Is the Empire Striking Back? (Mark 1)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:9–15 NRSV)

The Empire Strikes Back?

There are many kinds of kingdoms that have been announced.

All with their heralds, some wielding guns, or wielding knives, and some even wielding Death Stars, and others – like this one we’ve just read about – comes bearing nothing more than a handful of short stories, and teachings and demonstrations of love.

I don’t know about you but Jesus announcing what he calls “the kingdom of God” stretches my imagination to the breaking point.

What is “the kingdom of God” exactly?

Part of the problem is that we don’t have a lot references for Kingdoms today, besides Downtown Abbey I think we’re out of luck. Continue reading Is the Empire Striking Back? (Mark 1)

The Nursery of Truth (John 15)

From the very beginning of the Quaker movement, Friends have liked asking questions. Part of this is because they got rid of the creeds, and something need to take their place.

So they used queries.

We could have t-shirts made up that says something like “The church of questions.”

(Q:) What do you think of that? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

It’s like being in a classroom within one of those really annoying teachers and you raise hand to ask a question “Professor, what is Paul’s anthropology?” And the professor responds back, “Well Johnny, what do you think it is?”

It’s hard to get answers out of someone like that.

George Fox was famous for saying, “the apostles say this, and the priest say that, but what canst thou say?”

For Quakers, the purpose of queries is to help spur on the growth of truth in our lives and meetings. Continue reading The Nursery of Truth (John 15)

The Taste of Truth (John 18:33-38)

“Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37–38 NRSV)

I, like Pilate, want to know what is truth.

I want to be able to identify truth the way that I can identify the notes of coffee from Ethiopia and distinguish it from coffee that came from Central America. I want to recognize the hints of truth the way I can recognize the hints of berries, chocolate, and orange in a fresh cup of Joe.

Pilate’s question, what is truth, is an honest one. It is a universal one. It sums up every question that has ever been asked. Is God there? Does she or he love me? Is this job the right job for me? Have I done good enough? What is the right thing to do?

Then Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” Continue reading The Taste of Truth (John 18:33-38)

The Maze Dull Truth (Mark 1:21-28)

Expectations and Maze Dull Rats

Robert Rosenthal was a psychologist who is famous for his experiment with rats in a maze. The experiment looked at “expectancy effects” and how our expectations have a direct effect on the outcome of what we are doing (link).

In 1963, Rosenthal took two groups of students to test how well they could get their rats through a maze. The students were to help guide their rats through the maze as fast as they could.

To one set of students he gave them, what he called, “Maze Dull” rats and to the other group he bestowed to wonderful “Maze Bright” rats.

Of course, in reality there were not differences at all between the rats, but the students didn’t know this.

Can you guess what happened? Continue reading The Maze Dull Truth (Mark 1:21-28)

The Plush Silence of Heaven (Psalm 82)

This is the message I gave this past Sunday based on Psalm 82.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

(Psalms 82:1–8 NRSV)

When God Woke Up This Morning

(a fictional retelling of a day in the life of God)

It’s morning already? God rolls over and hits the alarm. Another few minutes to snooze when you are the Almighty is certainly justifiable. But finally, God cannot ignore the day’s work and so with a woolen bathrobe from Pendleton – not that God’s all about brands but this is fantastic – and a favorite pair of fuzzy slippers hand-knitted by the Holy Spirit, God strolls downstairs to fix coffee and to take in the morning news.

Events this morning are as bleak as ever. Continue reading The Plush Silence of Heaven (Psalm 82)

Portraits of Failure, Communion of Love

Portraits of Failure

A man named Asaph is believed to be the author of the Psalm. It is about his wrestling with his own failure and the near miss of being sucked into the illusion of measuring life in relation to successes and failures.

“No doubt about it! God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people At the top, envying the wicked who have it made, Who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world.” (Psalms 73:1–5 MESSAGE)

What I like about this Psalm is that I think it gives us a spiritual roadmap for how to come to terms with failure and how to move beyond it.

[I recognize that talking about failure, naming our failures openly is really hard to do. There is a lot of pain that resides within this conversation. I hope that the discussion today will not create more shame or stigma around failure but actually open us up some to be able to talk more freely about our own setbacks, fiascos, and failed attempts.]

To start I want to share a few failure stories with you that come from the issue of Geez Magazine called “After Failure.” Continue reading Portraits of Failure, Communion of Love

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Psalm 44)

This is an adapted version of a message I gave this past Sunday. It draws on themes from Psalm 44.

As I have been reflecting on the theme of lament I realized that lament is the byproduct of those communities trying to live out faithfulness in a world.

A community that is trying to embody the peaceable kingdom in a world so hell-bent on violence will become accustomed to lament.

A community working to embody love and welcome the stranger in a world that constantly builds up us against them and rivalry over the other will become accustomed to lament.

Lament is the bitter pill we as a community swallow when we seek to be faithful and compassionate people following Jesus.

After all, how well did this all worked out for Jesus? He too was accustom to lament: weeping over the death of his friend, longing to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks, crying – or raging? – out that God had forsaken him. Jesus, the one who comes as the man of peace, was also very much a man of sorrows.

So I guess my question is: what does it mean to be a people of lament, a community of lament? Continue reading Where the Sidewalk Ends (Psalm 44)