Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Low in the Grave

This song makes me think of my dad, who would make us sing the first verse softly and then JUMP up during the chorus.

His own experience with the song is this: Dr. Jim Blackmore, one of my seminary professors. He was from very humble beginnings in Warsaw, NC. He had been to Southern [Seminary] and was at Edinburgh, Scotland when WWII started. At least the US involvement. He joined the service there as a chaplin and was not required to go to basic training. He served through the war and finished his Doctorate at Edinburgh after the war. 

He was a small man, no more than 5'6". He told us the story of  singing this song with his brother when they were about 8 or 10 years old. They would squat with arms stretched in front of them, then at the "Up" they would jump up and stand with arms out stretched to the side. What a riot to see him demonstrate for the class when he was in his 70s.

I introduced this song to the congregation I serve a few years ago. We crouch low in the verses and JUMP during the chorus- everyone who physically can, does. 

There are, then, people who will associate memories of this song with me. 

I think of my dad. 

He thinks of Dr. Blackmore, who would think of his brother. 

They, presumably, learned the song from someone else. 

And so goes the communion and community of Christ, connected in song and body through time.

Beyond the history of this song, someone always thinks of the person who revealed the love of God in Christ to them. 

All the way back it goes until the rhythm  of the song is the pounding feet of Mary Magdalene and others- running to say, "We have seen the Lord!" 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sermon Notes: The Truth Among Us

John 18:28-40


- The crowd does not enter Pilate’s headquarters because it would have rendered them unclean. They needed to stay clean for the Passover celebration. What’s the central part of a Passover meal? A lamb. (John’s gospel is nothing, if not dramatic.)

- The crowd asks for Barabbas. The gospel writer tells us that Barabbas was a “bandit”. Bandit is the same word that is used in John 10, when Jesus refers to himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’. Bandits are contrasted with the shepherd as ones who want to harm the sheep.

- Why doesn’t Pilate let Jesus go if he knows that Jesus is innocent? Remember Pilate is in a political appointment. He is charged with upholding law and order in Judea. He ultimately decides to have Jesus killed to get things to settle down in his area. They never do.

- It is important to recognize that Jesus gives Pilate a chance to come to him (Jesus) as a believer. Pilate could listen and believe, thus coming into the light. He chooses political expediency over the Truth.

- In John 8, Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”.

- In John 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”


Why do you believe in Jesus?

Push beyond your reading, your upbringing, your habits.

What is your experience with Jesus?

Fundamentally, experiencing Jesus is both a corporate (group) and personal event. We have our own experiences, but we come to understand them as experiences of the Truth because we can compare notes with other people who have been burnished by the same Truth.

Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s question with words. That’s because he is, himself, the answer, the Word.

The Truth is standing in front of Pilate as a tired Galilean- fully human and fully divine.

Simply by being. The sheer fact of his existence, his embodiment of all that is Holy, answered the question.

Ultimately, our stewardship of our time, talents, and resources is not a response to what we have read, what we have heard, or even what we hope for.

It is a response to the Truth we have experienced. It is our answer to Pilate’s question. It is the way we move in the light of faith.

Why do you believe? What do you believe? Who do you believe?

What is Truth?

May God grant us the grace to answer those questions, daily, with all that we have.


ReBlog: What is Truth

From RevGalBlogPals: The Pastoral is Political 

“What is truth?” Pilate stared at the tired Galilean Jew in front of him.

Jesus was silent.

Pilate’s eyes widened. “What is truth?” he repeated, more firmly.

Jesus didn’t blink. Or speak.

There were no words to reply. Jesus was answering the question.

Simply by being. The sheer fact of his existence, his embodiment of all that is Holy, answered the question.

The truth is never in words. It was always, is always the Word.

The truth is a person, a person named Jesus, the person we understand to be the Christ.

He is the way, the life, and the truth. There is no other Truth.

This Truth, this person, promised we would encounter him in others.

In the hungry. In the sick. In the lonely. In the imprisoned. In the thirsty. In the outcasts.

The Truth is in them. The truth is never about words.

On Monday, March 24, the non-profit World Vision announced  (click the link to continue reading.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Met By the Great "I Am"

John 18:12-27

            The writer of the Fourth Gospel loves a dramatic scene. There are some serious contrasts here. If we were writing a script for this, we would flash back and forth between Peter in the courtyard and Jesus in the garden and then in front of the high priests.

            In the garden, at the betrayal, there are 600 soldiers. A detachment is an enormous number of soldiers, greatly outsized compared to the threat that Jesus might pose. Of course, if they think there is a possibility that he is God… then the more soldiers, the better. Jesus knows what they are about. When they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus says, “I am.” It sounds better to our ears to finish the sentence as “I am he.” However, the Jewish ears that first heard this gospel pricked up at the “I am.” Where else do we hear that phrase?

            It is how God speaks to Moses through the burning bush, when Moses asks for God’s name. God replies, “I am.” Now Jesus uses the same phrase and is carried away. Every set of Jewish ears in that garden would have been burning, whether or not they were cut off.

            Now to the courtyard scene, Peter gets into the courtyard through a friend’s recommendation. This is not likely one of the other 12 disciples we traditionally think of- those disciples would not have had the social connections or power to get Peter in to the high priest’s house. This is more likely to be a disciple like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The person knows Peter and says, “He’s with me.”

            Thus, Peter is in the courtyard, warming his hands- looking around with wide eyes at opulence that is a far cry from his upbringing in Galilee by the sea. He’s nervous and worried. Of what is Peter afraid?

- Dying… (ultimate concern)

            So Peter, when recognized, denies being with Jesus. In John, Peter has a very clear response, “I am not.” Are you one of the disciples, aren’t you the man we saw, You’re a disciple- right? “I am not.”

            Peter says, “I am not.” Jesus says, “I am.”  

            We know that Judas betrays Jesus. We know that the crowd is going to cry, “Crucify him.” Yet, Peter’s “I am not”. Peter’s desire to save his hide. Peter’s unwillingness to say, “Let me die with him.” It’s worse. It cuts to the bone.

            “I am,” says Jesus. Peter says, “I am not.”

            We are talking about stewardship during this season of reflection. In particular, we are in a chapter together of looking at how we use our resources- how we support this community, our synod, the larger church, and the needs of the world for the sake of Christ.

            In this time of more focused discipline, we are called to look at our checkbooks, our bank statements, our credit card receipts, our tax refunds, our tax payments, our church’s spending plan, and ask what they reveal. Do they show us as standing with Jesus? Do they reflect the kind of dedication to God’s work that we want them to?

            My checkbook shows that I give a lot of money to the College Foundation (the place that holds my education loans) and to Fred Meyer. Am I a disciple of CFI or Fred Meyer? I am not.

            Are you a disciple of your mortgage? Of your debts? Of your habits? Of your addictions? Of other non-profit groups?

            What about your schedule? I don’t just mean how often are you here in church, but how much of your time is spent with Scripture? In prayer? In communicating closeness and care to people in your community? Are you a disciple of television, of your hobbies, of your chores, of your work, of your health?

            Can you truthfully say “I am not” to all of those? Do you have a good reason that you want to tell me later or that you want to tell someone else in the car later (wherein you’ll say that I just don’t understand)? But I do understand. I understand all too well. Just because I’m up here doesn’t mean I identify with Jesus. I’m there with Peter.

            And I’m guessing you might be too.

            But we don’t have to be.

            Despite Peter’s unfaithfulness, Jesus didn’t abandon him. Jesus would later give Peter a chance to make up for his denial. Jesus remains faithful. Jesus, and God in Jesus, remains the “I am”. When we say, “I am not”- God in Christ says, “I am.”

I can’t  (God can.)

I won’t (God will)

I don’t (God does)

            It is this faithfulness that we count on, that is the Source of Life that both sends us out and draws us in. It is this Faithfulness that gives us the strength to live into repentance, into turning around, into people who are not afraid to claim lives of discipleship with our money, with our time, with our families, with all that God has given us.

            Stewardship that puts God first isn’t about austerity or humiliation. It’s about celebrating God’s abundance in our lives- relationships, resources, resurrection. It’s about listening for where Jesus says, “I am” and responding with sincerity, “I am with him.”


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Intimacy Conspiracy

John 13:1-17

         In Lutheran understanding, a sacrament is 1) an event associated with the life of Christ that we are commanded/commended to repeat, 2) an event that has an earthly element or elements (tangible parts or acts), and 3) has a promise of God attached to it.

         What makes foot washing not a sacrament?

         When Jesus tells his disciples to serve one another in this humble way, what’s happening?
- He’s wearing nothing, but a towel (exposure).
- He’s physically close to them (proximity).
- They have to respond by receiving (communion).

         It’s a terribly, terribly intimate scene. Intimacy is a word we don’t use a lot in church. We talk about sex occasionally. (Okay, I do and you listen horrified.) We talk about service. But we rarely discuss intimacy.

         Here we have a semi-naked Jesus, clothed like a slave, performing the task of a slave, for other free men. He is on his knees. His hands are on their feet. He is cleaning them, drying them, touching them. Peter can literally feel the breath of God on his shins, shifting the dark hairs numbered by the same Lord.

And, God love him, Peter gets it. He’s as uncomfortable because he can grasp the edges of what Jesus is doing, is saying, is revealing. Does he want to accept it? Will he lean into this intimacy? Is this discomfort worth it to dwell in the light?

This is precisely the question the Johannine community would have been asking themselves. Is the persecution, the rejection, the frustration worth it to dwell in the light they have perceived, received, believed? The gospel writer organizes this scene for that early church community, urging them to care for one another because they are all they have.

For most of us, church is but one community in our lives. It is important to us, but intimacy is not a word we associate with this experience. It might not be a word we want to associate with church. However, intimacy, closeness, deep vulnerability is supposed to be the hallmark of who we are and what we’re about.

Every week, we have six or so 12-step groups that meet in this building. When people go to those meetings, they introduce themselves- I’m so-and-so and this is my struggle. They are greeted by name, Hi, So-and-so, and brought into the intimacy of that community. Of knowing that other people have the same struggle, of hearing the stories of people who would be strangers except for the common bond. A stranger going into a 12-step knows he or she can find people to hold him or herself accountable, to intercede, to advise. They have a closeness, a bond, that is enviable.

Except that we shouldn’t envy it, we should be re-creating it. Right here, right now. Hi, I’m Julia and I’m a doubter, a Lutheran, a follower of Christ, a believer with questions. Everyone who comes in those doors should know that they’ll be welcomed by name and that they have entered into a community of people who are like them, who have the same struggles, and who are prepared to walk with them through darkness and light.

         Kneeling at the feet of the disciples, in this intimate moment, Jesus is creating a holy conspiracy. Not a plot, but a community rooted in the true meaning of conspire- in Latin= con- with, spirare- to breathe. Literarly, to breathe with, to breathe together… Spirare is also the root of Spirit, respiration, inspiration, aspiration. Jesus is close enough as he washes their feet to breathe with them and this is what he urges them to do for one another. It’s not just about feet, it’s about being will to serve and be served with a closeness that allows breathing together.

         It’s about being willing to see others for who they truly are and allowing them to see you. It’s about sharing, not gossiping, lifting up, honesty and compassion together. When we breathe together, our stewardship takes on a different look. We know that we are giving our money, our time, our talents to something that affects us deeply, affects us at the core even to the way we do something as necessary as breathing.

         We have sanitized the sacraments in the church over the years. They are small, quick, and clean. We don’t fling water everywhere. We don’t set up tables for a love feast. We’ve made as much space between ourselves as possible. When we do that, we cannot con-spire. And then, most assuredly, we are not creating the beloved community that Jesus is commanding here.

         It’s a terrible, frightening intimacy to which we are called. If we avoid it, we are truly failing to heed Jesus’ most basic instructions. There is grace in this closeness, in this together breathing, in this intimacy, that we are depriving ourselves and others of because of what… fear?

         This is the life to which we have been called. This is the work for which we have been strengthened. This is the truth that has been poured into our hearts. Do we dare to embrace it and all that comes with it? Do we dare to breathe together, to risk intimacy, to realize that beloved community is only a hand or a foot away?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Since it's still pretty gray here, I searched through some old photos for inspiration for the Lenten photo a day word: purple.

This is from a walk I took by myself around the outskirts of Bath, England. It was late September, very warm, and sunny. I skirted a cow pasture on an old path, on a hill above the town. I found an old graveyard, a blackberry patch, and a canal.

This picture of flowers blooming out of a wall is the essence of purple- a regal growth of life in the midst of stones.

There's something to that.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Water in a stainless steel cup

Lent Photo a Day word: reflection

In many minds, Lent is associated with austerity- a kind of uber-asceticism.

It might actually be more about simplicity, about coming to understand and trust in only what is essential. 

Returning the ground of our being isn't about pain. It's about the best, most life-giving homecoming. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Thanksgiving at the Table. 
At the table. 
At the bedside. 
In the car. 
On the hike. 

Where two or more are gathered...

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Photo word of the day: faith.

She walked ahead and didn't look back. She's not worried about falling, about being cold, about getting lost. 
Someone has always come with what she needed. 
Why would that change now? 

Friday, March 7, 2014


Today's Lenten photo word is "test".

We had a great Ash Wednesday service here, with different stations. This prayer station is going to stay up durin the season. 

The sign to the right says, "Maximum Occupancy 240". We're required to posted that. Normally we have about 1/6 of that in the sanctuary. 

When we think about our smallness, it can feel like a test we're failing. 

Maybe that's just me. 

Lead me away from temptation. 
The temptation to blame. 
The temptation to make it about me.
The temptation to go quietly into that good night. 

Save us from the time of trial. 

Maximum occupancy: One God