton, West Virginia. It was a super-depressed area. In Marlinton we worked with Habitat for Humanity. We never worked at building new homes in Marlinton, though. That was because the Habitat there didn’t have enough money for NEW homes—we worked at renovating old homes, many of them, old trailer homes. We worked in many a trailer park over the years, actually. Since many of the volunteers were high school and college age, we went on our trips when the youth were out of school, during the summer—and it was always, always hot. Read More
June, 1991. I was just finishing up another week, another year directing vacation bible school at my church. Sixty-seven kids participated that June, along with 15 volunteer teachers, crafts people, and snack planners, preparers. It had gone well. I was on a high, actually. Lots of good vibes on that last day of VBS.
Now at my church, Immanuel Presbyterian, in McLean Virginia, the sanctuary is removed from the classrooms and offices. Between the sanctuary and the classrooms and offices is a small courtyard. I was in that courtyard, walking from the sanctuary, where end-of-week VBS exercises had just taken place--toward the classrooms, to help with the-end-of-week clean up, when I felt it. That feeling was profound, overwhelming. I stopped walking and just stood there. You know the phrase, “time stood still?” Well, I suppose it did. I don’t remember hearing anything or seeing anything, although surely there were other people in that courtyard, talking, laughing. I was alone with my feelings, under a courtyard tree. Read More
Knowing that we would be having special guests with us today, to talk about Meals on Wheels; and realizing that this is a slow time in the church calendar—we are in that ho -hum liturgical stretch between Christmas and Lent, I have strayed from the lectionary today. But don’t tell Presbytery—no, I’m kidding. It’s really ok for me to do that.
TODAY, I thought I would have us read some scripture passages that have to do with food, and we did that, right? The scripture passage from the Psalms and the one from Acts? After that, I thought I would say something truly remarkable and insightful about food from a religious perspective, based on the passages I chose for today, and that would be a lead-in for Marilyn’s, Debbie’s and Leigh’s presentation. Read More
Like all of us, I guess, with this ping-pong weather we are experiencing, I have been worried that snow is just around the corner—that one of these days I may find myself snowed in, and/or having to call off church. I have a bag of rock salt and a snow shovel at the ready. Will that be enough? I don’t know! Snowstorms. Not wanting one but they do make for some good stories.
My great snowstorm story happened when I was 9 years old, in March, 1962. I was living in Richmond, Virginia with the rest of my family. My younger brother, who was seven, and I had taken the bus to our elementary school that day. That morning, waiting for the bus, there was already significant snow on the ground. I was still light-weight enough that I could walk on the snow’s ice crust and not leave boot prints. Remember those days? Read More
Our text for today reminds us that Jesus had a family. He had a mother and a father, or at least a step father, Joseph.. Jesus also belonged to another family—though—an extended family. That extended family was “the Jews.” For that reason, Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised eight days after his birth. Circumcision for the Jews is sort of kind of like baptism for Christians—a demonstration that Jesus’ parents claimed their son’s Jewish ancestry. Ditto when in compliance with Jewish law and family tradition, they bring him to the temple so that they might offer the required sacrifices.
That Jesus’ parents were Jewish and that Jesus himself was a Jew has stuck in the craw of good Christians for as long as there have been Christians. That is because if Jesus was a Jew, that fact complicates our own relationship with Jews. They are certainly NOT part of OUR family, in the same way that our fellow church members are—But they ARE related to we who are Christians, religiously speaking, in a way that Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus are not. Read More
There’s no star in our scripture reading for today, but today I want to talk about a star anyway. I have always imagined a star hanging brightly over the barn in which Jesus, the shepherds, the holy family and the cows and donkeys, too, all congregated—even if the star didn’t really appear until sometime after. To add to my case, there ARE stars on Christmas trees—in fact there are stars on OUR church Christmas tree!
Today I want to talk about a star, because I, we all, think about stars at Christmas, and because it plays a significant role in the story I am about to tell you—which is a true Christmas story. Read More
I don’t much like Mary. There. I’ve said it. I know she is Jesus’ mother. I know she is meek and mild, an innocent child, Notre Dame, Queen of Heaven, Theokotos (a heavy sounding Greek word with theological meaning-- it means God bearer) and so on and on. But, I don’t like her. I don’t like her mainly because she betrays me, and all women, by holding herself up as the perfect woman. As a virgin and a mother, she is an impossible aspiration for us. Of course, it is not Mary’s fault, and I realize that, too. She never meant to betray us. She never imagined she would be that whom people have made her out to be. So maybe I should say that it’s not Mary, the flesh and blood person, I don’t like, but Mary’s image. I don’t appreciate the mythology Christians have created about Mary. She’s a siren, a female masthead; a mermaid, Super Woman— in other words, Mary is more than flesh and blood; she is a figment of peoples’ imaginations sometimes run amok, at least as far as I am concerned. Read More
If you were here last week, you heard me reel off a litany of awfulness perpetrated by human beings in the last year. Hard to believe, but it is true. There is a lot of sin going on—not petty sin, either. We’re talking wars, cruelty to people who are economically disadvantaged, or who have dark skin, or foreign accents, or are born in the “wrong” country. We’re talking sins perpetrated against animals and even children and infants. Then I followed that by sharing with you this truism —Just as you can’t change bad behavior until you acknowledge, it, you can’t acknowledge God’s redemption until you acknowledge what is fallen. Our culture, our society is fallen. Harder to admit, but equally true: each one of us is fallen. Especially in Advent we wait for God and God’s redemption of the world, and along with that, our own personal redemption.
It is coming—like molten, red hot volcanic rock, it is slowly creeping toward our cities and towns, yes, our houses, your school. The earth is quaking, we feel the lava’s heat—it’s just a matter of time till it is upon us in full force. Read More
On Friday morning in DC, where my newly married daughter and her husband Paul live-that is, after Thanksgiving Thursday, after Friday breakfast and after all the dishes had been unloaded from the dishwasher and returned to their cabinets-- my daughter and son-in-law and I took a morning stroll to the Dupont Underground. Where and what is the Dupont Underground? The Dupont Underground is as it suggests—it is at Dupont Circle, or the intersection of two busy streets—Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues. And it is underground, that is, under the heavily trod sidewalks of our nation’s capitol. Read More
ince today we are celebrating Thanksgiving with our church family, I thought my sermon should reflect that. Rather than start with scripture, I thought I would start us off by talking a little bit about our country’s very first Thanksgiving. Right away there is a problem, of course, As you are aware, it’s not clear where or when the first Thanksgiving actually happened. There are at least two different first Thanksgivings for us to consider: one is in Plymouth, New England and other is in Jamestown, Virginia. Actually there are THREE first Thanksgivings, if you count Berkeley 100—also in Virginia. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Read More
One of the Bible commentators I most appreciate is Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey. Dr. Bailey’s parents were Christian missionaries in Egypt and that is where Dr. Bailey was raised. As an adult Dr. Bailey spent many years working in the Middle East. Even in retirement he maintained an impressive title:: “Emeritus research professor of Middle Eastern New Testament studies for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.” Isn’t that amazing? If prestige is measured by number of words in a title, then Dr. Bailey is by far one of the most prestigious scholars I have ever come across. And, did I mention that he was fluent in Arabic? Sadly, he died last year. The world lost a deep thinker and a committed Christian theologian. Read More
Let me tell you what happened on Sundays at my house during my growing up years
Sundays were a drag. “Can’t we stay home today, just once? Why do we have to go to Sunday school?” My brother and I would whine. And yet, we went, every single Sunday. That is because my mother was a Sunday school teacher. She had to be there, and by golly if she had to be there, we had to be there too! It was up to my mother to get my brother and me fed and dressed, out the front door and into the car. She drove us to church. We were a sad and by the time we arrived at church, an exhausted family—not always, but at least some Sundays.
And where was our father on Sunday mornings? He slept in. When I was little I wondered why my father was allowed to stay home. I decided it was because he couldn’t sing. I knew he must be embarrassed. My mother could sing. She had a lovely voice. But my father? Why couldn’t he make his voice go up when it was supposed to go up, and down when it was supposed to go down? Standing next to him in church one Easter while we sang a hymn, it occurred to me that my perfect father, might actually have a flaw. I wouldn’t discover all his many OTHER flaws until I was a teenager. Then, the man I thought could do no wrong, became for a time, the man who could do no right. Ah the teen years! Read More
Last week, while preparing for last Sunday, I nearly went cross-eyed and mute, as I tried to make sense of a very difficult lectionary text. It was difficult, because it conflicts with other Biblical texts. I decided to pull you into my misery—why suffer alone? So, we explored together which of four texts, three of them scriptural, and one based on scripture, was the right text. In other words, we asked of our texts, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?”
This week, relief. The story we have in Matthew is told in Mark, and Luke, too. And the stories are almost word-for-word the same. In fact, some people have suggested that the gospel writers may have copied from each other—or most probably that Luke and Matthew, independently, each copied from Mark. However it was, we can be as certain as it is ever possible to be certain with a gospel text, that what I just read from Matthew a few minutes ago was true to Jesus’ own thoughts and words on the matter. Read More
There is a message for us in our text for today—which is Matthew 22:1-10—the parable of the great banquet. I promise, there’s a message. In order to get at that, though, you really have to understand something about the context in which the scripture passage was written. Sometimes, no joke, I will have four or five books open on my desk as I work with a scripture passage. That’s what I did this week as I worked with this passage. Today, since we are as hen’s teeth few, I thought I would invite YOU to sit with me at my study table, so to speak, as I work to interpret the scripture passage. We are going to engage in a Bible study together. I hope that by the end, we will all be a little bit wiser, and you will have a new appreciation of the work that goes into interpreting scripture.
So again, this is a Bible study. Since I don’t have enough copies of the books I used this week, I thought I would provide some helpful texts for you on our handouts. Read More
It’s enough to make your skin go all goose bumpy, and the hair stand up on the back of your neck—the fact that the same night we were in this place singing songs and praying prayers for an end to gun violence-- in another part of the country, a deranged killer was gathering together his weapons and loading his guns and in other ways making ready to shoot up a concert in Las Vegas. An outsider not familiar with our planning for the October 1 concert might have wondered, “Did the musicians and pastors and everyone else involved in the concert, have some foreknowledge about the shooting? Were those involved prophets in the tradition of Isaiah or Jeremiah? Yes, some people might think that it is just too much of a coincidence.
But of course, we weren’t prophets, Yet it was more than mere coincidence that the two events happened back to back. Sadly, it has been my experience that every time that the group with which I am affiliated, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention, has staged a vigil, held a symposium, or made a visit to congress, the country has either just suffered a mass shooting, or is about to. The fact is, mass shootings are just so very common. No sooner have news reporters put down their microphones having finished reporting on one mass shooting, then they are picking them up again, to report on another one. So far this year, there have been 273 mass gun shootings in the US—that’s almost one a day—although the vast majority do not make it past the local evening news. And just so you know a mass shooting is one in which at least 4 people are shot. That number, 273? Again, you getting goosebumps. Read More
When my three girls were young we lived in a suburban community of 300 homes outside of Washington, DC. That community was also near Tyson’s Corner which is a big, no humongous, shopping Mall an office center. Even though we lived on the outskirts of a city, though, and not far from Tyson’s, near our home was a farm, Evans Farm. It was the last holdout in a region that was, not so many years previously, all farmland. One particularly long and hot summer day, I packed a picnic lunch for the four of us, my three daughters and me. Then I put into little baggies the pieces of stale bread I had been saving. We headed for Evans Farm to feed the ducks that lived near the pond there. My plan was that we would pet and feed the little duckies, then spread our blanket under a kind shade tree and enjoy a meal and the summer weather. It would be one of those quality times with the kids.
Imagine three little girls in shorts and tennis shoes, jumping from the family van, clutching their little sandwich bags. Now further imagine ducks the size of small deer— encircling my girls as soon as those little tennis shoes hit the ground. These were not little duckies, oh no! These were large, killer ducks. They met my daughter’s frightened stares eyeball to eyeball. The ducks honked loudly, viciously. A few of the really aggressive ones, grabbed the baggies from my daughters’ hands. The girls broke through the horde of ducks and ran screaming to the nearest picnic table, which they climbed in short order. From the relative safety of the table top they shrieked: “Let’s go home now, Mommy.” Read More
Three weeks ago, it was Hurricane Harvey. That hurricane devastated Houston. Then on Thursday last week an earthquake in Mexico, 8.1 on the Richter scale--decimated parts of Southwestern Mexico; on Saturday of last week, that earthquake was followed by hurricane Katia. That hurricane touched down on the east coast of Mexico destroying buildings and rattling inhabitants. Then on Sunday, while we were in worship, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and with such force that it demolished homes, and disrupted lives pretty much everywhere in the state. All the while, wild fires raged, and continue to rage in our nation’s northwestern states, decimating large swathes of land in Washington State, Oregon, Montana, California, and Colorado.
Blow the Trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near! Read More