Loaded Questions

The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (John 18:17, NRSV)

Back in college, friends of mine played a game called “Loaded Questions.” The basic premise of the game is questions are asked and one tries to match who wrote what as their answer. Of course, when you’re in college and think your funny, outlandish answers were a dime a dozen. evan-dennis-75563-unsplash.jpg

Peter’s answer to the loaded question posited by the unnamed female courtyard guard isn’t too outlandish though. In fact, Peter is written so we would expect this to happen. It’s in his character. If Peter was in my circle of friends in college, I probably would have guessed he would be the one to say “I am not,” and moved that much closer to winning.

We probably shouldn’t be too hard on Peter, because he’s often the stand-in for the disciples, including us. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus says, “I am…” We love those statements: I am the Vine; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Peter makes it plain there is a vast gap between us and Jesus. While Jesus says, “I am,” Peter says the opposite, “I am not.”

We timidly listen to Peter, hoping we don’t see ourselves in his words, but the thought creeps into the back of our mind, “Am I a disciple? Would I choose to display the same boldness as Christ or slouch into the background while lying simply to avoid confrontation?”


As Pastor Dave said, it’s all too easy to take on Peter’s self-preservation and narrowmindedness when confronted with opportunities to display faith in everyday circumstances. It’s even easier when you’re put on the spot with a loaded question. I know I’ve taken the comfortable path, protecting myself. It’s effortless to find yourself with Peter in the courtyard, all you need to do is look inward at your navel.

Of course, Peter’s story doesn’t end here. Later, after the crucifixion, he finds himself around another fire. After he takes up the sword, after he says “I am not” three times, after he leaves Jesus’ burial to someone else, he finds redemption has found him. All he has to do is say yes.


A Funky Invitation

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8, NRSV)

I don’t like wearing socks all that much. Though they tend to regulate the temperature of my feet and can at times be fashionable (Polka Dots!), as soon as weather allows it I throw them into the back of my sock drawer and only pull them out when I absolutely have too. I’ve even been caught going sockless from time to time in winter, frostbite be damned.

felix-russell-saw-112533-unsplash.jpgIt’s safe to say my feet aren’t the most pretty feet in the world because of this. While not as rough as if I was wandering around the desert in only sandals at best, they aren’t as if they are pedicured every week (though I do splurge myself from time to time in such things.) Because of my predisposition towards socklessness, my feet have a certain funk.

All of this is to say, I’m eternally grateful for my wife who puts up with them. Not only puts up with them but sometimes even gives me foot rubs! And there’s something special about a foot rub, the intimacy involved is palpable for one is allowing themselves to be served by another in a way which belies common understandings.

This intimacy is shown in Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. Though he is their Lord and Teacher, he also is their Servant, the one who gets down on his own hands and knees and invites his friends into an intimate relationship with him.

Peter, the stand-in for us all, of course, objects. “Never,” he says. “Nope. Not me. Move along.” He would rather keep Jesus on a pedestal, safely above the grime of servanthood, but also at least an arm’s length away.


“Maundy Thursday I – Christ Washes Peter’s Feet” image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

But Jesus refuses to play by Peter’s rules. He instead gives Peter an ultimatum, “either you let me do this, or you can’t be with me anymore.” Gail O’Day tells us “Jesus asks nothing of the disciples other than that they place themselves completely in his hands, that they discard their images of who he is and how one comes to God…” (O’Day, NIBC, “John,” 619.)

Jesus invites us into a deep and intimate relationship with him, but asks we give up our pride. He asks we give up our graven images of who God is. He asks we give up ourselves. He asks we give him our dirty feet so they might be made clean, and ready to love as he loved us.


Promises of Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die… (John 11:25-26a)

My wife and I tend to cycle through sitcoms on Netflix. Watching one at a time, we’ve been through “Friends” “How I Met Your Mother” “The Office” and “The New Girl” at least twice each. They are the place we turn to for a quick laugh or the answer to the ever-present question of “what do you want to do tonight?”sven-scheuermeier-106767-unsplash.jpg

We just started the 90s sitcom “Frasier,” following the radio-psychologist of the same name’s escapades after returning to his hometown of Seattle.

In one of most recent episodes we watched, Frasier found out a doctor about his same age died suddenly of a heart attack. It throws Frasier into a tailspin of manic behavior trying to gain control of the rising anxiety he feels contemplating his own eventual death. It’s safe to say, shenanigans ensue. It is a sitcom after all.

I think Frasier’s feelings about death, and his attempts to control it, are a mirror to our own cultural subconscious. We are anxious about death; it makes us squirm even thinking about it. Fleming Rutledge says that while the taboo subject, the one that wasn’t talked about, during the Victorian times was sex, right now it’s death. We keep it hidden away, locked in the dank dark closets, so we don’t have to think about it.

While not sectioned off like a patient quarantined for everyone else’s protection, death was no more welcomed in the author of John’s time than in ours. Tom Long tells us that, Death with a capital “D” was and is seen as the enemy of the flourishing God wills for the good creation including us. Everywhere you look and see hate overcoming love, blasphemy absorbing hope, vines of distrust choking out the sprouts community, and despair blanketing confidence you can find the remnants of Death.

yuriy-garnaev-378771-unsplash.jpgThat’s why the promise made by Jesus is so radical, it reaches farther than any promise he’s made in this gospel. Jesus’ words “offer a vision of life to the believer in which his or her days do not need to be reckoned by the inevitable power of death, but instead by the irrevocable promise of life with God” (Gail O’Day, NIBC: John, 590).

We are free to live lives rid of the anxiety of death because, in Jesus, God made and kept the promise of life now. Unlike Frasier, we don’t have to manically run around searching for things to get rid of our existential angst. The promise was already made and it is always being kept.

Thanks be to God.

Particular Love

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16, NRSV)

It’s easy to be a good Christian or to live the good life of faith when things are broad. By broad, I mean things like: “God’s love is for everyone” or “We just need to love people,” or even “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These generalities help us navigate the world; they can give us a general vision of how to interact with the world we encounter.

nadine-shaabana-467774.jpgLove can be one of those things which stays in the general. We can talk a good talk about loving everyone but have a tough time living that “love” out. Pastor Dave touched on this a bit this past Sunday when he talked about love in truth and action. One does not love simply by saying it over and over and over but through action. I show my love for tacos by consistently eating tacos as often as I can. I show my love for the Cubs by rooting for them when they stink again. I show my love for Hannah by cooking dinner for her.

The scandal of Jesus and God’s love found in him is its particularity. God’s love isn’t some esoteric floaty kind of love where it hangs out in abstraction and generality. God’s love is revealed in Jesus’ dying for us. When we inevitably ask the question, “how much does God love me?”, which let’s be honest, we’ve all asked that question (How much DO you love tacos Will?) the cross is where we look and see the precise nature of what love looks like to God.

God’s love for you is sacrificial. God’s love for you is costly. God’s love for you has james-l-w-416556.jpgconsequences.

This is why I love the season of Lent.

Starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow, we embark on a season of reflection where we contemplate the nature of our being, the season of Lent. Throughout the 40 days (we don’t count Sundays in Lent), we return once again to the Lord and understand why we need the cross; why we need God to reach down to us; why God’s love in its particularity comes to us offering us grace upon grace.

In so doing, we realize God’s love comes to us no matter what we do. We cannot earn it. We cannot buy it. We cannot work for it.

Grace reaches out to us. May you accept the open hand.

Consistent Presence

“…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

chuttersnap-444536.jpgOne of the things I dislike most about current societal milieu is all the pressure. It seems everyone looks weighed down by all that is going on. It’s like we are in the deep depths of the ocean, where the water pressure is most great, and where the air is slowly being squeezed out.
There’s the pressure to keep up with the newest and latest technology, “Do you have the new iPhone yet?” There’s the pressure to signal you are a good person by castigating others on social media for their views (which are of course wrong). There’s the pressure to show the world you are a successful parent. There’s the pressure of FOMO (the fear of missing out) which pushes you to stretch yourself thin. There’s the pressure for our young ones to be perfect which leads to anxiety levels we’ve never seen before.
Everyone I know feels some sort of pressure and it’s strangling our ability to be and move in the world. Everything feels like a transaction; every decision is made on the basis of whether or not it will help us have (or show to others we have) success.
I wonder if the disciples were feeling this way too. They were tasked with the monumental commission of continuing Jesus’ ministry to the world. Jesus himself gave them the burden of going, baptizing, and teaching. “The church is to go out to the nations…as a humble tutor, teaching mercy, and righteousness and forgiveness and peacemaking” (Matthew, Long 327).
That’s a big order for any person, let alone those who ran away when the going got tough and their leader was arrested. I mean, that’s a lot of pressure.
But Jesus knows his disciples well. He knows their hopes and their fears, and so his final word to them (and to us as well) is a word of comfort: “I will be with you always.”
We, just as the disciples, aren’t promised success. We aren’t promised everything will go well. We aren’t promised everyone will accept us. We aren’t promised we won’t feel pressure.
What Jesus promises us is that the God we find in Christ will never leave us or forsake us. He is there in the midst of all that is going wrong. He is there when you swerve into a tailspin. He is there when the pressure gets to you and you feel like caving in.
Christ is with you always.

God is a Sandblaster

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4: 20-21, NRSV)

Often when we look back at the past, we either sand the rough edges of our memories so everything appears smoother than it was or we blow things out of proportion and create momentous occasions when nothing was really there in the first place. Nostalgia is bred from the former, overreaction the latter. Time either seems to be a rock polisher or a pressure cooker.


“St. Paul in Ravenna,” Image by Lawrence O.P. via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Throughout Abraham’s story (of which Paul is referencing here), there certainly were rough moments.There was that time when he and Sarah got a little impatient with God’s promised, so they made plans of their own with their slave Hagar. There was that time he was afraid of being killed by the Egyptians, so he said his wife was actually his sister. There was that time he argued and argued with God over the fate of Sodom. You get the drift.


Paul seems to glean over these rugged times in Abraham’s life when trust wouldn’t have been the particular adjective one would associate with the “Father of us all.” Instead, Paul takes a look at the whole picture of Abraham’s story. Paul looked not at the individual moments, nit-picking and evaluating how Abraham acted in this instance or in that one, he looked at how Abraham trusted in God’s promise.

I know I am not proud of everything I’ve done in my life. If you put all my choices on either side of a scale, I don’t know which side would end up with more, the negative or the positive. I hope the choices ending in the positive would outweigh the negative, but I don’t know.

Thankfully, God acts more like Paul. God promises grace. God promises forgiveness. God promises new life. Trust in those promises leads to the sanding down of my and your susana-fernandez-66512.jpgrough edges. Trust leads to a life lived in gratitude where we live for and serve others because that’s what our Savior did for us. Trust leads to a life lived in faith where thanksgiving is continually on our mind. Trust leads us to salvation here and now.

Trust in God’s promises because God trusts in you.

We are Marked

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. (Acts 2:42, CEB)

ryan-hafey-102451.jpgThere are some things which are too important to let go. Everyone has a different threshold for what constitutes “important.” Mine might be high, so I don’t cling too much, but other’s might be low and the house is filled with stuff (I think we call these people hoarders). This is true when it comes to worship as well; we all have things which we deem too important to let slip away.

For some, it’s a certain style of music whether it be ancient or modern. For others, it’s the communal prayers like the Doxology or the Lord’s Prayer. For still more, it’s the space in which the worship takes place. There are things we cling to, things we think we couldn’t live without.

One of the things which typifies the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the wide melange of Christian denominations is our weekly practice of Communion. Every week, through rain, sleet, snow, or sunshine, we tell again the story of how grace came to us through Jesus and remember his gift of life for us. We gather at the Table with friend and stranger alike. We eat the bread and drink the cup with one another. We join our hearts together in prayer.

Pastor Dave tells the story of how when he was in college, he preached at a little country Disciples church in Illinois. He didn’t preach there every week though because the little congregation couldn’t afford even to pay a college student enough to preach each week. But not having a preacher didn’t stop this community from meeting. They would get together even if there was no preacher for a bible study/Sunday school and to celebrate Communion. It was that important to them.

Among the various reasons why someone would want to join at the Lord’s Table each week is Acts 2:42, “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.” lightstock_75318_small_sara.jpg

At the Table, we do all of these things in one big swoop. We listen again to Paul the Apostles’ words; we join together to partake, we share the same meal of bread and cup, and we pray together for God’s forgiveness and blessing. It’s almost as if this ritual orients our faith life each week to live out these marks in our daily lives.

May God grant us the grace to live these marks: learning, gathering, eating, and praying, this and every week.


I Wonder as I Wander

 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43)

Have you ever felt lost before? I’m not talking about that feeling you get when you put your iPhone down and you can’t remember where. I’ve done that, and I certainly felt lost, but I’m more talking about that feeling you get when you’ve lost your bearings.

uros-jovicic-320023.jpgIt certainly could be physical and spatial: you’re in a new city and the GPS isn’t working because of the tall buildings; interference with satellites, or something like that. The traffic is tight, bumper to bumper, you know you have to make a right turn somewhere, but you’re in the left lane and no one is letting you over. You look around for markers, but you’re in a new city, what’s there to jog your memory? You’re frustrated, probably tired, and you just want to get where you’re going.

Then there’s a whole different kind of lost. It’s when nothing you’ve tried is working out. All the tricks of life you’ve collected aren’t solving the problem in front of you. Your hard work isn’t rewarded with the results you hoped for. In fact, it feels like you’re actively adrift in a sea when you’ve never taken a swimming lesson in your life and your greatest fear is death by drowning. Not good Bob, not good.


We aren’t told whether or not Philip felt this way, but we are told Jesus found him. This wasn’t an accidental finding either, like when you happen to find that $20 bill all scrunched up in your freshly washed jeans. No. This was intentional. Jesus searched him out the way an old woman might when she lost 1 out of her 10 coins.

The joy felt by one who is found, who is acknowledged, who is recognized, who is accepted is a glorious thing. It’s akin to you finding that iPhone, or you getting to that much-sought destination, or you being thrown a lifeline you didn’t know was there.

Of course, when you’ve got your bearings and you’re back on solid ground, there’s always the requisite question of “what next?” Well, to that enters Jesus saying, “Follow me.”

Take me to the River

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I’m sure you’ve heard this particular piece of advice before. Often given as an excuse for why one does something which seems to be so out of character for them.bence-boros-178730.jpg

It might be why the Iowan who moved to Texas really wanted a pair of cowboy boots, even though he’s only ridden on a horse maybe 4 times in his life.

It might be why it’s so easy to slip into the accent from the Great White North, dontchyaknow?

It might be why whenever one travels to a different locale, say Chicago, you have some of the “local fare.” I mean, who doesn’t love deep-dish pizza? AmIright?

It could even be why people change their sports fan allegiances when they move to a new state/region. (I’m looking at you Pa Jim, dumb Broncos…)

But really all of these different things like attire, accents, food, fandom are really signals that we belong. If I wear the cowboy boots, maybe they’ll take me seriously. If my “O”s start getting longer, maybe I won’t be dismissed so easily. If I eat the food, maybe I’ll be accepted. If I root for the local team, maybe they’ll include me in conversation. If I…you get the picture.

Identity, whether regional, cultural, or even personal, is wrapped up in these strange particularities. We identify with people with whom we feel affinity is shared. It could be cowboy boots, or food choices, or preferred bands, or whatever.

This identification goes too far at times and turns into prejudice: racism, sexism, homophobia. We see how this plays out in the public sphere; look at Charlottesville, or the Pulse nightclub, or Roy Moore. Identity and affinity are turned on their head and are used at best to exclude and at worst to erase.

We like to think we are better than those worst among us, but we often use them as our own foil. We use them to cover up our own deep dark places and make ourselves feel like we are better. Better than them. Better than we actually are. Classic self-justification.

samara-doole-294960.jpgInto this steps Christ. The launching of Jesus’ gospel mission in baptism was his self-identification with all of humanity. Jesus comes to you and to me: into our own identity, into our own affinity, into our own sin. Here he begins his life of costly love which leads ultimately to our own saving.

In his baptism, Jesus ushers in his ministry of grace. No longer do we need to justify ourselves as a gift has been given to us. Christ meets us where we are, identities and affinities included. He comes to us and echoes the words of God, “Here is my beloved child, you make me happy.”

Thanks be to God.

In the Midst of it All

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Do you remember Eeyore? You know, that donkey in “Winnie the Pooh” who is always moseying around with his head held down. When he looks up you see moroseness seep through. His words come out slowly, gloomily, dripping with melancholy. He’s the perfect opposite of his more joyful and jolly friend, Winnie.eeyore-winnie-the-pooh-7.82.jpg

Eeyore seems to embody the feeling of many once the celebration of Christmas is over. The built-up pressure of expectation felt throughout Advent releases on Christmas Eve night. What’s left over is often feelings of unmet hopes and dreams whether it’s for those gifts not received or those resolutions unkept. The candle of joy lit that evening seems to flicker in the winds of gloom.

Mary certainly must have felt this juxtaposition of feelings that morning in the Temple. There to fulfill an obligation similar to a baby dedication, she and Joseph were interrupted by an old man who took their baby from them and then sang an exuberant song about a surprising topic: death. Simeon then turned and blessed the couple, promising the recovery & failure of people.

In this birth story, starting with Gabriel promising the Son of God to her and ending with Simeon’s blessing, Mary experienced the totality of life; how wonderful and difficult it could be.

Life is lived in-between those two poles: glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, agreement and opposition. Some of us through disposition are more inclined to one side or the other. Some of us through circumstances outside of ourselves are inclined to one side or the other.

ben-white-170547.jpgThe promise of Christmas isn’t contained to just one day. God’s incarnational coming in Jesus didn’t stop at the manger, the temple, the cross, or even the tomb. God came in Christ to be with us through it all. Whether they are tears are of joy or pain, happiness or sadness, glee or trouble, or anywhere in between, God is with you.

Plus, Christmastide isn’t over. We’re only 9 days into the 12 days of Christmas. Even though the day of Christmas has come and gone let’s keep celebrating. Let’s keep celebrating God came into the midst of humanity and all its messiness.

Thank you, God.

Merry Christmas.