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Showing posts from September, 2015

The Cost of Following

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:57-62....

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."I recall a couple in a church I served many years ago who said to me one day, "We are behind you 100%." A few weeks later, they left the church.

Most pastors can identify with that story. I imagine when this person said to Jesus, "I will fo…

The Power to See Your Heart

The Archangel Michael Trinity Episcopal Church Staunton, Virginia
Today is the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels. And here is a link to a sermon I preached some time ago on the Gospel lectionary text for today....

John 1:43-51

Become a Welcomer

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:46-50....

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’ John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’In this brief passage, Jesus disciples seem to be focused on all the wrong things. They argue with each other about who is the greatest among them. Then they are worried about who is inside their group and who is outside. 

Unfortunately, I find these same attitudes among professed followers of Jesus today. Visit any group of pastors and after awhile you will hear them talk about the …

Baptism into Death

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:43-45....

And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.It is astonishing, is it not, that at the height of his powers, at the peak of his fame, Jesus begins to talk about his death? We, like the first disciples, are afraid to talk about death. And yet, it is at the center of our faith.

My reading for today, from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, happens to coincide thematically with the Gospel lectionary reading for today....
Baptism is a rite of passage. The Jewish people passed through the Red Sea to the Promised Land in the great exodus. Jesus himself wanted to make this ex…

The Dialogue of Prayer

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:18-22....

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’ He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’I find it fascinating that in Luke's rendering of this story, Jesus' questions to his disciples arise out of prayer. And two very important questions they are: "Who do the crowds say that I am?" and "Who do you say that I am?"

What questions arise out of our hearts as we pray? Perhaps the most important questions that may arise out of prayer are: "God, who do…

Moments of Grace

by Norman Rockwell 
The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:7-9....

Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he tried to see him.Sacred Space has this commentary on this passage....

Herod’s curiosity is aroused by the stories circulating around Jesus. God is knocking at his door. This is his moment of grace. The moment passes and does not return until Jesus is brought before him for trial. Again God knocks on his door and grants his wish. He indeed sees Jesus, and Saint Luke says that he was very glad of this. But he rejects the grace offered him because his wish is too small. He wants Jesus to perform some amusing sign, no more. But Jesus says and does nothing, so Herod has his troop…

Traveling Light

The Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from Luke 9:1-6....

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.' They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.I love the fact that when Pope Francis arrived here in the United States yesterday he chose as his mode of transport a tiny Fiat. Of course we know that this is a Pope who has eschewed pomp and circumstance at almost every turn of the road. Right off the bat he refused to live in the grand papal apartment at the Vatican, selecting a much more humble be…

Listening to that Other Voice

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 8:19-21....

Then Jesus' mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."Sacred Space has these helpful comments on this brief passage....
People naturally assumed that Jesus would give first place to his family. But with one sentence he reveals that every human being can become a member of his family. Closeness to Jesus does not depend on social standing or academic achievement or affluence. It depends instead on ‘hearing the word and doing it’.But what is ‘the word’ and how do we ‘do it’? The primary word told us by Jesus is that the love of his Father for us is infinite; we are to trust this word and live by it. As Pope Francis says: ‘When everything is said and done, we are infinitely lo…

The Feast of St. Matthew

"The Calling of St. Matthew" by Caravaggio
Today is the Feast of St. Matthew. We read the story of his conversion in Matthew 9:9-17....
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be t…

Living In His Gaze

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Mark 9:30-37....

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."It ha…

Jesus' Female Disciples

The Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from Luke 8:1-3....

Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.Sacred Space offers these comments on this passage....
Saint Luke always speaks favourably of women, and highlights their positive response to Jesus. He is the only evangelist who gives us this detail of the women who travelled with Jesus.The scene gives an image of the infant church. It is on the move, and is made up of ordinary women and men who are centred on Jesus. This meant they had to give up their previous settled ways of life. They were bringing with them ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’ not only by words bu…

Extravagant Thanksgiving

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 7:36-50....

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.' Jesus spoke up and said to him, 'Simon, I have something to say to you.' 'Teacher,' he replied, 'speak.' 'A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts …

The Way of Affirmation

The Gospel lectionary reading for today comes fromLuke 7:31-35,
Jesus said, 'To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep."For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He has a demon"; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!" Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.'This brief passage reveals some truths both familiar and, perhaps, unfamiliar. First, the familiar: you can't please everybody all the time. Even Jesus could not do it, so how much less can we? And yet some of us try to do just that in life and get discouraged when we fail. What a waste of time and energy!

Jesus points out that the people of his …

The Companions of the Passion

The Gospel lectionary reading for today focuses on Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a woman of sorrow. But we get a picture of more than just Mary in this brief passage....
John 19:25-27

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.I think it is important to take note of each of the "companions of the Passion" as I call them....

There were four women at the cross. One was Jesus’ mother Mary. Simeon had prophesied to Mary at the beginning of Jesus’ life, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35) Certainly, as the sword pierced Jesus’ body, it also pierced Mary’s soul. Mary suffered at least as much as any mother who has lost a child, perhaps more …

It's Hard to be Born when You're Old

Professionally religious people are not known for getting great press. They’re hard to market. I guess it’s because they make the rest of us feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s bothersome to be around somebody who’s always doing everything by the book and wants you to know it too.

However, I want to invite you to take a few moments and get inside the skin of just such a person. I think that when you do, you may actually end up liking him. He is someone who tries to live a clean life, but he is not one who feels compelled to advertise.

The man I’m talking about is not one to make prejudgments about other people. He likes to check out the facts first. He is highly intelligent, yet at the same time he’s never satisfied with his knowledge. You will usually find him asking questions—good ones—and he’s always willing to learn.

He is a successful leader and teacher of his people. I would guess he’s middle-aged. He is wealthy and has well-to-do friends, but he is not possessed by a love of money hims…

C. S. Lewis Tour 2016

"The Kilns"--C. S. Lewis' Oxfordshire Home

Next August I will be leading a C. S. Lewis Tour to Ireland and England with my friend, Russ Head, a professional educational tour operator. We hope you can join us. No deposit required at this time, but if you want to secure a spot, email Russ today. All of his tours for next year are fully booked except for this one, so open places will probably go fast. For more information (including itinerary and Russ' contact info) click here: C. S Lewis Tour.

Grace Space

It seems to me, that in this time of great social change and even upheaval, Jesus has some words to which we need to listen very carefully and seek to obey in our lives....Luke 6:39-42Jesus also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye."Sometimes it is so much easier to pay attention to what we perceive to be the faults in others and in our society at large, than it is to deal with our own personal, individual issues. But Jesus suggests that when we gi…

Jesus' Message About...

Most Christians probably think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the Love Chapter in the Bible. The First Letter of John is a strong contender for the Love Book of the Bible, as I have argued in my book, God's Love Letter. And John 3:16 tells us about God's love for the world. But a strong argument could be made for Luke 6 being the heart of Jesus' message about love. Let's see what Jesus says in Luke 6:27-38....‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is…

C. S. Lewis & His Circle

As it says in the sub-title, C. S. Lewis & His Circle offers a collection of Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society. As one might expect from Oxford University Press, this book is top notch, both in its content and in its presentation.

The book is edited by Judith and Brendan Wolfe who it has been my delight to meet upon more than one occasion when visiting and speaking to the Oxford Society. The third editor, Roger White of Azusa Pacific University, it is also my privilege to know. They have done a superb job of selecting and editing the essays and memoirs for this book out of the many presentations given to the Oxford Society over the past 30 plus years.

Part I contains two sections. The first has essays on philosophy and theology. The second contains essays on literature. Many of the authors in this section will be well known to Lewis fans and scholars: Alister McGrath, Elizabeth Anscombe, Kallistos Ware, Rowan Williams, and Walter Hooper among them. This is truly…

Upside-down Discipleship

If I needed a reminder that God's ways are not my ways, the Gospel lectionary reading for today from Luke 6:20-26 provides it....Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.Luke gives a slightly different version of what we have come to call, in Matthew's Gospel, The Sermon on th…