Lent 2 B: God as Companion in Our Dying

Our Readings for this Second Sunday in Lent are:

Old Testament      Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16

Psalm                    Psalm 22:23–31

New Testament     Romans 4:13–25

Gospel                   Mark 8:31–38

In Genesis we hear about how God covenants with people and so holds them tight. Throughout generations, God doesn’t let go of the offspring of Abraham.

In the Gospel Jesus schools his followers to understand that the road of the Messiah and Son of Man MUST BE one of great suffering, compounded by rejection and death at the hands of others

Our Psalm is one Jesus will himself quote from the cross—the lament of the one who feels abandoned by God in the midst of unspeakable, chronic agony.

We are starting our second year of the Great Global Pandemic. Surely, if nothing else, this experience has forced us to think harder about death and dying. And so, these lessons speak to us!

Back in 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross started the world to thinking deeply On Death and Dying with her book of that title. The conversation led to the creation of hospice and palliative care. Up to that point it was common for doctors and family to assiduously try to hide any diagnosis of a terminal illness from those in the final stages of life. Of course, since most people who are dying know it, the silence just contributed to the feeling of isolation and abandonment that made natural process of dying all the more unnaturally painful.

Tied to this, I have observed that the very worst thing—and a tragically common thing—is that the afflicted feel not only sick, but cursed. And what can be worse than the curse of dying alone?

At the very heart of this Sunday’s worship is this: We who begin to pray, acknowledging that we feel abandoned even by God, suddenly charge all our fellow members of the covenanted people to be in awe of, and glorify God …

For he did not despise or abhor

the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,

but heard when I cried to him.

Even we who should know better still try to avoid talking about death to someone who is dying. In the same way we quit saying the names of the dead in the presence of the widows or fathers who buried them. And when someone has suffered for so terribly long with a chronic disease, we lose tolerance when their disease begins to define them, and when it becomes the only thing they can maintain a conversation about.

So, we pull back. We quit visiting and texting and phoning. We just can’t find the words, so we don’t speak.

This Psalm and these readings have the power to snap us out of this fearfulness in reverence for the God who walks with us in the dark hills of life.

How worthy of praise is it that we have a God who does not pull back? How wonderful is it that the Messiah Jesus took up his cross and blessed the crosses that we must bear? How mysterious and magical is it that God has covenanted with Israel, and now, through Christ, with all of us; and so will not loosen his grip on us?  How awesome is it that God hasn’t tired of hearing billions of us lamenting the Great Global Pandemic? How blessed is it to have a Companion all the way through our suffering, our disease, our affliction, our lockdown lives…and our dying.

This Lent, and for the rest of our lives post-pandemic, let us all affirm that the believer’s role in taking up the cross and following Jesus entails getting used to dying as a natural part of life. And if none of us will complete our missions alive, we might as well learn to listen to each other and talk honestly and boldly about this strange but wonderful trip called death and dying.

And, by the way, if finding the words to say is stopping you from being present to a dying person, try these. If you say them honestly, you will find them opening the flood gates of feeling, tears, and truth:

  1. Forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. I love you.
  4. God loves you.
  5. Thank you.


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Lent 1 B: The Noah Covenant and the Pandemic

This Sunday’s readings:

Old Testament      Genesis 9:8–17

Psalm                    Psalm 25:1–10

New Testament     1 Peter 3:18–22

Gospel                   Mark 1:9–15

Last Sunday was Transfiguration, and we thought of that word of our time: “unprecedented.” The fire, the windstorm, and the cloud of unprecedented unknowing envelops us, but we find our way through it all listening to Christ.

And the week since, with record-breaking snow, ice, wind, and cold, has simply underlined how unprecedented these days really are. Or are they?

On top of it all, this week’s first two readings and the Psalm bring up the haunting possibility: “Will life on this planet survive?”

Most of us get our science filtered through the news media, so we should take it all with a grain of blood-pressure-elevating salt. But the science news is indeed bleak: We have encroached on and destroyed 90% of what used to be earth’s wilderness buffer between us and the wild animals that harbor untold numbers of dangerous viruses. We have caused carbon dioxide to shoot off the charts of global history; and so the jet streams are throwing heat at the arctic and the frigid polar vortex south to Texas. Social scientists will tell us all about the depression, addiction, and suicide epidemics, as well as the conspiracy theories and political warfare, that come because we have been thrown together so harshly on social media that the safety we felt, tucked into our traditions, has shattered, and we now use those same media to cling to the false security of our information silos.

Whew! I know that in my social isolation, as I struggle to plow the huge snow drifts, I am thinking, “Is that Chicken Little talking, or is the sky really ready to finally fall?”

The greatest part of the biblical story was edited and recorded during times of similar, and even worse, catastrophe and threat of global collapse. Most of the Old Testament, including today’s readings from Genesis and Psalms, were collected and written down when people were either living in exile, or trying to rebuild their lives among the rubble of a shattered Jerusalem and Judea. And the New Testament was written under the aegis of the Roman Empire when the success of her armies and the mad wealth of her global trading network, became one of Planet Earth’s first tastes of the Great Mixing Up that brought on the first pandemics. Of course, the bulldozing of political and cultural boundaries, and the shredding of traditional security blankets that the Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman armies caused were yet another force for disorientation and despair.

Out of this darkness light has shown. Our first reading from Genesis 9:8-17 tells us that before God chose Israel, and made a covenant with her, God made a Premier Covenant with the entire earth, and with all living things. Look for the rainbow, and remember that everlasting covenant!

And, out of that assurance and remembrance, the psalmist forms a prayer that should be on our lips every day now (Psalm 25:1-10). In it we hold God to the promise. In it we lift up our souls to trust in that promise. In it, we anchor ourselves in the earth—the very ground beneath our feet. In it we unite our own fate with that of all others. In it we remember the Premier Covenant with the Planet.

This First Sunday of Lent, in the midst of a pandemic, we reassure ourselves that, yes, we as a species seem to have taken a wrong turn, still

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Of course, there is no blank check here—no whitewashing of our faithlessness and carelessness with our end of the covenant. God is bound to the life of this planet.  But God’s paths are solid and true and trustworthy especially “for those who keep his covenant and decrees.” That’s where Ash Wednesday and Lent come in. We have our reason to be confident and optimistic about life on earth. But we also have every reason to put on ashes and to repent of ways we have betrayed that life. This is an essential part of our Christian witness.

Let’s make these 40 days of penance just a small down payment on lives of daily renewal through repentance.


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Transfiguration B: Listen through Unprecedented

Today on one more day of an unprecedented stretch of super cold temperatures, we look out on unprecedentedly huge drifts of snow, in the midst of a pandemic that has infected and killed unprecedented numbers of people worldwide, and listen to proceedings of an unprecedented second impeachment of an American President.

No wonder lexicographers have nominated “unprecedented” as a word for our time.

And this Sunday of the Transfiguration no doubt got into our church year program because it calls on us all to get used to unprecedented things—to never forget that the life of faith is a life that is open to the above average, the wildly abnormal, and the purely awesome. In other words: Transcendence.

This Sunday’s first reading is 2 Kings 2:1-12. It marks a turning of an epoch in human history, marked by the passing of the torch from one great prophet to another, and this fulcrum moment is full of the unprecedented and the transcendent. What happens when you stare into a blazing fire, or when you witness the uber-power of a tornado? This story sees both of those awesome forces at work as a flaming chariot separates the apprentice, Elisha, from his master, Elijah. Elisha doesn’t want to let go. He wants to ride out the tsunami and be blessed doubly by the spirit within. But this unprecedented and unexpected thing pries him from his plans; and then Elijah is carried away by the wind.

The Gospel lesson this Sunday is, of course, the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9. Just as fire and wind defy our understanding and overpower us, so now it is a cloud of unknowing. Two dead heroes are alive again: Moses and Elijah. How can that be? How can it be other than hysteria or superstition that creates such a mirage or hallucination in our minds. We want the power and the glory to be real, and to be captured with tents or tabernacles or boxes or books or smartphone pix. Captured to be studied and understood. But a voice from inside that cloud of unknowing says, “Listen to the Beloved Son.”

But we don’t want to listen. Listening takes patience. Listening takes forgetting. Listening requires a stillness as real as suffering. It requires supernatural stillness smack dab in the middle of unfolding clouds, wind, and fire; and we don’t want to do it.

Transfiguration, in the middle of pandemic, impeachment, and unprecedented winter is a reawakening to awe. It beckons us to abandon our need to cling and to control. It subtracts so that we can listen to the One voice that can call us through.


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Enough snow and wind!

Zac and Betty looked like ghosts. Temperature about 5 degrees, going down to 15 below later this week. Wind from 25 to 45 miles an hour. Drifts up to my waist.

Lots of profanity as I try to open gates, get motors started, clear ice from my eyes, and slog along. But, thanks be to God I haven’t had a heart attack yet, I have warm clothes, a warm house, and a warm wife to come indoors to.

It looks like at least a half a month of this, so best set my face to the wind and soldier on like our pioneer ancestors did before us. Quit being a softy!

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Epiphany 5 B: Wait for the Lord, Not Just for the Vaccination

There’s something ancient and eternal here. We are always tempted to modernize the message of the church—to speak in the most fashionable jargon of the philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, or “with it” youth on the streets.

But Isaiah, chapters 40-55, makes it most plain that the essential core task of the church is to proclaim good news to the world that God’s rule is the ultimate truth of our lives, and that it is ineluctable, inevitable, irresistible.

This section if Isaiah is dramatically shaped by a series of rhetorical questions such as “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” The biblical scholar, Joseph Blenkensopp, (commentary on Isaiah, chapters 40-55, p. 190) has pointed out that such questions can serve a purpose like an attorney’s in a courtroom, pinning a witness in a corner. But here the purpose is compassionate and not hostile. It is aimed at people living among the ruins of Jerusalem and Judea, trying to put their lives back together after a war of annihilation, and an exile bent on erasing them as a people. Each of these people are secretly saying to themselves, “The Lord is blind to my pitiable condition. And God doesn’t care that I, and all my people, are being treated unjustly.”

The prophet is addressing those who have come back from Babylon to live in broken Judea. But the prophet sees Zion as the soul—the spiritual beating heart of this people. The prophet blows the battle bugle to rouse this super-character of Zion to action: Tell the world it is not so. Your present distress is not the end, but prelude. The present forces of oppression that seem so dominant, will be blown away.

And, in our lesson of Isaiah 40:21-31, the chief image is that of the contrast of old age and youth; and the message is one I and my age cohort in the church, desperately need. We are persistently reminded that as we are over 65, and we are most vulnerable to Covid-19. We can see on the evening news gray-haired people just like us, dying alone in ICU units. And we are also weary longing for yesteryear when our government met big problems with big solutions, from the World War to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to Voting Rights to Medicare. All we see now is the canyons between political parties, between rich and poor, and between truth and propaganda getting wider and wider.

It seems God is blind. It seems at times as though we old folk, like Jesus on the cross in Mark 15, have been abandoned. It seems we are of the old world of newspapers, letters in the mail, phone calls, and a nice slow pace; and the youth of today are swallowing up our reality with instant everything. Game Stop shares will go up and down in a blinding fury, but everybody knows they will soon bottom out and take us all with them.

There is an old joke that goes, “Everything you eat can kill you if you live long enough.” Another like it is “The road of glory leads but to the grave, but so do all the other roads.” The older we get the more these jokes haunt us. And the cruelest joke, and the cruelest reality is that, as Isaiah says, “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.” There is just one road, and it is a long, hard one. Our knees wear out. Our fingers swell. Our vision blurs and our veins clog up. And, if it isn’t Covid, it will be something else.

But Isaiah, the prophet, rouses Zion to announce the good news that things are not what they appear to be. God has not abandoned us old folk to arthritis and Coronavirus. Instead he is here to give us wings like eagles, and to renew us so that we can run faster than in our dim memories or pleasant dreams. All we have to do is wait.

But waiting is not the same as sitting. It is not a spectator sport. The Hebrew word translated “wait” has its origin in the word for a taut rope. If they had springs in Isaiah’s time, this word for “wait” would have brought a compressed spring to mind. This is waiting with a purpose, and with a target. It is eager expectation. It is joyful anticipation. When I think of this kind of waiting I think of one of my border collie sheepdogs, like Betty. With sheep out on the far horizon I bring her out and call her to my side. She is taut like a rope or a spring. She may even quiver with excitement as she aims her whole self on a beautiful arc that will take her to just the right spot on the other side of the sheep—just the right spot to begin the welcome work of bringing them to my feet.

Us old folk need this kind of purposeful, targeted, anticipatory waiting on God. We should be waiting on God, not waiting to die. And not wringing our hands waiting impatiently to be vaccinated—hoping to jump to the head of the line. The only way we will avoid simply disappearing in sad weariness as we surrender to Covid is to set our sights on the rule of God that has come near—to be about the business of Zion, telling the world the good news that God is still in charge. If we wait on this God who cares for us all, we won’t worry about seeing others get their shots ahead of us. We will rejoice that we can be among others as one who serves.

There is no modern, digital, algorhithmic substitute for sharing the good news that God’s rule is at hand. We just have to proclaim it. This is our purpose. And Isaiah gives us wonderful words for it:

21    Have you not known? Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22    It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

23    who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24    Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25    To whom then will you compare me,

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

26    Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

27    Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28    Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

29    He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

30    Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

31    but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.


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Epiphany 4 B “Rebuke the Disease, Not the Diseased”

Years ago we fought off a family disease. Substance abuse was our plague, and we were in a group family therapy program where the leader had each set of parents draw a picture of the disease, place it on a folding chair, and then give vent to their emotions by beating the picture with a plastic baseball bat.

The point: It is right to rage against the disease, but not the diseased. When a member of your family is abusing drugs or alcohol, the whole family system, and not just the addict, is sick. It is of the utmost importance to hate and strike out at the disease, but it is self-destructive of the entire family when one person is made the scapegoat for a shared malady.

Reading the New York Times this morning my own emotions almost boiled over. I said to my wife, “We don’t stand a chance!” Almost all of the stories were of seemingly insurmountable problems facing our nation and world: the coronavirus is mutating while vaccination efforts stall. The climate is warming while attempts mitigate its ravages seem doomed because of congressional resistance. Trump loyalists dig in as Biden’s team seeks to dig them out. Conspiracy enthusiasts have taken over the Republican party, protest being censured, yet have a industry of conservative media and Internet trolls, not to mention well-armed militias, backing them up.

Our Gospel reading for this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany is Mark 1:21-28. Jesus has received God’s affirmation at his Baptism, and has begun his ministry of the Good News that God’s rule has begun. And now, in this passage, he demonstrates that rule of God by performing his first exorcism of an unclean spirit—which he does by rebuke: “Be silent! Come out of him!”

Mark’s Gospel will unfold and make it plain how much we need God’s rule to break in. Things are a mess the way they are, and human life has always seemed full of insurmountable threats. Here it is demon possession. There it will be leprosy, a storm at sea, hungry multitudes, oppressive, fearful and power-anxious religious and political leaders.

Pen-ultimately it will look like total negation of God’s rule, because God’s son, the Messiah, is hung on a cross; and when he dies, he too makes a loud cry, just like the unclean spirit here in the first chapter.

But that is not the end. The ultimate comes when Jesus’ tomb is empty and the young man in white announces the next great phase of the coming of God’s rule: “He’s not here. He’s been raised. Go back to Galilee—the place of gospel mission and ministry. Christ is going ahead of you.”

But here, in our lesson, we learn that the rule of God entails strong rebuke. But it is rebuke of the disease—the true enemy—and not the ones with the disease.

It is time for us and all the church to rebuke. Those who take up arms, and shout, and obstruct, and tell outrageous lies, and believe those same lies, are not the real enemy. The fear and the lies that possess them are what we must hate and rebuke. We should be bold and loud and clear about these diseases, and about the need for faith and the love that casts out fear and falsehood.

Related to this is the Apostle Paul’s wise instruction in our Second Lesson for this day in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Contained here is one of the most profound bits of practical philosophy that Paul has to offer us: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” Paul insists.

At issue is whether Christians should buy and consume meat at the market that had been part of pagan sacrifice. Paul concedes that knowledge of the Bible and theology may tell us that, since idols are not real gods, the act of sacrifice itself is of no consequence. Armed alone with this knowledge one could conclude the meat may be eaten. However, Paul goes on to observe that those beginning their Christian journey may not understand these fine theological distinctions, and may therefore be confused and disturbed by such behavior.

Paul concludes that mere knowledge is only the start; it is not the “necessary knowledge.” That essential knowledge is wrapped up with love: the conviction that God knows us completely (including how stupid the smartest of us is) yet still loves us, and the power to love others and accommodate them that arises out of that conviction.

Shallow knowledge leads to shallow liberty. But necessary knowledge frees us more profoundly—to make ourselves servants of others.

In the midst of a pandemic of Covid and of lies, we are smothered every day with bad news. It is the right time for all of us who believe in the God who went to the cross for us to carry our cross as well. This means we rebuke the disease of fear and lies, but refuse to hate or attack the people who are possessed by this disease. And it means that we not get puffed up by our knowledge of God, of science, or of the Constitution, but make all knowledge serve the cause of love.


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Epiphany 3 B: Trust Joe Biden; but Verify!

I write and publish this blog on January 19, 2021. Tomorrow, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. Thanks be to God!

Now, it is our job to trust but verify.

We are moved to do this by God’s Word, reaching out to us through the readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, on January 24, 2021.

Our Old Testament Reading is Jonah 3:1-5, 10

God tells Jonah to preach: “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, has the well earned reputation as arch enemy of Israel for their horrendous war-making and barbarism. Yet the people of Nineveh believed God, and repent. God changed his mind and didn’t bring about the calamity.

The lesson is, with God, no one is beyond redemption.

The question is, will we repent or our own sins? Yesterday, on Martin Luther King Day,  President Trump’s White House formally published the report of their 1776 Commission, which denounces any attempt to call America to repentance for its sins of slavery or institutional racism. Will we, as a people, renounce that report and humbly ask for God’s redemption of our nation. America is not one thing, either all good or all bad. But, unless we repent, we will never be forgiven or restored from our sins and shortcomings.

Our Psalm for this day is Psalm 62:5-12

The Psalmist reminds us that the lowly people around us are indeed like a breath. But the high and mighty are a delusion.

Only the One True God of justice and steadfast love deserves our ultimate trust and allegiance.

This caveat should temper our celebrations of this Inauguration Day.

New Testament:  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Sure, history may seem to repeat itself. The hands of the watch seem to keep going round and round. But the kairos, or appointed time is short. It’s time to make up our minds whose side we are on.

Today we may not have the exact belief of the Apostle Paul that all world history is about to come to its climax. But will we take our own span of life seriously? Will we be realistic enough to take the short arc of time allotted to America to be what she should be?

Above all this will take focus. Those with wives should be as though they had none. Mourners as though they weren’t mourning. Those who are celebrating as though they were not. Those who spend their lives shopping, as though they were as poor as the Hondurans trying to get to America. Real-politic wheelers and dealers as though all their deals meant absolutely nothing in the great scheme of things.

The present form of this world is passing.

The Gospel:  Mark 1:14-20

We could read Paul as being a pessimist for saying the present form of the world is passing. But he was the greatest optimist. He took seriously the coming of God’s Rule.

Mark shows us. God’s creation is now being restored to its original holiness. The distortions we see in demons, natural disasters, illness, and oppressive leaders, are being set aright through God’s Word and Christ’s ministry, death, and Resurrection.

This Sunday we should be celebrating Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States.

It is a new day; and billions across the globe have their fingers crossed. There is much reason to hope, since Joe Biden is obviously not “against God” and a destroyer of suburbs, as Trump has lied. He is a decent man who has already laid out an agenda to serve all the people and not himself. For starters he has laid out plans to use America’s great resources of wealth and science to fight the pandemic. And he has plans to collaborate with worthy allies to promote peace and undo the oppression and environmental destruction that is all too rampant in the world.

But the Psalm for today, and all of Scripture, warn us that we are not to put our ultimate trust or allegiance in any human leadership, or material wealth. Certainly we are not to, as the Psalmist says, trust in “extortion.” And that surely means we should not rely on the powers of intimidation practiced by a President who says, “America first” or threatens “fire and fury.”

They say the prime attitude in diplomacy is “trust but verify.” So too, in any government, no matter which party or leader is in power, we should do the same. More than passively “hope with fingers crossed,” each of us is called by God to engage in the lifestyle of the true citizen. We should all trust, but verify when it comes to our own leaders. Like the prophets of old we should speak truth to power. We should keep politicians’ feet to the fire. We should practice and honor political organization for the common good.

But there is MUCH to be thankful for on the occasion of this Inauguration. We have heard more than enough of people putting Joe Biden down by saying he wasn’t their “first choice.” He is the nation’s choice, and that means something.

Meanwhile, we should be deeply thankful that, as Mark’s Gospel shows us, the Rule of God has already been set in motion through God’s Word, through the ministry, death and Resurrection of Christ, and through the Holy Spirit.

This Truth sets us free from trying to keep up appearances. We are free to admit and repent of our past mistakes as a people. America is more than one thing – bad or good. We are a mixed bag, and we must admit it, turn away from the darker side of our nature, and fix things. If repentance worked for Nineveh, it can work for us. We can be better through repentance than through pathetic image preservation.

Joe Biden has plans to get off to a band of a start through a host of positive executive actions. Today is a New Day.

Let’s celebrate today; and tomorrow roll up our sleeves. Trust, but verify.


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Epiphany 2 B: “I and We” and the Assault on the Capitol

The Second Reading for this Sunday is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Those who stormed our nation’s Capitol on Epiphany, January 6, shouted many slogans: “This is our house!” “Stop the steal!” “Hang Mike Pence!”

But they all can be boiled down to one: “Me, me, me!” The shouters were today’s heirs of the tradition that says my freedom and my rights are paramount. The rioters were not exceptions, but the logical extension of the argument in favor of an agenda many call “core conservative.” These are the values of individual rights, individual liberty, limited regulation of industry and commerce, and low taxes. In effect, this is entirely an agenda of  “me,” and the government and everything else is measured against how it affects “me.”

This agenda then, in effect, dismisses all truly fundamental consideration of “we.” Concern about equality is then labeled as the lethal danger of socialism. Concern about the way we speak to each other is dismissed as “political correctness.” Surely it is foolish, perhaps even treasonous, to consider addressing ravages to the environment or climate change if we must do so at any cost to our sacred, singular right to get more stuff for “me.”   

Tragically Christians have contributed mightily to this self-destructive ideology. Faith is seen in an ego-centric way as “me and Jesus,” or “me and the Holy Spirit,” and as a way for me to get to heaven.

The first and last sentences of our Second Reading, 1 Cor. 6.12-20, form a prime case in point. “All things are lawful for me,” says someone in the Corinthian church. The rest of the letter will make it plain that this thinking arose out of the false idea that Spirit, salvation, and freedom are all about “me.” At our baptism we arrive, we are now spiritual, and what happens to the community we live in is irrelevant.

Just so, Christians to this day think the notion that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” is a beautiful lovely picture of the purified individual Christian living chastely.

The wake-up call comes when we notice that those mentions of “you” and “yours” in the last two sentences of the reading are all plural. It is the corporate body that is the temple of God’s Spirit—that is, the meeting place of God and humanity. It is the human family that cannot long survive if it operates in a “me-centered” fashion. Neither the family, nor the neighborhood, nor the nation, nor your social-media connections are autonomous. You and your circle of like-minded ones, and your property, and your planet, all belong to God. Since your entire human family has been bought with a price, you must live to glorify God in the way you live in and for the CORPORATE body.

Swing on up to chapters 11 and 12 for more about this Body of Christ, which is our body of community. It is at the heart of the most sacred of things Christians do: The supper becomes “the Lord’s Supper when share in a way that lifts up the ones among us who the world treats as least worthy. The Supper is nothing if not egalitarian. And this plural understanding of Body of Christ is the essential foundation of Christian morality. See 12:12-27. No blinkered belief in individual rights or responsibility can take its place.

No one shouting “this is our house” as they break the windows of the Capitol and smash their way over Capitol Police, truly belongs to the Christian church or to the American experiment in politics—not if they live only for me and mine, and forget us and ours.

I consider myself a good conservative. I want to conserve individual rights and individual liberty. But I know that these things surely evaporate when I cannot also give of some of my rights and some of my liberty and some of my property in order to serve the common good.

Lord God, help us think and act as members of your Body. Help us give for the sake of one another, so that our community, our nation,, and all of humanity, may become the place where we meet you. May our body become the temple of the Holy Spirit among us.


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Epiphany 1 B: Listen to the Earth

First Sunday after the Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord

Psalm 29 is our Psalm for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which is also the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This particular Psalm may have been chosen by those who maintain the lectionary readings as background to the scene in today’s Gospel reading, Mark 1:4-11, where Jesus comes out of the water after being baptized by John:

He saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The words for “heaven” in both Hebrew and Greek can also mean just plain old “sky.” The Earth’s atmosphere speaks to Jesus. And Psalm 29 is all about how God speaks through nature. It contains these verses:

3           The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the Lord, over mighty waters.

4           The voice of the Lord is powerful;

the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5           The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6           He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7           The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8           The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9           The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

and strips the forest bare;

and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The question is: If God is speaking to us through Creation, are we listening?

One of my former Old Testament professors has helped found a marvelous movement called The Earth Bible Project. Many scholars have dedicated themselves to retrieving from the ages a faith that does indeed listen to what the Apostle Paul calls the “groans of Creation.” This project helps us be honest about the places in the Bible where concerns of the Earth take a back seat to our own, sometimes self-serving, concerns. These scholars also seek to be honest and critical about the many ways we have misinterpreted the Bible because we have habitually seen everything with “me” in the center—that “me” being narrowly conceived as us humans only, us whites, us westerners, us Christians, or us Americans only in the center of the picture. (Citation: Norman C. Habel, ” The Earth Bible Project,” SBL Forum , n.p. [cited July 2004]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=291)

Surely, we have an urgent lesson to learn from these days of  horrible pandemic, and of all the other crises of economics, politics, racial relations, etc, that we have had to deal with. The lesson is that we must take our little selves out of the center, and respect the whole of Creation as the handiwork of our Great God. We must repent for the wayswe continue every day to wound ourselves and all future generations by our disregard for the environment. A big part of this is that the series of viruses and bacteria that have attacked us, from SARS and swine flu to AIDS, have been arise because of our own careless incursions into and destruction of the habitats of animals. For another thing, we should now see clearly that we ourselves live and move and have our being only as part of the intricate web of life on this planet. We have fallen ill in the pandemic, and we will survive, only as part of the Whole.

I leave you with a list of the guiding principles of the Earth Bible Project. They should be a catalyst for our shared growth as a species, starting with the way we read Psalm 29 and the rest of the Bible. When we read Psalm 29, for instance, we learn about God’s voice from the Earth. And when we experience the ravages of this pandemic, we can feel the impact of principle 6 – the earth resists our injustices—especially the way we act as if we can get away with raping Her.

“Six Ecojustice Principles”  

  1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth: The universe, Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
  2. The Principle of Interconnectedness: Earth is a community of interconnected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
  3. The Principle of Voice: Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.
  4. The Principle of Purpose: The universe, Earth and all its components, are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.
  5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship: Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners, rather than rulers, to sustain a balanced and diverse Earth community.
  6. The Principle of Resistance: Earth and its components not only differ from injustices at the hands of humans, but actively resist them in the struggle of justice.

These principles are basic to the approach of writers in the Earth Bible Project seeking to read the biblical text from the perspective of Earth. They can be found discussed in full in Norman C. Habel, ed., Readings from the Perspective of Earth, The Earth Bible, Vol. 1, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 2000.

There are many worthy organizations that can help us listen to the Earth. One that             another of my former professors, David Rhoads, helped found, and which specifically works to help members like me, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is called Lutherans Restoring Creation. Here is a link to the website:  https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org/

May we listen together to God’s voice in Nature. And “may the Lord bless his people with peace!”


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Christmas 2 B: Recipe for a Pandemic New Year’s Eve Party

I write this blog post on New Year’s Eve.

Battle scarred by this year past you may be tempted to party like there’s no tomorrow. You may want to rip off your mask, hug a room full of strangers, drink till you stagger, and scoop your chips in one big, communal bowl of avocado dip.


Instead, take a tip from the good tradition of the church. In the bleak midwinter listen to God’s Word that is chosen for this season to help us take the harsh cold and deep darkness of life honestly and seriously so that we can party as we should—so that we can refresh ourselves for taking better care of this world  God has put us in.

Our first lesson for this Second Sunday after Christmas is just such a Word, fitting just such a feast time in the darkness. Jeremiah 31:7-14 was obviously written by someone who knows the score. Before it invites celebration this Word paints a vivid picture of the worst this world can dish out. It’s all part of being a “scattered” people.

Jeremiah writes to exiles. He conveys an oracle from God that portrays what it means to lose—to suffer—to be marched away to a far off land.

Being scattered is all about the physical suffering of going blind, stumbling along rocky roads on legs that give out, with your screaming child at your side; or to realize you will be left behind to give birth under a bush by the side of the road.

But, when you are scattered, the psychic wounds are even more unbearable than the physical ones. You have given yourself up to the hard truth that your life is not yours to manage. Stronger hands of powerful people, or the invisible clutches of illness and accident grip you tight. And so you languish, the oracle says in verse 12, using a Hebrew word that means to melt away.

But this oracle invitation to the party sounds a bitter note as well. It is meant to be a kind of gloat for all the nations that are aligned against Israel:

“He who scattered Israel will gather him,

and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

Being kept together by a Good Shepherd is definitely something to party about. But what of the initial scattering? This is future good news, but what of yesterday?

This oracle speaks from within the world of the Hebrew Bible where, as Amos 3:6  says, nothing happens in this world unless God has done it. Nothing is beyond God’s control, and when God scatters, it is for the deeper purpose of deterring us from our self-destructive tendencies. Hosea teaches this lesson with the image of a loving husband hemming in his unfaithful wife. The left hand builds walls to turn her around while  the right hand invites her along the right path of faithfulness.

That Old Testament perspective can certainly afford a sort of comforting assurance. But then the Gospels tell us an even deeper truth: God does the gathering and the keeping safe—it is the evil impulse of Satan to strike the shepherd and scatter (see Mk 14.26-27), or to sift us like wheat (Lk 22:31). The Christ prays for us and works to hold us close—to lose none of us (John 16:31-33; all of chapter 17; and 18:8-9). When we see gathering, it is God. When we see scattering, it is Satan.

So, instead of partying like there is no tomorrow, or living carelessly and shouting “YOLO,” we are encouraged here to throw the mourning of today into reverse—to shout God’s praise, rejoice, dance, and make merry.

A good recipe! Not because 2021 will be so grand, but because the long road ahead is one  we will walk with the Good Shepherd beside us. Therefore the way of losing ourselves to serve one another is the way of the full future ahead.

Our recipe for this party must be honest, yet faithful. We know 2021 still looks dark. The virus is accelerating exponentially. Too many people are carelessly forgetting about the simple steps of mask wearing and social distancing. The vaccine distribution is ponderous. Nevertheless, the Shepherd God is always gathering; and the recipe of the greatest party of all is to open ourselves to that Spirit of gathering—of caring for one another and for our home planet earth.


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