Archive for January 2012

Hearing Again for the First Time   2 comments

“You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

This is a life changing text.   Has been for me, anyway.

It comes from the parable of the talents, in which Jesus tells of a master who, on the eve of his long journey,  gives his servants talents (significant sums of money), each according to his ability.   Two of the servants invested and traded their talents, and in so doing, doubled them.   The third, fearful of messing up and losing the one talent he was given, buried it in the sand.

Jesus is clear who deserves the condemnation here, and who deserves the praise.   The tentative servant, though his motives perhaps were understandable, nonetheless failed by serving his caution and fearfulness rather than his Lord.   And the one talent he had was taken away from him.  The other two servants, willing to risk in order to gain, pleased their master and received even more.

Around 12 years ago, I heard a sermon on this text preached by Rev. Bill Kemp that moved me beyond my caution and fear and into marriage and ministry.   Who knows whether what I heard was what he was actually saying, but what I heard was the Spirit’s urging me to stop burying my gifts and desires to become a pastor and propose to my girlfriend, even if I was trying to protect and honor what I had been given.

Now 12 years later, I can share in the pride and joy of the other two servants.   Like them, I have received blessing upon blessing as a result of being faithful with those talents, as opposed to hoarding them.   I have a deep abiding marriage, two wonderful daughters, a church that pulls the best out of me and has so much to give of itself.

But today is a new day, the old has passed away and the new has begun.  And so I re-read this parable, and hear again my master preparing for a long journey and asking me, imploring me, to not hold back.   May I again be lead and exhorted to be faithful with a few and many things, so that I and many more may enter into the joy of our great Master, servant of all.

 

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Posted January 31, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Is   2 comments

The voice of the Lord is… (Psalm 29:4)

I have little to say today.

That may be my cue to listen.

For the voice of the Lord is

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted January 30, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

A So-True SOTU   Leave a comment

A worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a false mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers.  (Proverbs 6:12)

As soon as the speech is over, pundits will pore over President Obama’s State of the Union address and look for political points won and lost.  They’ll analyze whether it moved the electoral needle in any particular direction.   They’ll hype up the zingers, deconstruct the rhetoric, and thrust microphones before those with alternative agendas to keep the left-right conflict fresh and exciting.

If I have the stamina tonight to watch the speech after a full day and evening’s worth of meetings, I’ll be looking for something different:  Honesty.   With today’s verse from Proverbs in mind, I want to see our President walk down the center aisle seeking handshakes and high-fives with truth, not deception.  I want to look into his eyes and those of the pundits and political opponents and see them burn with integrity, not flicker with devious winks atop shifting feet.  I don’t want someone to win tonight, and someone else to lose.  I don’t want to be inspired or impressed, or be made to feel like my perspective is right and someone else’s is wrong.  I don’t want a speech that seeks the accumulation of “likes,” even my own.

I just want to hear where we are, who we are.  I want a speech that tells me about myself and my people, what we’re doing well and what needs our urgency.   I want to know what I should cheer and what should make me angry.   I want to hear, truly, the state of our union, where it is strong, and where it shows cracks, and how my life and living is wrapped up in all of that.  I want to go to bed tonight smarter and more attuned to reality, because of this speech and the post-game show, not in spite of them.

It’s easy to expect and ask this of others, of our President and those who will debate with him.  It’s harder still to live and speak with such honesty ourselves.

And so, I’ll listen to this speech, mindful that its content sheds light not only on the honesty of our leaders, but the integrity of we who follow.   Because if our ears seek deception, avarice and the scoring of political points, then this is what our leaders will give us.

Posted January 24, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Criss-Cross Will Make You…   Leave a comment

But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the first born. (Genesis 48:14-15)

Joseph was offended.  His dying father, Israel, sat feebly before him and extended his unsteady arms to bless Joseph’s sons.  Instead of following custom and laying his right hand on the head of the firstborn Manasseh, he palmed the forehead of the younger Ephraim, and placed his left hand on Manasseh.   Crossing his arms, Israel blessed both abundantly, but only Ephraim could receive Israel’s favored hand.  Understandably, Joseph did not like it one bit.

“Not so, my father” he said.

Joseph’s protest represented an amnesia of epic proportions.   He forgot that he himself received greater favor from his father, even though he was nearly the youngest of his twelve brothers.  He forgot that his father was also the younger brother to Esau, and yet received the greater blessing (see my previous koosh-ball inspired post for the backstory: http://wp.me/p25uE3-1e).

With all of his success in life, his stature in Egypt, Joseph had forgotten that the blessings he knew came not from merit or birthright, but something else.  Throughout the Biblical narrative, that “something else” often looks like blind luck or trickery.  Other times, it seems like holy sanction.

But when the arms of blessing are crossed, when things do not go according to how they ordinarily should,  some people cannot help but take offense.  In the other reading for the day, the disciple Peter cannot stand it when Jesus predicted his own death in Jerusalem, right after Peter had seen Jesus shining white in glory.

When our plans or desires are criss-crossed by a reality that seems all too ignorant of How Things Should Be, we want to jump up and say, “Not So!”  We can’t help but join with Joseph in forgetting that sometimes, the best blessings in life can come when arms are crossed in defiance of tradition or our own expectations.

And more urgently, we like Peter can find ourselves taking offense that abundant life must come through the death of One whose arms were stretched on a cross.  It’s not fair, it’s not right.

But thanks be to God.

 

(Join me in reading today’s texts from the New American Standard Bible by going here:  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=genesis%2048:1-49:33;matthew%2015:29-16:12;psalm%2020:1-9;proverbs%204:20-27&version=NASB )

 

 

 

Posted January 18, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

The Click and Clack of Call-Talk   Leave a comment

“God sent me before you to preserve life.”  (says Joseph in Genesis 45:5)

I understand and often engage in  “Call-talk”, but it makes me uncomfortable.   It’s the language of those who say, “My ‘call’ is to write a great novel” or “I feel ‘called’ to go to law school” or “my calling is be a good father.”  Call-talk runs especially rampant in seminaries and in minister circles, where people are trained to articulate what God wants them to become or do in their lives.  But pastors-in-training are not the only ones who desire a sense that what they are doing, or what they want to do, has its origins and justifications in the will of God or the machinations of fate.  We all want that justification to make some sense out of our random lives, to have the confidence to break out of occupational or relational ruts and live life more fully and abundantly.

In “Car Talk”, the great NPR show starring  “Click” and “Clack”, the Tappet brothers, callers describe the terrrible sounds that their cars are making.   Based on the noise, its location, duration and frequency, the brothers diagnose the problem, humorously but often expertly, and prescribe a remedy.  When we engage in “Call-Talk”, we’re also trying to figure out a remedy to some kind of noise in our lives.   That noise may be a lost sense of purpose, a deep hurt, or feelings of inadequacy — that we have not lived up to a standard set by someone else, or one we set for ourselves.   Or we hear cries of suffering in others and we want to silence them, for their benefit and our own.  Our remedy for this noise is often to claim a calling.   “I’m CALLED to do ____” we say, hoping to silence the noise.

Perhaps we are called for certain roles or achievements, but when we claim God as the source of that call, we run the danger of using God for our own purposes.   If it’s truly about God’s call, we’re the ones being used, not the other way around.

Thanks be for Joseph.  He didn’t speak of his call at all, because then calling would have been a possession, something he had and owned and controlled.   Instead, Joseph looked at his life and saw God’s hand at work in it, using him to save the lives of his brothers and countless more Egyptians who would have died in the great famine unless he had been sold into slavery in Egypt and earned the trust of Pharoah, who put him in charge of the warehouses of extra grain.  Joseph never set out to do those great things, never claimed some higher purpose for his life.  In fact, he suffered.  But he also used his physical, intellectual and spiritual gifts wherever he found himself, either as a well-respected slave, a prisoner in a dungeon, or an administrator of grain.   His work became God’s, not because he set out to do God’s work, but because God went to work through him.

One of my favorite sources of devotional writing is the daily “blog” of the deceased Scottish preacher, Oswald Chambers (go to  http://utmost.org),  About call, he writes:

The call of God is the expression of God’s nature, not ours.  The call of God is not a reflection of my nature; my personal desires and temperament are of no consideration. As long as I dwell on my own qualities and traits and think about what I am suited for, I will never hear the call of God. 

Indeed, it’s hard to hear God’s call with all of that noise we make talking about our “own” call.  Let’s quiet down, and give all of ourselves to where we are now, and like Joseph, discover that all along God has been using us, perhaps also to preserve life – our own, and the lives of others.

After all, MLK did not set out to claim the title of “Drum Major” for justice.   But he became one, like Joseph, both interpreters of great dreams.

Posted January 16, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Holy Cow, What a Dream!   Leave a comment

And Pharoah said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it.”  (Genesis 41:15)

Pharoah’s dream was a nightmare.   Seven ugly, gaunt cows rising up from the riverbank, eschewing grass but devouring seven fat and healthy cows in an unprecedented bovine assault that gives “Eat Mor Chikin” all new meaning.  Then, seven withered ears of grain going whole-wheat cannibalistic and swallowing up the seven plump and full ears on the same stalk.  None of the leader’s magicians could interpret Pharoah’s vivid and strange dream.

But Joseph could.

Joseph himself was in an Egyptian jail in part because he too dreamed a dream, of his 10 brothers bowing before him as before a king, a dream that so angered them they sold him into slavery into Egypt.  There he prospered, but was falsely accused of sexually assaulting his master’s wife, so he ended up in jail.  In jail, he interpreted the dreams of two inmates with him, correctly predicting that one would rise to prominence, and the other would be hung.   One inmate would tell Pharoah about this Hebrew dream-catcher, so Joseph was summoned.

Pharoah’s dream, Joseph saw, foretold 7 years of abundance, followed by 7 years of famine.   By correctly intepreting this dream, Joseph earned his freedom from jail and helped Pharoah and Egypt stockpile their abundance so that the people would survive the famine.   This stockpiling would come to save the very lives of Joseph’s brothers, who would come to Egypt and bow before him in order to purchase some grain (thus fulfilling Joseph’s original dream of his brothers bowing before him).

Ok, sorry, lots of re-telling the story here.   I don’t blame those of you who have stopped reading.  But it’s such a great story.  Take the time to read it someday (Genesis 37-45).  It tells of God’s mysterious hand in human affairs, working out good in the midst of betrayal and loyalty, slavery and bondage, feast and famine.

And it all runs on these holy dreams:  Joseph’s dreams, Pharoah’s dreams, inmate dreams, none of them easy or neutral or free of danger, but all somehow leading to the feeding of the nations in a great famine, and as we shall see, the reconciliation of Joseph to his brothers.

Can’t help but think about this man’s provocative dream, and wonder how God’s mysterious hand moves among us still as we continue to interpret our way to Christ’s feast of reconciliation.

Posted January 13, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

A Prayer for the 99% AND the 1%   Leave a comment

“Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in Thee.” (Psalm 16: 1)

Last Sunday, my friend and fellow associate pastor preached a thought-provoking sermon on the Occupy Movement, challenging us to “occupy” the public sphere with our faith, just as the Spirit of Christ occupies us in our baptism.

With that sermon still reverberating in our church community, I’m mindful of one of the striking features of the movement, namely its sense of itself.  While many struggle to apply labels to what the occupiers believe, it seems they have a great deal of conviction, a sense that they have it “right” and that the masses shuffling in and out of the office suites around them have lost their way.   If anything, inasmuch as they target their protests against the 1 Percent, they seem to understand themselves to be among the 1% mobilizing for change, while the 99% blindly continues on a path that they see as destructive and life-diminishing.

One wonders, though, if they too have had moments of doubt, that though they have cultivated the emergence of vibrant communities and have boldly declared their occupation to be more than a temporary festival of idealism, whether the cold, boredom or the tendency of  human beings to act not so nice even when they are working towards good, has given them pause and made them feel insecure in who they are, or what they are doing.

Psalm 16 sounds like a prayer for just a moment as this.  Its voice is one who appears supremely confident, but in a moment of fear or insecurity, needs to proclaim that confidence aloud to regain a former strength of conviction.  The Psalmist articulates a complete trust in God, while also outlining the dangers of deviating from that trust, almost as a reminder to his or herself not to stray, not to seek after gods that are false and only increase sorrows by taking away all of the strength and security they have in God.

Indeed, Psalm 16 seems like a good prayer for both the 1% and the 99% of us.  Because whether we think we have it all and are afraid of losing it, or think the world has lost it all and needs to be reclaimed, we’re reminded in praying with the Psalmist that our strength lies not in our conviction, or lack thereof, but in God.

Here’s the Psalm, which I offer to you as a prayer for the day. It can articulate where you are, or better yet, where you’d like to be:

Psalm 16

 1 Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. 

2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; 
I have no good besides You.” 
3 As for the saints who are in the earth, 
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. 
4 The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; 
I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, 
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

 5 The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; 
You support my lot. 
6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; 
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

 7 I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; 
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. 
8 I have set the LORD continually before me; 
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; 
My flesh also will dwell securely. 
10 For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; 
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. 
11 You will make known to me the path of life; 
In Your presence is fullness of joy; 
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Amen!

Posted January 11, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized