We’re Invited

God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. (Ephesians 1:5, CEB)

Whenever I hear talk about “destiny,” Star Wars flashes into my mind. Whether it’s when, SPOILER ALERT, Darth Vader revealed his true identity and implored his son Luke Skywalker to join him on the dark side or when the Emperor tried to do the same, they both appealed to the idea of destiny. Of course, though tempted, Luke refuses both Darth Vader and the Emperor’s appeals to his destiny.

Of course, what Paul (let’s just say it’s him) is getting at in the middle of his large, 201 word, run-on sentence isn’t necessarily apples to apples to Star Wars. What we get wrong about his chosen term of “destiny” is the way we apply it to only ourselves. We think of OUR OWN future or fate (similar to Luke Skywalker) when Paul is trying to get at something a bit more collective.

If I can nit-pick for a moment, one of the fundamental things that helps make a family is the presence of more than just you. It’s hard to be a family of one – see the loneliness of Adam in the Garden.

Paul didn’t write “God destined you to be his adopted child.”  I can imagine it would seem pretty fantastic at first (God chose ME not all you other suckers out there), but would slowly become more and more lonely.

It certainly wouldn’t be Church because that’s who Paul wrote to. He reminded the Church God welcomed all of them into the Family, even ones they didn’t particularly like.

This hodge-podge group full of people at odds over this or that which is the Church is much more palatable when we remember the thing which brought us here is not inward.

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Our destiny doesn’t come from within, but from outside ourselves. It’s God’s love revealed in Christ by the Spirit which brought us into this stone-cold pack of weirdoes known as the Church.

Better yet, it’s by God’s grace we are made part of this family. It’s not something we work for or earn, but a gift we receive.

So come on in, join us here around the Table. Welcome home.

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Looking Down the Hill

 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. (2 Samuel 5:10, NRSV)

“And it’s all downhill from here.”

These aren’t just lyrics from the song “All Downhill From Here” by the American pop-punk band New Found Glory (which of course ISN’T on my running playlist…), they describe King David’s career shortly after his crowning.

It seems as though power and prestige corrupted the greatest King from the Old Testament. Granted, he did bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, that holy relic which housed the glory of God through the Israelites travails through the Wilderness. That was cool, good enough for God to make a covenant with David to establish his family line as king forever.

I suppose, though, the highlight of his reign would actually be his fall and the aftermath.

David gets a little too big for his britches and thinks its okay for him to steal another person’s wife simply because he was king. The woman, Bathsheba, becomes pregnant, so David has her husband, Uriah, killed.

Then David’s trusted advisor and general all-around good guy, Nathan, gets wind of it. He decides he has to confront David about this, and he does. He exposes to David the gravity of the situation. And to David’s credit, he gets it. He admits his wrongdoing.

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“Nathan and King David” image by Lawrence Lew via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

David’s highlight is actually a low-light, his admitting sin.

Now, this is only a brief reprieve in the downhill spiral of David’s kingship. Whenever it looks like there might be some light, it gets snuffed out.

Reading David’s story (which I encourage you to do) is interesting because of the narrator’s comment in 2 Samuel 5:10 “And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

David became greater? It seems that’s hardly the case. It seems more likely that David’s supposed “greatness” got to his head.

But I’m reminded of something St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote: “You didn’t grant joy and delight to my hearing, and my bones didn’t leap into the air for joy, as they hadn’t been brought down to the ground.”

In essence, Augustine is saying he hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, so joy and hope and peace were far away. It seems that way for David too and it can be that way for us.

We long for a Theology of Glory, where pain and difficulty are minimized or defeated, instead of lived through. But God in Christ is not revealed through success or fame, but through the Cross (a euphemism for defeat if I’ve heard of one).

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God is present in David’s story more during his fall from grace than his rise. God, though condemning and calling out his sin, was there waiting for him. There God is able to make David great, not because he deserves it but because God is graceful.

Thanks be to God.

Dear (insert name here)

I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan!
    You were so dear to me!
    Your love was more amazing to me than the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)

My best friend’s name is Andrew Karrmann.

When we first met in fifth grade, we didn’t like each other. Not one bit.

198123_4845394122_1274_n.jpgMaybe it’s because we were and are similar: we played the trumpet, we played baseball, we were outspoken in class (read know-it-all here), we both perceived ourselves as the underdog.

Pick any of them, but the fact remains our relationship began under less than stellar circumstances.

But of course, those things which caused us to initially revile each other brought us closer when we were able to get over ourselves.

Soon glares became hugs. Avoidance became sleepovers. Shouting matches over who was right became…well that didn’t really change. We still do that from time to time.

We became inseparable. Our families became intertwined enough for my mother to call him her “second son” (even though she already had two). I would wake up early, walk to HyVee, buy four donuts and a quart of chocolate milk, head over to his house, and his parents would let me into their house before he was even up.

Our friendship endured fights over the nature of God’s creation, arguments about whether the Yankees were better than the Cubs (he won, I’m a Cubs fan now), and periods of silence over the selection of girlfriends (we both ended up relenting.)

We even were each other’s best men at the other’s wedding, a testament to our closeness.

It was easy to recall him when reading the past week’s scripture because David and Jonathan were best friends.

Though their relationship at times was tumultuous, the affinity felt between both of them lasted until the end. I can’t imagine what David’s grief was like when he found out the one he made three covenants with was no more. It’s not something I particularly want to think about too much.

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“David is anointed King” image by Lawrence Lew, via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

But, for me, it’s a reminder of palpability of scripture.

It’s easy to sterilize the deeper and tougher parts of Scripture, to water them down and remove all emotion. But there are times, try as you might, emotions bubble up when you think about the death of your best friend.

The characters and stories in Scripture can seem far away and distant, but there are moments when the Spirit punches you in the gut and reminds you of the relevance.

David’s mourning for his best friend was one of those moments for me; maybe it can be for you too.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying “I love you, Andrew.”

Strength in Weakness

And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us. (1 Sam. 17:47, CEB)

To say the story of David and Goliath is well-known would be a vast understatement. It’s narrative saturates our culture daily: everyone loves to root for the underdog.

ben-hershey-564838-unsplash.jpgWhether it’s because it causes more excitement or I identify with the little guy myself, when March rolls around and the NCAA tournament is about to begin, you can find me filling out my bracket with as many “busters” as possible.

We grasp onto this narrative because it’s so easily identifiable within the story and within the world. We see ourselves as a David up against the big bad Goliath’s of the world.

As is often the case, we are the hero in our own story. So whether it’s David here, Daniel-son in The Karate Kid, or Neo in the Matrix, we’ll identify with the underdog and adopt his or her story to our own.

What’s interesting to me is what David says in the little tit for tat he has with Goliath (think ancient trash-talking!). He again is portrayed as the complete opposite to Goliath, for while Goliath brings weapons of war to an upcoming battle (which, makes sense, I guess…) David came “in the name of the Lord…the one you’ve insulted.”

David goes even farther when he proclaims, “the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear.”

That’s a bombshell of a statement because for all intents and purposes everyone thought the machinations of war were their salvation. King Saul certainly did when he tried to put his armor on David. The rest of the soldiers did as well when they refused to meet Goliath for battle.

It took a youth to cut through the mire and see God’s saving work comes from somewhere other than power and might. For David and the Israelites, salvation from the Philistines came by faith and trust in God. bonnie-kittle-89266-unsplash.jpg

Of course, a little bit of irony within this story is the fact that some generations later, someone in David’s line would also bring salvation. But this time, when God in Jesus died on the Cross (a complete display of weakness and vulgarity) salvation came to the world, including you and me.

Thanks be to God.

More than Meets the Eye

When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” (1 Sam. 16:6, NRSV)

Samuel fell into the same trap we all do, he judged a person by their outward appearance. When told the new King would be amongst Jesse’s sons, he initially looked at the oldest, and boy did he look the part. In fact, he probably looked a whole lot like the current (but still rejected by the LORD) King, Saul.

But, just as it is today, appearances can (and usually are) deceiving.

While I’m much more of a fan of the 80’s tv version than the most recent movie iterations, whenever I think of the idea appearances can be deceiving, Transformers pops into my mind.

Quick summary – Alien robotlike heroes and villains battle each other with the fate of earth hanging in the balance. But, as the name gives it away, the heroes and villains of Transformers were more than robots. Each character would transform into something else: a Mack truck, Camero, Tank, etc.

The theme song would sing, “Transformers, more than meets the eye. Transformers, robots in disguise.”

I wasn’t necessarily allowed to watch this cartoon (too much violence apparently,) but full disclosure: I did.

And I loved it.

I would spend many an afternoon dreaming about what thing I would like to transform into: helicopter, speedboat, Ford Mustang. I, of course, was one of the heroes, transforming to save the day.

But in a way, we are all transformers. We change and morph whether is to fit different circumstances or because of other people’s expectations of how we are supposed to sound or look like.

A neutral example would be an interview; we dress a certain way because the circumstances preclude looking our best.

Daily, we transform our appearance, vocabulary, actions to fit a preconceived notion of fitting in some particular box.

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The box Samuel was looking to check was one of King. But God reminds him, no amount of transforming will change Eliab. God doesn’t look on outward appearances, but what’s on the inside. aNo amount of posturing, no amount of tidying up, no amount of censorship will ultimately change us. The real transforming work comes from the grace of God which changes us from the inside out. It’s not something we choose to do, but a gift given to us.

Thanks be to God for this transforming Spirit.

When Bad News is Good News

So Samuel told [Eli] everything and hid nothing from him. Then [Eli] said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (1 Sam. 3:18, NRSV)

Have you ever got done with an interview and been particularly pleased with how it went? Not to toot my own horn, but I know I have.

I’m thinking of a particular time though. It was my last year in Seminary. I knew I had to get a job, hopefully, one using the education I’d worked hard for (questionable) and obtained over the previous 7+ years.

daniel-mccullough-514240-unsplash.jpgI caught wind of an opening at a church with which I had familiarity. It intrigued me, so I threw my hat in to see what would happen. I got the call inviting me for the interview.

I was thrilled.

Like I said, I not only thought it went well, I knew it did. I was articulate, thoughtful, and convincing (if I do say so myself.)

So I wasn’t too surprised when I got a phone call from the Search Committee head the next week. We all know what was going to happen – I was going to be offered the job.

At least that’s what I was expecting, except I was wrong.

The phone call ended up being bad news. I didn’t get the job.

I was devastated, for I have this propensity of putting all my eggs in one basket. I was SURE I was going to be offered, but I was wrong.

For all intents and purposes, I was given bad news that day. At least it felt that way.

But it really wasn’t. For as much “woe-is-me” talk I gave after that phone call, it ended up being good.

The church wouldn’t have been a good fit. I wouldn’t have worked well with the Senior Minister. I wouldn’t have been able to flex my wings like I have in Burlington.

Sometimes what seems like bad news is really good news.

Samuel’s bad news for Eli was BAD news. As punishment for not addressing the sins of his sons, Eli would get no absolution or forgiveness. He would feel the full weight of his decisions.

But what was bad news for Eli was good news for the people of Israel for this story sets the ball rolling. It leads to Samuel becoming a prophet, who eventually crowns the great King David, who is the ancestor of Jesus. james-l-w-416556-unsplash.jpg

And in Jesus, we get the ultimate reversal of bad news into good news. The humiliation and devastation of the Cross is transformed into the joy and celebration of the Empty Tomb. Death becomes life.

Bad news equaled good news (or gospel.)

Sometimes God surprises us.

Thanks be to God.

 

Echoing Harry Caray

They shouted to each other, saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” (Isaiah 6:3, CEB)

Now I know this isn’t exactly how a Seraph would sound (I mean who REALLY knows anyway, right?), but when I came across their pronouncement about the holiness of God, I had only one sound ping-ponging its way through my mind: Harry Caray’s loud voice of “HOLY COW!!!”

harry-caray_i73nbea2mgnj1ucmzb7nxfxb4.jpgHoly cow indeed Harry, as the majesty of the Lord was on full display for both the prophet Isaiah and those beings attending the Lord. I’m not particularly into sewing, but I have to imagine that if the hem of God’s robe fills the entire Temple (which wasn’t small mind you), that’s a pretty large robe. It must have been a pretty large throne for God to sit on too.

Of course, this is all a vision or dream (as Pastor Dave alluded to in his sermon,) and God isn’t thought of as an old white guy sitting on a throne (that’s Zeus, they’re different. Trust me,) but maybe God accommodates Isaiah and appears in a way Isaiah would understand. Maybe God knew Isaiah would only respond with his now patented “Here I am. Send me!” if the vision was such that he was driven to his knees.

This isn’t the only way scripture attests to interacting with God. Here are among the highlights: 3 strangers in the desert (Gen. 18:2), a blazing shrub (Exod. 3:3), through a donkey (Num. 22:28), silence (1 Kings 19:13), Jesus (Gospels), and fire (Acts 2.) God tends to meet us where we are, toning down the glory factor by 10 so we might catch a glimpse and respond.

We instead try to look for signs and wonders from God. We want the big thing. We want majesty. We want the Grand Canyon of visions. We want to echo Harry Caray and yell out “HOLY COW!!!” And maybe God will do that; it certainly happened for Isaiah. But I wouldn’t expect it.anna-kaminova-571206-unsplash.jpg

At least, that’s not my experience. I’ve been more likely to realize God was speaking through other people to me, the Holy Spirit prompting them to give me direction.

Maybe it’s like that for you; maybe more like Isaiah. A piece of Good News is God knows what you need and our God graciously accommodates us. God did it for Isaiah. God does it for you.

It’s Okay to be Ordinary

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27, NSRV)

First of all, and let’s get this out of the way, you are a saint. “What?” Yep, it’s true, you’re a saint. Congratulations!

lightstock_3270_small_sara.jpgNow, I know you don’t feel like one. I can feel the recoil even though we are apart. I know you look back at your past and see mostly mistakes and pain. I know you don’t feel particularly special or close to the LORD, as it were.

But, as is the case, it’s not really up to you.

When Paul, the guy who wrote this longest of letters in the Bible, writes “saints” he isn’t referring to a holy people set apart. He isn’t talking about St. Peter (they hung out from time to time,) or St. Augustine (3 centuries later,) or even St. Teresa of Avila (more than a millennium later.)

Who he’s talking about is you and me. He’s talking about all people in the faith. “Saints” is synonymous with Christian.

I suppose this is as good of a time as any to remind you of this, for we moved into a new season in the church calendar – Ordinary Time, the season after Pentecost.

In a whirlwind of 6 months, we’ve tarried at the manger with Mary and Joseph, were reminded of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, moved through somber Holy Week, celebrated Christ’s resurrection on Easter, and just two days ago we witnessed again the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost.

That’s a lot of high notes in six months.

But now we’re in Ordinary Time, “green time” as it were. We get to wade through six months of ordinary until we return again to the new church year and the, dare-I-say, excitement of Advent.

This time can become a bit monotonous. Some even call it boring.roman-bozhko-251398-unsplash.jpg

It’s easy to lose our bearings without those special days to help us hold fast. I sometimes find myself becoming a bit unmoored.

Of course, I am reminded again by Paul it’s not up to me (There’s that whole control thing again…) “…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Spirit intervenes on our behalf. When we don’t know how to pray (an occurrence which happens more than you’d think for me) the Spirit finds the way through. When we become untethered, the Spirit advocates for us. When we get lost in an “ordinary” sea, the Spirit counsels us back.

Welcome to the long slog of Ordinary Time! It’s a great place to be because as always, you are not alone. The Spirit is with you saint.

Thanks be to God.

It’s a Hymn Sing!

My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. (Luke 1:46b-48a, NRSV)

As Dave noted in his sermon this past week, Mary’s song (often called the Magnificat) is traditionally read during the liturgical season of Advent, the four weeks (Sundays) before we celebrate Christmas. Assigned to either the 3rd or 4th week in Advent, it is one of the last reminders of the hope Christ brought and still brings.

Because it is a scripture usually reserved for Advent, I was perusing the Advent section of our hymnal (as pastors are want to do.) The first hymn one comes upon is an oldie but a goodie “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I think this hymn is synonymous with Advent.

While the whole hymn itself is a masterpiece (how else would it hold up for over 1000?), there is a particular verse which I think speaks directly to Mary’s own song. We sing it in the 4th verse: “O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

There’s a difference, though, in the way we sing.

Mary sings in the present even though she’s singing about the future. She sings of God’s providence in her life, about God’s topsy-turvy nature subverting our very expectations of how things are to go, and she sings of God’s unending mercy.

tim-mossholder-468726-unsplash.jpgShe sings with the confidence that God is already DOING these things.

When we sing this verse, we join Mary in singing about the Prince of Peace, Jesus. We sing of the desire and want for God to fulfill the hope of peace, but we aren’t singing in the present. Instead, we’re looking to the future.

That’s because we are in an in-between time. And that’s hard. We hear the promises, but look around and don’t see a world with the peace of heaven reigning. We don’t see people in one heart and mind and where envy, strife, and quarrels cease. We actually see the opposite.

We are stuck in the middle, hoping in God to keep God’s promises. We know Christ came and Christ will come again, but here we are.

But there’s the chorus of that hymn and it flips the script, “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” I can imagine Mary singing along with us.

I can hear her sing, “Rejoice, y’all. Sit with joy that our hope is found not in our ability to build God’s Kingdom, but is a reality found in Jesus.”

Amen.

Confessing Love

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful… (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

Every time the commercial comes on the TV, I scramble to find the remote to quickly change the channel. If I don’t move fast enough, a flood of guilt, melancholy, and trepidation bursts over my painstakingly masoned flood-wall. It only takes a second, because once I hear the opening line, I know exactly what’s going to come next.

“In the arms of an angel”

94b69582e330768c0f73b68cda21c39c7008c7ec1b63a8e21f2173cbcf96f10d.jpgBOOM! Instant tears resulting from the ASPCA commercial featuring the haunting lyrics of Sarah McClachlan paired with visceral images of pets ravaged by cruelty and abuse. It gets me every time.

So I do my best to change the channel.

Why? Guilt, probably.

While I know cognitively I didn’t directly cause the abuse of those animals, I certainly could respond to the need. But, I don’t. And so I feel bad because I know I SHOULD do something.

This feeling sneaks up on me whenever I see an injustice play out in the public (or private) sphere. I should help with the natural disaster relief in Puerto Rico. I should help the guy who was just laid off. I should help work to end sex slavery. I should help…

But in the face of SO MUCH, my common reaction is at best inaction and at worst apathy. I get bogged down by the sheer magnitude of it all, believing it is so far beyond me, out of my sphere of influence.

I think my best reaction to this feeling is when I flee into confession when I take the time to name aloud those places I failed in in-action. There I am reminded of Paul’s words about love.

charmore-nel-481245-unsplash.jpgIt’s not an esoteric, pie in the sky, nebulous kind of love, but love made manifest in God in Christ’s love for me on the cross. For there I can see God is patient with me, God is kind to me. God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. She does not insist on her own way; God is not irritable or resentful.

The cross reveals the loving nature of our God, who is willing to put up with the worst we can throw at her, just to say “I love you and it is all made right.”

Of course, reflecting on this self-sacrificing, other-focused, kind of love does not leave me the same. I do not leave my time of confession any less convicted. In fact, I might be MORE likely to follow where the Spirit is pushing me because once I remember the love I felt, I’m sure others will want to experience that too.

So don’t mind me while I go to the ASPCA donation page…