Reflection on Exodus 33:12-23 (October 22, 2017)
I was invited to share a reflection with a Spanish-speaking congregation. This was my reflection, which was translated and shared with those who attended.
When Moses was praying to the Lord on behalf of his people, there was a separation between people and God. The people expected Moses to intercede for them. They had received a promise from God of the Promised Land, and were traveling through the wilderness trusting that promise. But a promise is not the same as a relationship, and at the end of Moses’ prayer we see that as God passed through the community, it was like they looked up just in time to see God’s back pass by. The relationship—the face to face conversation—was Moses’ responsibility.
But God invites them into relationship—even in the middle of the desert, and even though they don’t always respond to that invitation. They were no longer in Egypt, but they were also not yet in the Promised Land. And yet—even in the wilderness—they are not lost to God. “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight,” we hear in Moses’ prayer. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Moses heard and could repeat these messages from God because he entered into God’s presence in prayer on behalf of his people.
Continue reading Reflecting on the Wilderness
A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.” In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology. But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.
So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch. So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24. In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack. Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace. And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time. And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’. To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.
Continue reading Redemptive Violence and 24
In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons. This is the one that won’t get preached.
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness. A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land. He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor. It’s just who he is. It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is. And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling. He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.
But then he starts listening to other voices. After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away. And Simba does. He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.
Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”
My congregation is doing a 6-week sermon/study series based on the book by John Ortberg, If you Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. I’ve been familiar with this book for quite some time, but I don’t think I’ve read it. The book is based on the story of Peter walking on water, and the basic premise is that to really experience the fullness of what it means to follow the call of Jesus, we need to step beyond the safety and security of what they know and walk directly into the storm.
So this first week we were invited to ponder what boat we are in that maybe Jesus is calling us out of. Ortberg says, “Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself. Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy. Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves. Your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship” (p. 17).
As I was pondering this for myself, I began to wonder…what if the church (structured religious institution) is my boat? What if I’m missing out on something bigger because all I can see is what I’m doing now…which is good and important and genuinely matters. But is there somewhere beyond this to which I am being called? Continue reading The Boat…
I recently listened to a podcast by Rob Bell called “Seasons.” He talks about taking his son to college, and realizing that with the change of seasons, come both joys and challenges–even if that change is good and necessary and life-giving. He connected to the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene shortly after the resurrection, where Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17). He reflected on the challenge for Mary of releasing Jesus from who she knew him to be…letting the season of having Jesus among them in bodily form change. This was hard for Mary. It was hard for the disciples. It’s often hard when seasons come to an end and something changes.
I could quickly see the connection to my own changing of seasons, as I left one position earlier this year and am gradually adjusting to a new position. With this position comes both joys and challenges. One of the very real dynamics for my position–and many youth ministry positions these days–is that youth ministry looks different now than it did several years ago. And yet there’s a strong desire to re-capture what youth ministry used to look like–large groups of teenagers coming together on the church campus on a regular basis.
But as I listened to Rob Bell reflect on this encounter between Jesus and Mary in the garden, and the reality of seasons, I saw a strong connection to my ministry. I could see myself in Mary, clinging to the hem of Jesus’ robe and saying, “please…stick around…in a way that I can see you and touch you. Stick around and keep doing the things I know you can do. Stick around because I have figured out what life is like with you around.” And I could see Jesus saying to me, “don’t hold on to me…let me be among you in new ways…let me be within you and around you in new ways…let me send you to the others with a message…don’t hold on to me. It’s more abstract and harder to define, but ultimately my message won’t get beyond this defined community until you let go and let me be different than what you’ve known so far.”
I could hear Jesus saying something similar to the church: “do not hold on to me. Let me be different than the concrete way you may have known me in the past. Let me be among you in new ways. I am sending YOU now…”
Imagine if Jesus had stayed in that garden. Because it was safer, more comfortable, more familiar.
But imagine what can happen because Jesus did NOT stay in that garden.
One of the things I love about being part of a liturgical church is that the rhythm of the church year teaches me new stuff about the ongoing life of faith. In the context of writing a sermon recently, I was reflecting on it again. This is the bit that didn’t get into the sermon: Continue reading The rhythm of faith and life
I have an unfortunate love of watching TV series…straight through on Netflix. I don’t do this often, but every now and then I have a stretch of time that isn’t highly scheduled and I find myself spending more time than I’d like to admit clicking “watch next episode,” saying ‘just one more, and then I’ll get up and be productive.’ Just one more turns into…well…more than one more.
One thing I notice when watching shows back to back like that, is that the themes and messages underneath the story-line are a lot easier to pick up. Right now I’m in the middle of catching up on the show “Once Upon a Time,” and I’m struck by how the show is trying to figure out why love is so powerful, whether good will really ultimately conquer evil without compromising its goodness, what makes a true hero or villain, and whether or not people can really change. Throughout the multiple story-lines in this show, the questions of love, power, redemption and sacrifice are really striking. Continue reading The power of pain and love
As I’m winding up my time at Advent, more and more I’m pausing to ponder what I will take with me as I think back on these 5 years. Here’s my list so far:
- conversations with my pastor as we drive to synod events (I’m REALLY going to miss these!)
- countless times of pure joy and laughter while hanging out with youth
- Looking around a leadership team meeting table and realizing I do indeed have a team…we’re doing this together
- affirmation and encouragement that I choose to believe is genuine and heartfelt
- holy moments in worship when serving Communion
- holy moments while assisting in funerals, memorials and baptisms
- pushing children on the swings and helping them balance on the balance beam
- inter-generational prayer walks and prayer stations
- conversations with adults during Bible studies
- preaching and seeing faces of people whose stories I hold close to my heart
- the time as a family event winds down and everybody’s working together to clean up
- KidsTown (enough said)
- that chaos immediately after the service as everybody is greeting each other and going for the coffee and cookies
- watching a couple pass the peace to each other before turning to greet those around them
- And so much more…
Today, Feb. 25, is the day we remember the life and ministry of Elizabeth Fedde, a Norwegian Deaconess who died on Feb. 25, 1921. I learned about Elizabeth Fedde as I was in formation for the Deaconess Community, and her story still challenges and inspires me. Elizabeth Fedde came to the States as a nurse at the request of others to work with Norwegian immigrants in Brooklyn. This led to the beginning of a Lutheran hospital. Then, in one article about her, it says this: “In 1888, Sr. Elisabeth interrupted her ministry in Brooklyn to begin deaconess work in Minneapolis.” Continue reading She interrupted her ministry…
“It isn’t so much that people leave religion, I think as it is that, like Olympic runners on a mission, they come to a moment in life when they go beyond the system to the very source of the light.
It is the plight of the mystic to enter the universe of God alone where no charts or maps or signs exist to guide us and assure us of the way. It is a serious and disturbing moment, one after which we are never quite the same.”
Continue reading The plight of the mystic