When my Enemy Becomes my Teacher

We are Psalm 23 people.  We like to think of our God in singular terms.  Those opening words that declare the Lord is my shepherd, helps us build a privacy fence; imagining ourselves strolling through those green pastures and beside the still waters with my Lord.  We stub our toe in this favorite Psalm in verse five.  Suddenly, somebody else is present.  It says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Into this idyllic, intimate Psalm come intruders who are not our friends, but our enemies, persons who hurt, betray, and oppose us.

Interpretations which suggest this verse endorses vengeance is consistent with what we find in the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, writers frequently cry out in uncensored pleas for God to embarrass those who are enemies (or worse).  “O God, break their teeth in their mouth; let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime…” (Psalm 58:6a, 8a).  So, we could interpret the fifth verse as a promise some day, there will be payback: our enemies will be sorry for what they did, and as they are sinking to the depths, they’ll suffer the added humiliation of witnessing us rising to the top.

It is these Old Testament voices I have been listening to on the morning after a stunning announcement that Bin Laden is dead.  These voices sadden me and cause me to wonder like Tony Campolo after 9/11-WWJD?  Naturally, when we are hurt, our first impulse is to retaliate.  While I acknowledge the blunt emotions of this day, I must not weigh my understanding of God solely on Old Testament verses of eye for an eye.  We are clothed in Christ and we must hear the voice of Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd.

After 9/11, an American columnist opined, “This is no time to go around quoting Jesus when 1000’s of Americans are dying.”  This is exactly the time to quote Jesus.  Anytime we’re talking about enemies or those who have hurt us, we need to hear words like “return good for evil“; “love your enemies“; “blessed are the peacemakers“; and “do good to those who hurt you.”  We need to start a different place than those children caught up in the ways of this world; dancing fools, bringing shame to all the values the White House represents.

What if “you prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” means God has prepared a banquet of creative alternatives for us to choose from when confronted by being in the presence of our enemies.  We are children of God; born to create.  We direct our creativity toward material success, manifesting dreams, or helping a cause.  We forget the same natural ability can be employed in spiritual times like these.  We don’t have to fall back on the same old mantras that re-enforce our war faring ways.  This is what children of this world sound like, not children of a flock watched over by a Good Shepherd.

I pray on this day we can tap the brakes on feelings of satisfaction that come because our enemy has been shamed.  I want to sit in an appropriate silence that gives me room to consider the power of forgiveness and hope of reconciliation.  It takes a lot of God in me to reflectively seek to understand why an enemy seeks to do harm.  The real “me”; the part of me that has been redeemed and the part of me that has yet to be redeemed is revealed when I am in the presence of my enemies.  On this day, I will allow my enemy to be my spiritual teachers; providing me an opportunity to grow.

The place I choose to stand today is beside our Good Shepherd who said from a cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”  The thoughts I choose plumb on this day is how my redemption was made possible by compassion offered in the midst of violence.  My prayer I offer this day is to tune out voices of this world; and tune into the voice who calls us to offer the same compassion offered from a cruel cross.  I am certain more redemption is possible there, than in any of my un-redemptive tendencies.

“After Easter”

We went and saw Tom Shadyac’s new documentary “I Am” on Easter night.  He is the director of cult comedies like “Ace Venture”, “Nutty Professor”, and “Bruce Almighty”.  This film is much different!  It’s powerful message capped off our Easter Sunday.  Check out the trailer by clicking here or below.

Shadyac documents the emerging story of our interconnectedness which technology is starting to describe in quantum like ways.  Science is starting to acknowledge our DNA is wired to cooperate not compete.

Then on this (Monday) morning, I listened to what Peter Rollins, a new social media acquaintance, had to say on Easter morning.  So poignantly he speaks of all the ways we deny the resurrection when we act like what we are separate from others.  Check out his message  by clicking here or below.

I wondered yesterday in my message what would be different “After Easter” this year.  Shadyac and Rollins put it together for me-I deny the resurrection every time I deny my connection to every living creature fashioned by the hand of God.

So, I laid my head down last night and asked myself the question, what would be different “After Easter” this year.  I experienced a simple revelation.  What would be different “After Easter” this year… ME!

Your Sunday Name

When I hear someone yell, “SIR!” my attention is not roused; they’re calling an older man.  Then I hear again: “SIR!”  To my surprise, he comes toward ME with my keys.  “Hey, sir, you left these,” he says.  I wonder when did I become “sir?”  I see myself as a “hey”; but not “sir”.  When did I say bye to my carefree days of being a “young stud.”  I don’t want to accept I have entered the “hey sir-hood” of my life.  My name has changed.  A name change speaks of a new stage marked by a new identity because of a change in our lives.  No matter how welcomed the change, it’s hard to let go of the old name that describes a previous reality.

Mary Magdalene was still holding onto Friday names of sorrow, despair, and death when she returned to the Jesus’ tomb to spread spices on the deceased body.  Mary knew the space separating her from Jesus was infinite; yet sitting a near Jesus’ familiar earthly form was comforting.  She came there to relive “good old memories” that didn’t hurt or “good old feelings” experienced with him.  Yet, she was stuck in that old reality.

The stone was rolled away and the body was gone when Mary arrived.  She interpreted this surreal scene using the old reality.  She assumed it was a mistake; someone moved the body; or it wasn’t a mistake and his body stolen.  Never mind Jesus clearly said he would be raised after three days.  Never mind the angels sitting in the tomb clued her that something marvelous had occurred.  Even Jesus could not break Mary out of that old reality. she thought he was the gardener.  Finally, she got it when Jesus said her name.  He said, “Mary,” and she understood.  Or did she?

The first thing she said was “Rabbouni!”; means “teacher.”  Jesus said in reply, “Do not hold on to me.”  It’s peculiar since there is no evidence Mary was holding him.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical embrace.  Perhaps he was referring to her calling him, teacher; his Friday name.  Maybe he was saying let go of the way we were.  “Teacher” meant limited, fallible, and vulnerable.  Sunday had dawned; new life was possible.  Old categories no longer fit because Jesus Sunday name was “Risen Lord”.  The event of Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally transformed those limited, fallible, and vulnerable Friday names. 

I have trouble sleeping on the night before a big day; a lot stewing in my subconscious.  That often equals weird dreams.  Some dreams are so real we check to see if there is evidence they happened.  Dreams can become realities if we allow our limited Friday names to be changed to a Sunday name by a resurrection power that transcends it all and is real and available when any or everything needs to change.

Is this your story?  You knew Jesus; respected for his teachings; yet you had your arguments with the church.  There came a day when you realized something was missing.  So, you enrolled in a class, attended a Walk, participated in a spiritual activity and encountered the power in knowing the risen Christ.  You were transformed from being an agreement with a set of beliefs to being in a living relationship that brings daily strength, power, and joy that is visible in all you do.  Everything, including your name changed when you met the Christ of Easter.  Do you know that person?

The church equips people; providing tools needed for serving the world.  We offer classes, model ministry, and point to examples.  I fantasize about passing out a pill of theology or of waving a wand of biblical lessons so people can experience fully Jesus’ resurrection power.  However, if I led you to believe all is well if you are acquainted with the teachings of the Jesus; I would be do harm-misrepresenting the faith by reducing Jesus to his Friday name, ‘Rabbouni’.  The essential idea of the Christian faith is on that first Easter, Jesus the teacher, underwent a name change.  Jesus’ Sunday name became “Risen Lord” so our Friday lives might experience his Sunday resurrection power and our names may be changed.

The Stockholm Syndrome is when captives identifies with captors.  It’s the reason Patty Hearst assisted in robbing banks; Elizabeth Smart denied she was the missing and claimed to be a daughter of her captors.  Captives identify with their captors assuming they are less likely to be harmed if they fade into the background or mouth their ideology.  Citizens of liberated nations prefer previous despots rather than new-found freedom.  We want life to be predictable, and the older we get, the more predictable we want.  The spiritual version of the Stockholm Syndrome occurs when we can choose to remain in the tomb of an old predictable and safe life, rather than step toward new life because it seems unknown and risky.

Thanks be to our God who comes to us in surprising ways to disrupt when we are stuck in our same old ways.  God’s love never fails to call us from the tombs of our own making.  Our response to a God who surprises us with a persistent call is not to adopt or relearn teachings from a good teacher to get us to the next place in life.  Easter requires a vivid spiritual imagination to be in relationship with the risen Christ.  People with an Easter imagination walk with the living Risen Christ into all parts of their lives knowing in Christ they can experience the power to break loose from any grave entombing them in their old reality.  Resurrection changes everything; our name and our identity as we are reborn and remade.

This sermon was inspired by Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, who told of a man who changed his middle name to “After.”  After experiencing Christ, he reasoned, everything was different; so he added this reality to his name.  After we encounter the risen Lord we move past our Friday names to something infinitely better as we are changed in the process.  We get Sunday names that describe a new power in our lives that defines us as a whole new person AFTER encountering the Risen Christ.

An operator whose job was to assist airline passengers in making calls began her day quite routinely.  At 9:45 a.m., she received a call from a passenger on United 93.  The passenger told her the plane had been hijacked.  He asked her to call his wife.  He said, “Promise you’ll do that for me and let her know how much I love her and the boys.”  Then he asked her to pray with him.  The operator was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him.  After he was sure she would talk with his family, he told her they were going to try to stop the hijackers.  The phone dropped and she did not hear any more from the passenger.  In a matter of minutes, that woman’s name changed.  She went from “operator” to “minister.”  Her Friday name was “work as usual”; her Sunday name was “God’s instrument.”

Call Jesus by his Friday name, “Teacher”, and you can get by because he was a good person with good advice.  Call him by his Sunday name Risen Lord, and you will be changed.  Your Friday name may be “Business As Usual”, but your Sunday name can become “God’s Instrument”.  Your Friday name may “Sadness”, but your Sunday name can become “Joy”.  Your Friday name may “Prejudice”, but your Sunday name can become “Openness”.  Your Friday name may be “Weakness”, but your Sunday name can become “Strength in the Lord”.  Your Friday name may be “Despair”, but your Sunday name can become “Hope”.  Your Friday name may be “Fear”, but your Sunday name can become “Peace”.  Your Friday name may be “Death”, but your Sunday name can become “Resurrection”.  Friday is over.  Don’t hold on.  Let it go.  This is Sunday you have a Sunday name because Jesus Christ is Risen Indeed!

Christ the Lord is risen today!  He is Risen Indeed.

Happy Easter

Lingering a Little Longer in Holy Week

Some words needs no improvement.  Instead, the rest of us should just shine the light of Christ on them so they may live.

Richard Rohr is such person whom few could improve on his inspiring words.  His writings speak of the Christian way in the midst of suffering; reminding us of the dark side of passion week.  I need to hear words which remind me of the shadows of Good Friday; so I may more resiliently sing the bright sounds of Easter on Resurrection Day.

I feel deeply that much of our expressions of Christ’s way are watered down because of our proclivity to move quickly past the reality of darkness experienced on that Good Friday afternoon.  Rohr’s words, like Rembrandt’s painting, help me stay long enough to ponder what makes our redemption possible; love offered in the midst of awful hate, and light shone into the real darkness.

I share them with those who need them, like I.  They can be read in their entirety in his book Hope Against Darkness, p. 38.

You alone, Lord Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified.  You never play the victim, you never ask for vengeance, but you only breathe forgiveness.  While we, on this fearful earth, murder, mistrust, attack and hate.  Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates; we hate ourselves, but mistakenly kill you.

I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters, and in every form of life, whether innocent or guilty, worthy or unworthy.  We are all your blessed Body, and you have always loved me precisely in my unworthiness.  How can I not do the same to others?

Give me courage to practice these Jesus ways to all I encounter on this holy week.

In Between

At any moment, someone is crying, someone is laughing.  At any moment, someone is yelling, someone is whispering.  At any moment someone is lifted up, someone else is torn down.  At any moment, someone rejoices, someone mourns.  At any moment, someone is finding, someone is losing.  At any moment, someone is born, someone is dying.  At any moment there are many good times of undeserved blessings from above.  At any moment there are also difficult times living in a fallen world with broken people.

We are promised one day everything will be put right and made whole again.  Until that day, we live in in-between times, waiting for hopes to be fulfilled.  Some wait for the disease to run its course eventually passing from life to death.  Others wait for the external scars and internal wounds to heal.  Others wait to win battles waged within their warring natures.  For these and others, we wait.  These are the in between times in our lives.

Jesus’ learned his close friend Lazarus was ill.  When he arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days; beyond resuscitation.  The rabbis believed the soul hovered for three days and after that, there was no resuscitation.  This is a specific moment of life and death.  It’s a moment, deliberately prolonged.  It is a moment where some cry, some hope, some believe, and some criticize.  There is a plethora of ways to unpack this moment.  I want us to hear the gospel message of living in the in-between moments.

The disconcerting problem was Jesus hadn’t shown up.  His sisters seem passive aggressive since their initial message only informs him of illness.  They each, separately, run out and lay a guilt trip on him. “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”  His words are cloaked with meaning, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it“.  He isn’t saying he’ll be admired.  He alludes to his resurrection and how raising Lazarus speed his own death, which leads to his resurrection, which we participate.

Jesus says “Your brother will rise again“, they think he means last days.  Belief in the resurrection of the body was introduced in Daniel, espoused by Pharisees, and accepted by the people of Jesus’ day.  Mary thought Jesus was saying something we say at funerals to comfort the grieving.  He isn’t just assuring her of the resurrection at the last day.  He is affirming eternal life begins at the moment we accept Jesus’ offer of relationship.

We realize it is an in-between time for Jesus as he approaches Lazarus’ tomb.  Jesus is at a moment between life and the death that awaits him on the cross.  Though he will rise again, like Lazarus; that does not negate the pain, suffering and dying he chooses to walk through for our sakes.  Jesus was walking into the heart of conflict, hatred, accusations, false witnesses, whippings, beatings, thorns, nails, and swords.  There were those who squawked, “Where are your followers now?”  He didn’t stop the process.  He didn’t save himself.  He continued on into death and the tomb.  We see how to walk in the between times as he waits in his own in-between time?

1.  One thing Jesus does in the in-between time is weep.  Jesus knew he had the power to raise Lazarus.  He knew Lazarus was safe in heaven with God at that very moment.  Yet, still he wept.  When John says Jesus was deeply moved and troubled, his words literally mean Jesus groaned violently and was shaken to the depths of his being.  Everyone loses their breath when they stand at a grave and cannot deny its reality.

Tears are shed in the in-between time.  No matter how sure we’re of God’s promises or how strong our hopes, we cry when someone dies.  Death isn’t a sunset that gives way to sunrise; death makes us stand still.  Every grave marks people we have loved, and our hopes are embalmed there and our dreams dashed.  Accepting death in theory is not the same as accepting it in fact.  In those moments when we weep and it is not a lack of faith.  Mary, Martha, and God as human self; wept tears at the sorrow of the in-between time.  Whether we’re at a funeral, witnessing injustice, hearing bad news; we can cry as we live with the reality of the confusion and chaos of this world.  There are in between moments when we will find ourselves in tears.

2. In the in-between time there is work to do.  Even as Jesus gave earthly life back to Lazarus, Jesus still had the cross ahead of him.  Jesus could have raised Lazarus any number of ways.  Instead, he chose to ask others to roll the stone away and he asked others to help take off the linen shroud.

God seeks human cooperation in accomplishing heavenly purposes.  God doesn’t have to, God chooses to.  Jesus invites his followers to join God in the work of redemption; be part of rolling away the stones and removing the grave clothes from those entombed in fear, loneliness, failure, resentment, or wounds.  We don’t raise people to new life in Christ but God lets us help.  That is a privilege we share with heaven, and it is not to be taken lightly.

Joining a faith community is accepting God’s invitation to join something bigger than ourselves than what’s going on in our lives.  Connecting to people of faith is God’s idea of how to have the richest experience of life.  This happens as we tell our story to those who might find their longings met by God through us.  The body of Christ is the place where we roll the stones away and take off grave clothes for each other.  Church work is good work if you can get it and it is what we do in the in-between time.

3. In the in-between time there is hope even when certain events of life and death take our breath away.  Hope is the one thing we cannot give to ourselves.  We are usually self-reliant.  Eventually, all of us will be a victim sooner or later.  Life can become over our heads before we know it; and someday it will be six feet over our heads.  What do we do when we become lifeless or unable to help ourselves?  We cannot muster any amount of effort to create our own hope in a difficult in between time?

Hope comes to us in the between times as near as a friend who listens patiently, or a teacher brings out the best in us; or a person who helps us to see other things are possible.  Hope can be engendered from kind words spoken; reconciliations made; people reunited or any act of goodness offered.  It is through others that come along beside us and help us hold onto hope in the in between times because they helps us believe things will be different because of their concern or expression of love.

A snail started to climb a cherry tree?  Birds in a nearby tree sniped their ridicule.  “Hey, you dumb snail, where do you think you’re going?”  “Why are you climbing that tree?” others chimed in.  “There are no cherries on it.”  “There will be some by the time I get there,” replied the snail.

This illustrates the truth that no matter how helpful others may be in buoying our hope, hope cannot be based exclusively what other people can do for us.  Genuine, deep water hope is based on a foundational trust that God walks with us in the in-between time.  God sees us weeping, enables us to keep on working and trusting God to do what only what God can do.  As we creep, creep, creep, God is the one who makes sure everything we are creeping towards will be there in all its fullness when it is time.  Even when a moment may feel like our last moment, there is not a grave beyond the reach of God’s resurrection power?  God’s resurrection power doesn’t come from us; it happens to us!  It happens as God’s spirit is the breath that speaks to give us hope; bringing us back from the dead.

A Pulitzer Prize winning photo shows Randall Champion hanging lifelessly upside down from a power pole in Jacksonville, Florida.  He has just taken 4,160 volt.  J. D. Thompson is straddling the pole in full harness, holding his partner’s head and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Photographer Rocco Morabito took the picture, ran to call an ambulance and made it back in time to hear Thompson shout, “He’s breathing!”

Imagine a moment when we don’t even have enough life in us to try but God comes to us and gives us back our breath.  Imagine the joy in heaven God gets when he hears the angels shout: He’s breathing! She’s breathing!  At any moment God can surprises us in our lifelessness with new hope.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seeing from Above-John 9: 1-41

John didn’t tell us this man’s name so we could fill in our own name. Like Debbie confessed to be the woman at the well, I am this man born blind. We are to read these stories from the inside out. The story of the man born blind read from the inside out speaks to the invisible person who thinks they wouldn’t be missed, since they don’t appear to be much to anyone else anyway. The story of the man born blind read from the inside out speaks to persons who feel though people see them; they don’t see them as they really are. The story of the blind man read from the inside out speaks to person who believes they’re nothing more than the sum of their failures. The story of the blind man read from the inside out allows us to see God doesn’t see us the way we or others see ourselves. God sees us as a child of God who does the work of God in the world.

The story begins: “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.” It seems no one else sees this man until Jesus sees him. Even if they did see him, what they see is not him. They only see a blind man, while Jesus sees a man born blind. John employs irony to get his reader to see the man who can see; sees the man who can’t see. In seeing the man who can’t see, he lets us see who, what, and how God sees.

Who does God see?-First, God sees a child of God. Jesus doesn’t see the wound first, he sees a person. He’s not distracted by our fixation with cause and effect. He refuses to enter into dead-end discussion answering the question: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents so he was born blind? Conversations of purpose tend to look past the person. Jesus plainly says his blindness had nothing to do with a person’s sin. He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so God’s works might be revealed in him.” He makes the exchange about this person and his relationship with God. First, God sees each person as a child of God.

When Jesus says “so that God works might be revealed in him” he is not blaming God for the man’s blindness; suggesting God made him blind so God’s work might be revealed. A man born into darkness is not the creative work of God. God can reveal God self without causing disability. But there are times when we have to live in a mystery about a person who is burdened by malady because God hasn’t seen fit to explain the why. To say too much about why runs the risk of becoming so purpose driven we miss seeing this person whom God is at work.

Stevie Wonder’s mother cried about her child being talented and yet blind. Stevie said to mom, Mother, maybe God made me this way so God could show wonders. When someone believes that; I don’t correct, as if I know more than those bearing it. We who haven’t suffered ought to speak slowly with certainty about why such things happen. Yet, we should move quickly to be with the person who needs a relationship and not our ridiculous rules of thumb. Who does God see? God sees us as a child of God.

What does God see?-Second, God sees a child of God in need. Jesus goes to work on the present need. He wants us to see-God sees our need and, God will see to our need. For the man born blind that meant Jesus would see to the need himself and heal him. Jesus spits on the ground, grabs a handful of mud, rubs it on the man’s eyes. We’d think he would say ABRACADABRA or at least lay hands on him. Instead he offers him home-baked medicine and tells him to wash and the man’s need is met. Jesus opens his eyes so he will come to see who, what and how God sees.

At times, God meets our needs by miraculously restoring things fully. We have grown afraid to give God glory when the inexplicable happens. We have become fearful to be persons who favor supernatural explanations to rational ones. It’s OK to be a person calls a miracle, a miracle. We can call something a miracle while at the same time striving to understand it. Other times, God meets our needs not by a transforming event, producing a substantive and visible change. God allows us to put our needs to work to bring about things that might not happen if we were miraculously healed. Some suffering is useful, it shapes our service.

Flannery O’Connor was stricken with lupus. She returned from New York to the cramped confines of Milledgeville Georgia to find her Southern voice. Her stories came to life. She wisely says: “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s a place where there’s no company, Sickness before death is a appropriate and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.” I may be missing one of God’s mercies by not being afflicted by sickness, YET! I am watching you, the blind man, Flannery O’Connor, and even Stevie Wonder. I wait my turn assured the person I really am will not change though I may suffer. I am also confident God always takes note of our needs and provides grace that is always sufficient. God starts by seeing child of God before he sees to our needs.

How does God see? Third, God sees the glory of God revealed in children of God in need. God heals this man so he would glorify God in his healing. Jesus tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. John says the name of the pool, Siloam, means SENT. That is the Latin word “missio”, were we get our word MISSION. God’s glory is revealed by our willingness to be sent, so God’s work may be seen in a child of God in need whom God is at work.

People are passionate about what afflicts them. A person dies of a disease and the family asks donations be directed to research for a cure. Someone is struck with illness and everyone mobilizes to fight it. The outcome of many deaths and diagnosis is a lot of good works for lots of people. That is how God sees that God’s work is done—God’s nature is redemptive, which enables suffering to be redemptive for more than just ourselves.


Not all maladies that shape mission are physical. Anyone who faces a challenge carries something of that experience into tomorrow. How many people have been shaped for the better by a painful experience? Charles Colson started Prison Fellowship after being jailed from the Watergate scandal. Recovering alcoholics help other alcoholics recover. Those who have known the grief over a lost child or a suicide or any other sadness help others going through the same things. In all these ways and more, children of God in need can reflect the glory of God’s redemptive ways.

We don’t have to wait for a suffering experience to jumpstart ourselves into seeing how God sees. When we participate in any kind of mission our eyes can be opened and our blurry vision can become clear to see with greater clarity the glory of God. Whatever opens our eyes so we can see beyond ourselves to the glory of God in the midst of our need is seeing how God sees. But, to see how God sees; we have to wash in the pool of Siloam; dive into mission; and become immersed in the work of God.

At the end of this story, the man born blind is not only healed; he becomes a believer. God doesn’t want blind faith. God wants us to see our own salvation and see others who are yet blind. If it takes a malady to find your mission and clear up your blurred vision can you say Glory be! Can you? You can if you are seeing from above. What say you children of God in need wanting to reflect the glory of God in your life? Glory be? Glory be!

Enough Already with Blaming God!

We may never know why bad things happen to good people.  I am horrified what I find when I “Google” this question.  Awful things happen every single day on Earth such as the earthquakes in Japan.  Yet, even, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara called this disaster a “divine punishment” for Japanese egoism.

We live in a sin-broken world, where tragedy strikes indiscriminately.  Yet, note these findings: [1]

  • Most Americans — except evangelicals — reject the idea that natural disasters are divine punishment, a test of faith or some other sign from God, according to a new poll released Thursday (March 24).
  • Most white evangelicals (84 percent) and minority Christians (76 percent) believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world, compared to slimmer majorities of white mainline Protestants (55 percent) and Catholics (52 percent).
  • Nearly half of Americans (44 percent) say the increased severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of biblical “end times,” but a larger share (58 percent) believe it is evidence of climate change.
  • The only religious group more likely to see natural disasters as evidence of “end times” (67 percent) than climate change (52 percent) is white evangelicals.

We explain bad things by thinking they came about because of something we, our parents, or society did.  Jesus does not get into a dead-end discussion about cause by taking the bait when those in the John 9 scene ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  He will not engage in this fruitless pursuit that changes nothing.

Why do we have need to pile on with theological speculation about fault?  I think we are distancing ourselves from victims of calamity.  We fool ourselves into thinking we can protect ourselves from natural disasters and unexplained tragedy by thinking those who suffer brought it upon themselves.

The more helpful question we should ask following catastrophe is: How can we bring God into tragedy? We should more often speak of a God who entered into our sphere to bring each of us intimately closer to heaven.  God inserted God self into our world to strip the power that sin has to separate us from God and each other once and for all.  God walks step for step with us as bad things happen.  The good news we declare in harsh times, is not guessing why bad things happen to good people  Instead may our world hear of a God who brings sight to the blind and makes whole that which is broken.

[1] The survey was done by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.  It was conducted a week after the March 11 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.


Faith trusts the flow of the river of life.  It is always best to stay in the stream.  I believe in the natural current of process, which I don’t have to change, coerce, or improve.

This requires me to exhibit incalculable confidence in God, especially when troubled.  Usually, I am certain I have the ability to make things work.  So, I rush right up into my head trying to change or create the flow of the river.  This is a loss of nerve in God who loves me more than I can know.  Worse, it robs me of any ability to be present with a God who is already at work; flowing the river of life through me.

So, I remind myself on this day God is not an authoritarian who seeks selfish good.  My God is a lover who desires to shape the divine image within me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, From Everything Belongs

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Artists and Preachers, Bed Partners?

Artists are often my preachers.  Contemporary singer songwriter David Wilcox helped me negotiate difficult times.  Ancient works redone by Sting have soothed my soul.  Little heard artists like Mark Broussard make my two left feet dance.  Patty Griffin has been my recent artist/preacher.  She was on Austin City Limits last night (3/24/11) doing cuts from her recent album, Downtown Church.

It occurred to me that her rendition of Dorothy Love Coates “Strange Man” might be the last little bit of help a preacher like me might need to complete this week’s message based on the gospel lection passage of John 4.  Preach on Sister Patty!  Or, to paraphrase Wesley advice on preaching, “1. To invite. 2. To convince. 3. To offer this “Strange Man“. 4. To build up. And to do this in some measure in every sermon.

After all, while the context of ministry may change the message of a strange man remains the same.  Did I mention Robert Plant good sermons on “Band of Joy”.

Friends and Enemies

We are walking toward the cross in this Lenten season and the Judas story is right around the corner.  It amazes me Jesus does not treat Judas like his enemy.  Jesus calls him “Friend.”  What’s more, Jesus even tries to find the hand of God in all this.  I rarely think of that possibility first.


Caravaggio's take on Judas's betrayal

Over the years, people in churches have gotten on my case for bad theology, manners, preaching style or other various and sundry matters.  They are usually trying to marginalize their pastor in some way.  (Some I can’t blame when I look back at some of those sermons.)  In one case, I decided to confront such a person in the church parking lot.  The person craters and hardly ever spoke to me again.  Years later, I am still stewing about it.


I tried to fight fire with fire, and we both, got burned.  I took a person, who too is a child of God, and make a betrayer and devil out of him.  The chance at reconciliation went out the window by my using the violence of harsh words to defeat my enemy.

Jesus seems crazy when he says bless those who curse us, do good to them that do us harm.  Turn the other cheek.  Love our enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Seek peace and pursue it.  Put away the sword.  Pour water on fire.  Lower the temperature.  Cool things down.  These teachings seem so hard when we experience betrayal, rejection, denial, and loss.  Setting down our sense to be right is the Jesus form of peacemaking, though it goes against all of our natural instincts.

The reason this is so hard is because it seems so crazy.  Maybe crazy is just the tonic we need.  The paradox of peacemaking in our sick world is we are called to fight fire with Living Water.  After all, this Lenten road leads to a cross constructed by enemies of a Christ, who forgave them and us and us and called all of us “Friends”.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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