An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Eleven, Second Sunday of Advent


Isaiah 40:1-11, NRSV

Comfort, O comfort my people,  says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of theLord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Handel’s setting of this beautiful passages is one of my favorite pieces of music. Ever. And also one of the very first choral pieces I learned as a high school student. I was blessed to go to a public high school that wasn’t the least bit afraid of singing sacred music — after all, it’s an important part of every student’s musical education. Without the church, there would be little choral music worth singing. And these words?? Glory, that’s what. A willing admission that human beings are transitory, our lives but a whisper on the earth. And yet . . . our Shepherding God loves us so! There is tenderness here. And faithfulness. And GLORY. Thanks be to God.

Lord, give me ears to hear these words in a fresh way this Advent season. Thank you for them, for their inclusion in our holy book. And thank you most of all for the powerful truth of them. Thank  you for being our shepherd, our good, good shepherd. We surely need one!

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Forty-Five, Good Friday

We are almost at the end, my friends. Almost. And today’s passage is very long. It is the entire Passion Narrative, which is traditional reading for Good Friday. I encourage you to read it all the way through, in its entirety, and maybe do what I did — note the details. There are always details that I’ve missed, no matter how many times I’ve read or meditated on any biblical narrative, this one more than most. You’ll see the details that spoke to me — I’ve bolded them, just as I’ve done for the past 44 days.IMG_0176

John 18:1-19:42, The Living Bible

After saying these things Jesus crossed the Kidron ravine with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees.  Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, for Jesus had gone there many times with his disciples.

The chief priests and Pharisees had given Judas a squad of soldiers and police to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons they arrived at the olive grove.

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him. Stepping forward to meet them he asked, “Whom are you looking for?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. And as he said it, they all fell backwards to the ground!

Once more he asked them, “Whom are you searching for?”

And again they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you I am he,” Jesus said; “and since I am the one you are after, let these others go.” He did this to carry out the prophecy he had just made, “I have not lost a single one of those you gave me. . . . ”

Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant.

But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword away. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?”

So the Jewish police, with the soldiers and their lieutenant, arrested Jesus and tied him. First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who told the other Jewish leaders, “Better that one should die for all.”

Simon Peter followed along behind, as did another of the disciples who was acquainted with the High Priest. So that other disciple was permitted into the courtyard along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside the gate. Then the other disciple spoke to the girl watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.

Inside, the High Priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them.

Jesus replied, “What I teach is widely known, for I have preached regularly in the synagogue and Temple; I have been heard by all the Jewish leaders and teach nothing in private that I have not said in public. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. You have some of them here. They know what I said.”

One of the soldiers standing there struck Jesus with his fist. “Is that the way to answer the High Priest?” he demanded.

“If I lied, prove it,”Jesus replied. “Should you hit a man for telling the truth?”

Then Annas sent Jesus, bound, to Caiaphas the High Priest.

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire, he was asked again, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”

“Of course not,” he replied.

But one of the household slaves of the High Priest—a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off—asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?”

Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.

Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Next he was taken to the palace of the Roman governor. His accusers wouldn’t go in themselves for that would “defile” them, they said, and they wouldn’t be allowed to eat the Passover lamb. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man? What are you accusing him of doing?”

“We wouldn’t have arrested him if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

“Then take him away and judge him yourselves by your own laws,” Pilate told them.

“But we want him crucified,” they demanded, “and your approval is required.” This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction concerning the method of his execution.

Then Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asked him.

“‘King’ as you use the word or as the Jews use it?” Jesus asked.

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their chief priests brought you here. Why? What have you done?”

Then Jesus answered, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of the world.”

Pilate replied, “But you are a king then?”

“Yes,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth are my followers.”

“What is truth?” Pilate exclaimed. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release someone from prison each year at Passover. So if you want me to, I’ll release the ‘King of the Jews.’”

But they screamed back. “No! Not this man, but Barabbas!” Barabbas was a robber.

Then Pilate laid open Jesus’ back with a leaded whip,  and the soldiers made a crown of thorns and placed it on his head and robed him in royal purple. “Hail, ‘King of the Jews’!” they mocked, and struck him with their fists.

Pilate went outside again and said to the Jews, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.”

Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Behold the man!”

At sight of him the chief priests and Jewish officials began yelling, “Crucify! Crucify!”

“You crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

They replied, “By our laws he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the palace again and asked him, “Where are you from?” but Jesus gave no answer.

“You won’t talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?”

Then Jesus said,“You would have no power at all over me unless it were given to you from above. So those who brought me to you have the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders told him, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

At these words Pilate brought Jesus out to them again and sat down at the judgment bench on the stone-paved platform. It was now about noon of the day before Passover.

And Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your king!”

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him—crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests shouted back.

Then Pilate gave Jesus to them to be crucified.

So they had him at last, and he was taken out of the city, carrying his cross to the place known as “The Skull,” in Hebrew, “Golgotha.” There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  And Pilate posted a sign over him reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and the signboard was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people read it.

Then the chief priests said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written. It stays exactly as it is.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they put his garments into four piles, one for each of them. But they said, “Let’s not tear up his robe,” for it was seamless. “Let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says,

“They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my robe.”

So that is what they did.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, Mary, his aunt, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside me, his close friend, he said to her, “He is your son.”

And to me he said, “She is your mother!” And from then on I took her into my home.

Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures said,“I’m thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so a sponge was soaked in it and put on a hyssop branch and held up to his lips.

When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head and dismissed his spirit.

The Jewish leaders didn’t want the victims hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath at that, for it was the Passover), so they asked Pilate to order the legs of the men broken to hasten death; then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus; but when they came to him, they saw that he was dead already, so they didn’t break his. However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out. I saw all this myself and have given an accurate report so that you also can believe. The soldiers did this in fulfillment of the Scripture that says, “Not one of his bones shall be broken,” and, “They shall look on him whom they pierced.”

Afterwards Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jewish leaders, boldly asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down; and Pilate told him to go ahead. So he came and took it away. Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too, bringing a hundred pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes.Together they wrapped Jesus’ body in a long linen cloth saturated with the spices, as is the Jewish custom of burial. The place of crucifixion was near a grove of trees,where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because of the need for haste before the Sabbath, and because the tomb was close at hand, they laid him there.

painted thoroughly
with details.

The weather,
the time of day,
the key players,
the word play,
the secret disciples,
the love of a son
for his mother.

These are what jump
into my spirit this day.
These are what sober me,
settle me,
make me grateful,
make me ponder,
and wonder.

These are the things of life.

And death.

Midweek Service: Deborah — “The LORD Is Marching Ahead of You”

This week finds me dipping once again into that time when we were between senior pastors, when we were in the midst of transition and new construction at the same time. It’s really good for me to remember how faithful God was to us during that 2-year time stretch — and how faithful the community was to one another, too.

All stained/painted glass windows in this series are from the Cathedral of St. Vitas in Prague, The Czech Republic

Made to Matter: People Who Partnered with God
Deborah:  “The Lord Is Marching Ahead of You”

Preached at Montecito Covenant Church
November 16, 2003
by Diana R.G. Trautwein

Today is a day for telling stories, for remembering stories, for celebrating stories. Today is a day for finding ourselves in the midst of someone else’s story, in the midst of our own story, and most wonderfully of all, today is a day for finding ourselves in the midst of God’s story, sometimes when we least expect it.

I find myself this morning nearing the end of a long, hard weekend. And there are about 15 other folks scattered around this room this morning who find themselves in the same place. Your Church Council leaders met on Friday night for 3 hours and then again yesterday from 9-4:30 in order to spend some concentrated time together, learning more about the people we’ve been seeing around the tables at our meetings each month, learning more about what it means to truly be a leadership ‘team,’ learning more about what it means to dream God’s dreams for this place, to take some risks with one another, to be encouraged by God’s words delivered to us through the words of a friend and fellow traveler.

Yes, it has been a long, hard weekend. But also, a tremendously exciting weekend. To catch a tiny glimpse of what God is up to in this place — to be reminded, even in the midst of what seem at times to be overwhelmingly difficult circumstances that, “The Lord is marching ahead of us” — this is a wonderful thing. In fact, I would venture to say, it is a life-changing thing, a life-saving thing.

And today, we’re going to look at the biblical story of Deborah and we’re going to remind ourselves that the Lord our God is not out of the marching business – that God does indeed remain faithful to his promise to walk with us, to partner with us in this life. We are going to hear the wonderful truth one more time, the truth that when we show up, God shows up. And that is all that is required, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances may appear to be.

So . . . the story-telling begins. With Deborah.

A little background, please. . . I’m sure you all remember Moses, the Exodus, Joshua and the taking of the land from the early books of the Old Testament, right? Sometimes it’s good to remember that this was a very long time ago, that the Israelites were a pretty rough-neck group, probably armed at any given time with wooden, maybe bronze implements and weapons. They had strong tribal ties, yet they were only very loosely connected to one another. And when they moved into the land, suddenly they found themselves surrounded by a much more sophisticated culture, one with fortified cities, elaborate and difficult religious rituals, and sometimes much more effective weaponry.

They struggled to settle in, and they did a pretty lousy job. This was true primarily because they allowed themselves to get sucked into and subdued by the cultures around them, adopting their rituals, intermarrying, and basically forgetting who they were as children of God, as God’s chosen people.

And if I’m honest, I can’t blame them too much for that. Sometimes it’s just plain easier to ‘go with the flow,’ to do what everyone else is doing, to worship the god you can see rather than the One who is unseen by human eyes.

And after the death of Joshua, that’s pretty much what happened. The book of Judges is the story of the people of God regularly forgetting who they were, of falling into the ways of the world around them, and then of suffering the consequences of their amnesia. And those consequences involved coming under the oppressive control of those surrounding people groups with alarming and depressing regularity.

Every so often, though, someone within the chosen people would remember — “Wait a minute here. . . we have a God who calls us by name. Shame on us because we’ve forgotten to call HIM by name.”

And the next thing you see in the whole, sad story of the Judges are these moments of remembering, of calling on the name of the LORD for mercy and deliverance, of deciding to show up. And guess what? Every single time they do that, every time they show up — God shows up. And the first thing God does is to raise up a leader, an encourager, sometimes a warrior, but always someone upon whom God’s Spirit rests in a special way. These leaders were called judges over the people, and through them, God showed the people the way toward freedom, deliverance and ultimately, peace in their land.

Our story this morning is early in the series of these sad cycles of forgetting and remembering, and it’s told in two chapters — one a narrative and the other a long poem or song. Chapter 4 outlines the events as they happened, but chapter 5 fills in the blanks of the narrative with a fascinating, creative and beautiful set of verses. These verses, this song, is probably the oldest piece of scripture that we have in the entire Bible — one of the very first things that the people of Israel wrote down to help them remember the faithfulness of God.

And this is the story it tells: Joshua is long dead. The people have sunk into despair and oppression at least three times and have then remembered God three times. And once again, times are tough. A Canaanite king named Jabin, who builds huge forts for cities and then lives behind the walls, has forced the scraggly band of Israelite people into a hard and discouraging life

They have endured twenty years of oppression of the worst kind. Jabin’s military general Sisera has built himself a terrifying army of men and machines. The Philistines had discovered the secret of smelting iron and then used that knowledge to devise a deadly killing machine — the heavy duty tanks of their day — in the form of a chariot made of iron. These chariots could trample a man on foot in mere seconds. The Philistines used these chariots to keep the Israelites off the roads and to continue to use the most primitive of farming methods. This meant they could never rise above subsistence living and it generally made their lives miserable.

What could a group of unsophisticated, under-equipped, tribal warriors ever hope to do against such technological superiority?

Well, they began by calling on the LORD for help, as verse 3 of chapter 4 tells us. And then the very next verse begins the amazing story of how God chose to deliver his people this time.

 “At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.”

So, here is the new leader! A woman. A woman who is a prophet, who sits under a palm tree up in the hills.

Uh. . . I’m not sure this would have been MY first choice for the salvation of the people, but. . . Deborah is God’s choice.

And God’s choice calls on Barak, who lives in a different community, one that is in closer proximity to those walled cities and those awful chariots. Deborah has a word for Barak when he gets there. And in the original language, it comes in the form of a question: “Didn’t the Lord God command you to go? To take an army and lead the way to Mt. Tabor?”

And his reply is more than a little bit surprising: yes, he knows the question. Yes, he’ll go to Mt. Tabor . . . under one condition: if Deborah comes with him. I’m betting he figured that it might be a good idea to take the ‘word of the LORD’ along with them into battle. And Deborah, the one who sat under the palm tree, she IS the word of the Lord during this time period.

So Barak gathers together a very rag-tag bunch of 10,000 foot soldiers and they head to the top of Mt. Tabor, peering down into the Kishon River Valley. Which might not have been the smartest military strategy in the world.


Deborah is listening to the LORD. She comes along with Barak and she continues to listen as Sisera arrives with his men and his iron chariots and all of them fill that river bed. She is still listening . . . until . . . she yells out, “NOW. Charge! Now is the time. The LORD is marching ahead of you!”

At this point, I’d like to take a small pause in the story-telling and offer a word of support for Barak. It is true that he wanted a woman to go with him. And yes, Deborah told him that that choice of his would mean that he would be outdone by a woman before the day was over. And it is also true that early in this story, the narrator sets us up to discover who this woman might be when he mentions Heber the Kenite and his tent near the battle site.

But just try to imagine this, okay? You’re on the top of a mountain with a bunch of guys with sticks and maybe some very bendy bronze spears. At the bottom of the mountain are 900 iron chariots, at least that many horses and thousands of soldiers outfitted in the very latest fashion of heavy metal armor. You’ve decided to throw in your lot with this woman who talks to God and she says, “CHARGE!” just when your men can see the overwhelming might of the enemy.

What was she thinking??

To better help us understand the timing of all this, it really helps to jump from the narrative in chapter 4 to the song in chapter 5, where there are a couple of hints in verse 20 and 21:

“The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul!”

So, what do you suppose Deborah was listening for up there on the mountaintop as she waited with Barak and his motley band of fighting men?

She was listening for a word from the LORD, and I think that word came in the rushing roar of a summertime flash flood, as a rainstorm caused a wall of water to surge down that canyon below them, engulfing those heavy iron monsters in a miry bog of water and mud.

So as the Israelites descended the mountain, all of Sisera’s men — including Sisera himself — jumped out of their chariots, off of their horses, dropped off their heavy armor and weaponry and ran for their lives. It was a complete rout!!

And then, of course, there is the wonderful, very gory footnote of this story — the detail that every Confirmation student just loves! Running in fear of his life from Barak and his men, Sisera caught sight of those Kenite tents. Now Heber has had a friendly relationship with Sisera’s boss, Jabin, and Sisera knows it. What he doesn’t seem to know is the long history of good relationship between the Kenites and the Israelites, going all the way back to Moses’ marriage to the daughter of Jethro, who was a Kenite.

Heber’s wife, Jael, stands outside her tent and offers Sisera hospitality as he runs toward them. “Have a rest,” she says. “How about some milk or yogurt?” she says. And the milk has its usual soporific effect and Sisera falls asleep, exhausted from his wild running retreat.

And then, Jael — amazing warrior that she turned out to be — took one of her hefty wooden tent pegs, and her handy-dandy wooden mallet, and she smashed that peg right through the man’s temple and into the ground beneath him.

End of Sisera. End of story.

But let’s notice how it is that God chose to do God’s work in this particular story for a few minutes. God brought deliverance to God’s people by assembling a surprising team of leaders. First and foremost, there was Deborah — who listened to God, who spoke for God to the people, who believed that God would do God’s part.

Deborah is like a brightly blazing torch, shining the light of God, the hope of God, the call of God, into the lives of the people God called her to lead. She spent time under that palm tree listening to God, listening to the people, reflecting on what God wanted, and, when asked, she also leapt into action, going with Barak and the troops to the mountaintop.

Without her, a willing instrument in God’s hands, there would be no story.

But there is also Barak. As I noted earlier, he gets a bit of a bad rap in both the story and the song. But the New Testament writer of Hebrews, chapter 11, lists him with some of the other judges rather than listing Deborah. What’s up with that?

Well, I think we can find ample evidence to support the argument that Barak had a measure of faith as well. Perhaps his was not as sure and steady as Deborah’s, but he was willing to trust her, to act on Deborah’s command without knowing what God was going to do to save the day, wasn’t he? I think that’s why he’s included in the roll call of heroes of faith in that chapter in Hebrews. Barak trusted Deborah’s relationship with God, and ultimately, he trusted Deborah’s God to get him through.

And then, of course, there is Jael. It’s tough to make a moral heroine out of a woman who uses subterfuge and violence to accomplish her goals, but she, too, is important to this whole tale. In a way, Jael did the dirty work. At least that’s how it appears to us, standing here in the 21st century. As followers of Jesus Christ, the Peace of God, it is hard for us to wrap our minds around the bloody violence of the Old Testament. Yet I find hope and encouragement even in this hard part of the story. For we, too, are warriors in a battle. And sometimes, the circumstances of the battlefield around us seem overwhelming.

Our children are sucked in by the values of this culture, and sometimes, so are we. We read the newspapers, listen to the news, try and balance the checkbooks, deal with aging and dying parents, or with rebellious and broken children, live with sadness and sorrow on every side. Sometimes it looks just plain overwhelming and hopeless.

The bad guys around us seem to have heavy-duty iron chariots and we’ve just got these pointy sticks!

And what can you do against the bad guys with a wooden stick and a mallet anyway?

Well, you can do a heckuva lot of damage! You can take the bad guy out of the picture entirely if you’re in line with God’s purposes for the battle, if you’re relying on God to ultimately snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.

I have to tell you that for a long list of reasons this past week has been one of overwhelming circumstances for me. I can’t even tell you exactly why. We have dear friends in pain, parents living with loss, more work to do than can humanly be done, and I’ve been feeling more than a little bit hopeless about not finding enough people to do the work I think God is calling us to do right here, right now, at Montecito Covenant Church

But here’s the deal: I spend too much time looking at the hard stuff. Now that stuff is certainly real and I don’t want to make light of it in any way. But sometimes, looking at all of that tends to take my focus off the palm tree, that place where I can meet God, where I can talk and laugh and wonder with friends and co-workers, with the people who can speak God’s words of hope into my life.

There have been times in my life and ministry when I have been tapped by God to be a Deborah in the lives of others. I am humbled by that and grateful for those opportunities when they arise.

But this week, I needed a Deborah or two . . . or three or 14 or 15!

And here’s what happened: I showed up, 14 members of the Church Council showed up, and God showed up. It was a remarkable time. As we closed our time together on Friday night, we affirmed in one another some qualities of leadership we saw, using a list provided by our consultant as we move through this time of transition.

And we also asked for prayer for that one area where we each felt the weakest that night. One of us asked for more clarity and confidence; another asked for more compassion; I and several others asked for a greater degree of hopefulness as we continue together to provide leadership for this congregation.

I went home tired, feeling like the evening’s exercises had been good and helpful, but dreading another full day of group work when I had a sermon to write and a computer that had shut down.

As we began on Saturday, we were led in a time of sharing and prayer. And you know what? The woman who had asked for confidence and clarity, spoke with passion and great articulation about her faith in God, her faith in this process, her faith in this church. She lit a fire that morning that burned all day long. And a man, who had asked for compassion the night before, shared a wonderful story of family sharing and prayer that had broken through some barriers that night following our session.

Around the room we went and heard from one another exactly how God showed up! And I’ve got to tell you, at the end of the day, after listening and laughing and dreaming together, my own sense of hope was rekindled, big time.

So I’m here today to give testimony to the truth that overwhelming circumstances are God’s specialty! That if we show up, God will show up. In fact, God is already there,  waiting for us to catch a clue. My prayer for all of us this day is that we would meet God meeting us in the midst of whatever overwhelming circumstances we are facing. That we might cry with the psalmist, “That some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD!” That we might learn to write and sing our own songs of victory, just as the Israelites wrote a song to celebrate Deborah and Barak and Jael.

Wherever you are this morning, whether you’re in need of a Deborah, or you’re equipped to be a Deborah; whether you’re needing or offering strong words of encouragement from the LORD; whether you’re more like Barak, looking for a partner in the LORD to face the battle together; or even if your circumstances are more like Jael’s, calling for a firm, clear stand against evil in order for the victory to be won. . . wherever you are this morning, I urge you to lift your eyes from the circumstances that surround you and to ‘call on the name of the LORD,’ and then to listen for the word of the LORD — in the pages of scripture, as God speaks to your heart in prayer, or as God speaks to you through the words of a fellow believer — and then to act on what you hear.

Look beyond the circumstances;
call on the name of the LORD;
listen to the word of the LORD;
act in confidence that the LORD will bring the victory. Amen.

Midweek Service: Mary & Martha — With Our Whole Selves

I think I have recovered enough decent old sermons to continue this series through the summer. Each week, I’ll also include a photo of one of the stained or painted glass windows in St. Vitus’s Cathedral in the city of Prague. Most of these sermons are dated, a few are not exact, but I can estimate the time frame in which they were originally preached. This one comes from the two-year interim period while we searched for a new Senior Pastor AND engaged in a massive building campaign that had been on the books for almost a dozen years. Our worship center (we met in a gym for over ten years) and office complex had to be completed by a certain date or we faced the re-submission and approval process which in Santa Barbara can take years. It was a season of flux and transition. It was also a season of remembering who we were as the people of God in this place.

Made to Matter: People Who Partnered with God Sermon Series
Mary & Martha: With Our Whole Selves
 Luke 10 & John 11 & 12
October 5, 2003
Montecito Covenant Church

Let’s see. . . since we began our fall preaching series on September 7th – that wonderful morning when we broke ground for the project that is now unfolding all around us – we’ve spent our sermon time each week looking at such great biblical characters as Barnabas and Paul, the apostle Peter, those 3 boys in the furnace  described in the book of Daniel, and last week, another trio from the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron and Hur.

In fact, we’ve discovered a whole bunch of fascinating and encouraging guys to learn from over the past four weeks.  And we’ve learned some good and helpful things as we continue to discover what it means to follow God into unknown territory during this time of transition and change here at Montecito Covenant Church. But today, in just a tiny change of direction, I think maybe it’s time we looked at a couple of the women in scripture who partnered with God. Seems truly appropriate to do so today, in good keeping  with the theme of the morning, which has something to do with finding and maintaining good balance in our lives.

Greg has read for you a brief section of scripture from the gospel of Luke – the first story in the New Testament about a couple of sisters who were very important in the life and ministry of Jesus when he walked this earth.  Their names are Martha and Mary, and I believe these two women from a long time ago can help us wrestle with one of the most important truths we’ll ever need to learn as followers of Jesus Christ.

And that truth is this: when we choose to enter into relationship with the Great God of the Universe by means of the pathway God himself has given us – the pathway that Jesus carved out with sweat and blood and death and resurrection – when we choose that relationship, we are invited, we are taught, we are requested, we are urged to choose it with our whole selves – with all of who we are.

And in the process of living out that whole-self relationship, we are reminded by the Word of God, and by the life of Jesus, and by the mistakes and the successes of God’s people as told to us in Holy Scripture – we are reminded that living the Christian life with our whole selves is not a particularly easy thing to do.

And why isn’t it easy?

Because we’re a messy, sometimes thoughtless, sometimes frazzled, sometimes thoroughly distracted bunch of people.  Because we so often miss the point, get our priorities out of whack, allow ourselves to be hijacked by the culture in which we live, a culture that surely doesn’t go out of its way to encourage us to be whole people, living a life that is equally rich in activity and in quietness, in busyness and in stillness, in doing and being or – as Karen reminded us with her two hats earlier this morning – in acting and thinking.

Because sometimes, to be perfectly honest, we simply don’t get it.  We don’t see why we need to choose ‘the better way’ as Mary is described as doing in the story before us today.  In fact, we’re often not convinced that her way is the better way.  Why should we sit on the floor at anyone’s feet when we could be up and moving, bustling about, accomplishing something.

In fact, I’m willing to wager that a goodly number of you – if you were really honest about this – might agree with me that Martha has gotten kind of a bum rap over the years.  I mean, be real.  Haven’t you always heard this story told in such a way that Martha comes off as the prototypical busybody, A-type personality who’s a little bit dense when it comes to the ‘really important’ thing that Mary has chosen to do?

Sweet, pliant, passive Mary – praised to the skies because she sits on her rear while all the work is being done.  Be honest here, hasn’t that thought ever occurred to you when you’ve read or heard this story?  Well – here’s my ‘honest’ response to the story before us today – and this ‘honest’ take comes in somewhat equal parts from both my own thinking and wrestling with this story over many years and from some of the scholarly reading and reflecting that I’ve done this past week.  Here’s what I think about it all:

Martha is a trooper, in my book.

We’re told that she’s the owner of the home to which Jesus has come for dinner – and that’s a fairly unusual thing in 1st century Palestine – that a woman should be a property owner.  That makes her interesting to me right from the get-go.  And homeowner Martha has extended her wonderful gifts of hospitality to Jesus and she’s doing her hostess thing –  the good thing, the right thing, the expected thing.  She’s fixing a meal, she’s setting a table, she’s timing the meat and the side dishes so that nothing’s too hot or too cold when the food is spread.  She’s workin’ it – apron around her waist, sweat in her hairline, doing her darnedest to make things nice for the visiting rabbi.

And she’s doing it all by herself.

She doesn’t live here alone, you know.  She has a sister – undoubtedly a younger sister – one who seems to have sort of a ‘crush’ on Jesus.  There she is, sitting on the floor at his feet – just like she was a real student of his!  And Jesus is allowing it, even seems to be enjoying this conversation with a woman, treats her like she might have a brain in her head.  But nonetheless, she is just sitting there.

So I’m not at all surprised that our friend Martha begins to mutter under her breath all the while she’s stirring the pots and setting the table.  “I do, and do and do for you people, and this is the thanks I get???” And I am intrigued by the fact that she then proceeds to say those mutterings out loud, and directs them to . . .Jesus.  Not to her slack-off sister, but to the rabbi himself.  She’s no coward, that’s for sure.  She seems to feel sure enough about her own relationship with Jesus to speak the truth – to share her feelings and her concerns.

And here’s the kicker for me in this story – Jesus is really so kind to her with his answer.  Contrary to many interpretations of this little story, I don’t think Jesus is rapping Martha across the knuckles here.  He loves the fact that Martha is doing something nice for him, that she is welcoming him to her home with food and drink and festivity.

We know from so many other small stories in scripture that Jesus himself was a great host – a person who loved to welcome others and to provide for their physical needs.  And we also know that Jesus loved a good dinner party – had quite a reputation in some quarters as a bit of a party animal, if the truth be told.  So as he responds to Martha’s outburst, he calls her by name – twice.  “Martha, Martha. . .” which is a lot like saying, as the New Living Translation puts it,  “My dear Martha.”

Martha, my friend, one that I love – these details are killing you!  Let them go.  Just let them go.  I know your meal will be excellent.  I thank you for your care for me.  But . . . listen to me, my love.  All of this hustle and bustle is just wearing you out.  There’s more than enough for all of us to eat.  Come, sit down for a while.  Mary, bless her heart – she’s made a discovery today – a wonderful discovery.  She’s found the most nourishing thing to do today and that’s to sit and listen to me, to talk to me, to learn from me, to be with me.  Come, my friend.  You do the same.  We’ll all eat soon enough and we’ll love every bite of your beautiful meal.

That is the spirit of this brief couple of sentences.  There is no condemnation in Jesus’ words – there is just a little bit of gentle pushing, a tiny, very careful attempt at re-focusing Martha’s attention on the most important thing about the day – being with her guest.

It is basically a call to Martha to be a whole person, fully engaged with all of who she is in her relationship with Jesus.  Her generous service is welcome and gratefully received.  But the personal interaction is what is missing.  Sweating in the kitchen is leading to Martha’s being burned out and burned up.  She’s tired and she’s resentful – a deadly combination when it comes to relationship-building.

But . . . here’s what I don’t want us to miss here:  she tells Jesus about it!

She doesn’t just keep on muttering to herself, growing ever angrier and more bitter.  No, she unloads it on the Lord.  Now it is quite true she doesn’t get quite the response she thinks she wants!  She thinks she wants Jesus to make things ‘fair,’ to get Mary off the floor and into the kitchen.  But what she truly wants – and Jesus, of course, knows this – what she truly wants and what she truly needs, is to get out of the kitchen and down onto the floor  – right there with her sister.

When I am working hard – when I am working too hard, to be more exact – I can so completely understand what Martha is feeling in this story.  Especially if I’m working and someone else isn’t.  I did this with my kids when they were growing up, I do it with my husband and my friends more often than I like, and I’m increasingly aware that I even do it sometimes when I’m all by myself.

I see something that needs doing – a good thing, a necessary thing,  a hospitable thing, a thing that I know God would want me to do.  And I. . . bury myself in it.

I don’t look for the simplest way to do the thing, in fact I often get just a little bit hung up on doing it well enough that others will be suitably impressed.

And then, somewhere in the middle of it all, it gets twisted around somehow.  And in addition to wanting to impress others, I also want them to know just how hard I am working.

And not only that, I want them to feel badly about how just how hard I am working.

And not only that, but I can very quickly move into a really sad  ‘poor pitiful me’ mood and you truly do not want to be around when that happens!

Does this ever happen to you?

Well, let’s both learn a little something from Martha here.  The next time we begin this downward spiral that moves from doing something good and worthwhile, to overdoing that something for the wrong reasons, to feeling really sorry for ourselves while we’re overdoing, to blaming others and inviting them into our misery . . . let’s do what Martha did.  Let’s take our sad and hurt feelings directly to the one who will listen with compassion.  Let’s tell Jesus about it.

And let’s try to quiet ourselves just enough so that we can hear his answer to us, which is very likely to be one like this: ”My dear one. . . chill out.  Sit down a minute.  Be quiet inside.  Let me lead you with love to a better place, a place where all of who you are is invited and involved, a place where you can serve me in healthy, wholehearted ways and a place where you can simply be with me, as the prophet Isaiah said ‘in quietness and in confidence.’

Martha is not the villain of this piece.  She is the center of the story and she does learn a powerful lesson – at least we hope she does.  This story doesn’t actually tell us if that’s the case.  But the apostle John takes up these same characters in chapters 11 and 12 of his gospel – and there we learn that both sisters have learned something from this encounter with Jesus the night he comes to dinner.

Interestingly enough, Luke places his story about Martha and Mary right in the middle of a whole section of his gospel where he is talking about what it means to be a disciple, one who learns, one who follows a master teacher.  And these two women are there, without a lot of fanfare, just there – as disciples of Jesus.

John takes this truth even further in his retelling of a couple of very important events that happen just the week before Jesus dies.  Martha and Mary have a brother named Lazarus, John tells us.  And they are all close friends of Jesus and his inner circle of followers.  They live in a little town called Bethany, which is on the way to Jerusalem.  Word comes to Jesus and his crew that Lazarus is very, very ill.  Several days later, Jesus arrives at Bethany – and he learns that Lazarus has been in the grave for four days.  Martha hears that Jesus is near to the house – and in typical Martha fashion, she races out to meet him.  And she greets him with a grief-stricken accusation:  “If you had been here, our brother would not have died!”

And then she and Jesus engage in a really interesting conversation – a conversation of vital importance to all of the disciples’ growing understanding of who Jesus really is.  The result of their dialog is that Martha makes a wonderful proclamation of truth about Jesus:  “You are the Messiah,” she says, “the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Martha nails it – she preaches it – she runs back to the house to tell her sister that Jesus has come.

And very soon, they both will witness the amazing miracle of their brother being raised from the dead.  Martha becomes the one who learns . . .and she also becomes the one who proclaims!  Martha is learning to be in relationship with Jesus as a whole person, with her whole self – her serving, action-oriented self and her thinking, learning, reflective self.

And what about Mary?

In the next chapter, Jesus is once again at the home of his friends.   And, once again, Martha is serving him dinner.  But Mary is not off in the corner sitting on the floor this time.  No.  Mary is doing something in this story – she is doing something amazing, something surprising – even shocking.

She comes to Jesus at the dinner table, she opens a jar of very expensive perfume. . . and she pours it over his feet.  Then she loosens her hair – something seldom done in that time and place – and she wipes the oil off his feet.  The whole house fills with the sweetness of the perfume and Jesus commends her for this act of service, this act of love, this act of sacrifice.

For Mary realizes – as no one else seems to – that Jesus will soon be dead.  Maybe that’s something she learned while she was sitting at Jesus’ feet that day – who knows?  But somehow, in some quiet, open-hearted way, she has discovered the truth at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry on earth:  that he came here to die, for our sakes.  And Mary acts on that truth.  Like her sister, Mary becomes a whole-hearted disciple, one who relates to Jesus with all of who she is – her quiet, reflective self, and her loving, serving, acting self — her whole self.

And if we are to be in relationship with Jesus in this way – as whole persons, fully engaged in both service and silence, in both acting and thinking, in both doing and being – we must make space in our lives for both Martha and Mary.  Both gifts are needed, both parts of our selves are invited to the table.

Does the Martha in you tend to crowd out the Mary?  Do you too often find yourself buried by work, by good work, by God’s work . . . only to find yourself disconnected from God himself?  Then, as we come to this table today, invite Mary to join you.  Make a little space inside for listening and learning.

Or does the Mary in you find plenty of room for expression?  Are you able to be quiet easily, sometimes too easily?  Do you rely on your quiet nature too much sometimes, trusting yourself to be where you think you need to be spiritually rather than trusting God to fill you with power and strength so that you can also do the work to which he has called you?  If that is true of you today, then I urge you to create some space for Martha next to you at the table today.  Invite the more active part of yourself to fully engage in fruitful, meaningful service in Jesus’ name.

God has called us by name and we are his.  All of who we are is his.

Let’s take our whole selves to God in prayer.

Gracious and loving God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father,
we come to you today acknowledging our need to live fully for you,
to live as whole people in your presence and in this world.
Help us always to choose the most needful thing
of being with you to listen and to learn.
But also help us to use the gifts you’ve given us
to serve you and to serve the world.
We pray this in the name of Jesus,
who modeled for us a life wholly lived,
a life fully lived,
a life lived with passionate action
and with quiet devotion.

Midweek Service — “Waiting”

I am slowly reading through a stack of old sermons, editing, deciding which I would like to place here as a record-of-sorts, primarily for my family and friends. In honor of the many years when my family attended a midweek service (now just about completely extinct!), in the middle of each week, I’ll put one up in this space. I am hopeful that remembering where the Lord has met me in the Word over these years will speak again of love and power and healing — in my own life, first, and in the lives of others as well. These posts will be longer than most and will always include reference to the text(s) of the day.

This was a sermon given at my home church, the place where I was called out to ministry, about a year after a traumatic cleaving in the congregation and a time of waiting for what might come next. I am happy to report that in the four years since that time, they have found a pastor they love and who loves them, and God is doing good things in and through them all.


“WAITING. . . “
Mark 5:21-43 with Psalm 130 and Lamentations 3:23-33
Preached at Pasadena Covenant Church, June 28, 2009
By Diana R.G. Trautwein

Two stories, one twisted within the other.  Two stories, two women – one older, probably in the midst of what we today might call ‘the pause.’ One younger, just embarking on the journey to womanhood.  Twelve years of bleeding, twelve years of life.  All the usual resources exhausted for one, almost all hope gone for the other.  Both in desperate situations.  Both in need of a healing touch.  Both in need of a saving touch.  By the time they encounter Jesus, each of these unnamed female characters is…dead – the younger one, truly and physically dead – the older one, socially and communally dead – marked by her unceasing flow of blood as unclean, untouchable, unreachable.

One we meet in person – we watch her, sneaking up from the back of the crowd, wriggling her fingers up close to the traveling rabbi, wrapping them in just the very fringiest ends of one of the long tassels he wore.  One we meet first through her father – an important man, given a name by our storyteller.  A leader in his town, a man with a heightened sense of right and wrong, of clean and unclean, of all things good and righteous and holy, and all things not good, unrighteous, unholy.

Jesus and his disciples have just returned from a rather momentous journey across the Sea of Galilee, across that boundary line between the Gentile world and the Jewish world.  There has been a storm, a vicious, terrifying storm – and Jesus, by the power of his word and his will, has calmed the storm.

There has been a terrifying encounter with a crazy man – living like an animal, filled with demons of all kinds. a man beyond the pale of human community, without hope, without recourse.  And Jesus has met that man, met him with pity and with power – power to heal, to save, to transform.

And now, the boat is back.  The disciples are back.  Jesus is back.  And as the little ship slaps its way up onto the sandy shore, they are surrounded by a huge crowd, an eager crowd – pushing and shoving, wondering about this wonder man, watching to see just what he will do on this side of the sea.

Striding through that crowd is the figure of an important community member, a leader in the local synagogue, Jairus, by name.  And the first thing Jairus does is the last thing the demon-filled man had done – he falls at the feet of Jesus and begs him for something.  The demoniac on the far shore, with the voice of the demons who had fractured him for so long, begged Jesus to cease and desist.  The desperate father begs – over and over, our text tells us – for mercy, for healing, for salvation for his little girl, his much-loved daughter.  And Jesus says, “Sure!  I’ll come.”  And they turn and head in the direction of the man’s home.

But then…

And isn’t that just exactly what so much of life is like?  You’re heading in one direction quite often a really good direction, somewhere you are quite intentional about going, to do something that is a really good thing to be doing…

But then…

You’re busy raising a family, or you’re busy establishing yourself in a career, or you’re busy studying to get through school.  Maybe you’re sinking your roots in a community, or fixing your home into a place of welcome and respite…

But then…you lose your job or your investment portfolio heads dramatically south, or you lose your scholarship or student grant, or your spouse becomes frighteningly ill, or your marriage begins to unravel, or…And, all of a sudden – you are seriously interrupted.  You are forced to change direction.  You are required to take a step back, to look at what’s happening in the moment, and to wait, to see what the outcome of it all may be.

Imagine what that waiting felt like to the leader of the synagogue.  An important man, used to being treated with respect, even deference, humbling himself at the feet of a relatively unknown itinerant preacher/teacher/healer, taking immediate steps to accomplish what he had come to accomplish – and being stopped dead in his tracks by….this woman, this unclean, unwelcome, unacceptable…woman.

People pressing in on all sides, disciples skeptical of their own teacher, confusion in ascendance, and as the healer stops, turns, asks, “Who touched my clothes?”  This woman – the one everyone knew was trouble to be around – this woman – the one that Jesus should have known was not worth his time, this woman – the one awestruck by what has just happened inside her own body, this woman – who dares to tell the whole truth in a culture – much like our own! – where truth is not easy to come by and is often hard to hear, this woman – stops the whole parade.

And Jairus is forced to wait, on the sidelines, out of the spotlight, his concerns for his daughter momentarily forgotten while the rabbi engages in a time-consuming, highly personal, deeply transformative conversation with this woman.

“Daughter,” he calls her.  “Daughter,” folding her in with a single word.  The actual physical healing takes but an instant – a momentary exchange of power.  But the conversation, the truth-telling, the recognition, the inclusion, the blessing – ah, that is where the true miracle happens. And our storyteller gives us such rich detail, quiet commentary, instructive modeling as he describes it all for us.

Jairus is asked to wait – in the midst of an urgent, life-threatening situation – he is asked to wait…for a little while.  But the woman…Well, the woman knew a whole lot about waiting. Twelve years worth of waiting.  Waiting for doctors to be successful, waiting for the bleeding to stop, waiting for permission to rejoin her friends, her family, her worshipping community – for her symptoms required her to be on the outside of all the circles of her life.

Like so many stories of the Kingdom of God, these stories before us today are about insiders and outsiders – and about how unpredictable those definitions become when Jesus is the one doing the defining.  Like the later stories of The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan – the ‘usual suspects’ become the true neighbor, the party-worthy son.  This woman becomes “daughter!”  The leader of the synagogue becomes the man on the edge of the crowd, waiting for Jesus to continue on the way.

I can’t tell you how many times in my ministry life I have said to people in trouble,  “I think that waiting is often the hardest thing that we’re ever asked to do as disciples of Jesus.”  It’s tough to wait in a surgical reception area.  It’s tough to wait for an addicted friend or family member to wake up and smell the recovery process.  It’s tough to wait for someone you dearly love to die, and to watch them suffer while they’re dying.  It’s tough to wait for decisions to be made by other people about your future, your life – whether that’s getting into the school you want, passing the course you’re struggling with, getting the job you’ve interviewed for, receiving the promotion you believe you deserve, or getting an ‘all clear’ after rigorous cancer treatment.  It’s tough to wait for whatever comes next when you’re part of a congregation that’s been through a hard year.  It’s tough.  It’s tiring.  It’s sometimes very scary and very lonely.

So, why does scripture talk about waiting so often?  And why is the language of waiting so often found in the language of lament, of all places?  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” our psalm of lament for today reads.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…” And the reading from Lamentations says, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  And, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.”

I am guessing that our friend Jairus didn’t think it was a good thing to wait for the Lord.  To stand there, desperate for his daughter, desperate to move, to go, to get there.  And I’m guessing that this woman didn’t think it was a good thing to wait twelve long years in the midst of deep isolation for someone to finally help her.

And yet….

And here are the counterbalancing two words to the “but then…” of a few minutes ago…

And yet…

Our psalm goes on to say these things: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

And yet…

In waiting, there seems to be room, space…for hoping.  In waiting, there is room for steadfast love.  In waiting, there is space to experience the power of God to redeem – even the most difficult, the most painful, the most terrifying situations – all those hard things that seem to come right along with the territory of being human creatures who live on planet earth.

So what is there about waiting that can help create space for all of these good things?  Space for hope, for steadfast love, for the power to redeem?  At least one solid clue is found in the two interwoven stories in today’s gospel lesson – and that clue underscores the word of both the psalmist and the prophet in our OT readings as well.  We are to wait….on the LORD.  You could even change the preposition to wait ‘in’ the Lord or wait ‘with’ the Lord or wait ‘through’ the Lord, or wait ‘for’ the Lord, if that helps you wrap your mind around this concept a little more easily.  The waiting talked about in the language of biblical lament, and the waiting pictured in the narrative in front of us is not the waiting experienced while standing around in the supermarket line, or sitting in the traffic lane at rush hour, or getting anywhere near the DMV office.

Both the woman and the synagogue leader waited…on the Lord.  Each of them put themselves in the presence of the Savior, deliberately choosing to be near him.  Each of them came to that presence, that nearness, with the concerns that weighed heaviest on their hearts, prepared to be completely honest and open about their pain and the reasons for it.  Each of them came to the Savior, each of them fell at his feet, with fear and trembling…and each of them came with faith. Feeble faith – I’m sure it was at times.  Magical, even superstitious faith – most probably it was at points.  But faith, however feeble or unsophisticated, is welcomed by the Savior whose presence they sought.  Faith, however flickering and doubt-filled it may sometimes be, is recognized by Jesus, is received by Jesus, is, in fact, seen by Jesus as a necessary and vital part of the healing, saving process.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” Jesus said to the woman, after she knew in her body that healing had happened.

“Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus said to the synagogue leader when word came that his daughter was dead, while he was waiting on the Lord.  There is a strange and wondrous alchemy going on here, one that I don’t begin to understand.  An alchemy between the power and the willingness of Jesus to heal and to save, and the faithful obedience of the broken disciple who needs that healing, that saving.  Neither the flow of blood nor the death of the daughter was a good thing –  they were hard, tough, difficult things, the kinds of things that happen to people a lot.  But…in the midst of each of those hard, tough, difficult things – in the midst of waiting on the Lord – they miraculously found…hope, they powerfully discovered…the steadfast love of God, they experienced…the power of redemption.

I’m not here this morning, in the midst of a place and a people whom I love deeply, to tell you that the hard things you all have experienced together in this last year are good things.  They’re not – they’re hard!  They cost a lot in shared pain, in doubt, in confusion and anxiety, maybe even in loss of trust and suspicion at points.  You’ve been going through the ‘but then…’part, haven’t you?

But I am here to tell you today that you are, even now, in the ‘and yet…’ part.  I haven’t a clue what your own individual healing or your healing as a community is going to look like, but this much I do know: it will come, it will happen.  In fact, I would venture to guess that it has come and is happening – and here is the alchemist’s mystery in it all – it has come and is happening as you practice waiting on the Lord, both individually and corporately.

As you earnestly seek God’s presence, as you tell the truth, as you fall at his feet in awestruck wonder, as you take turns being in and out of the spotlight of his love and mercy, or waiting on the sidelines, as you open yourselves to the grace and mercy of God, you will find healing.  Reaching right through the crowd to touch the edge of his tassel, or sitting quietly with just a few others in the bedroom of a dream or a vision that seems dead to your eyes, as you wait on the Lord – seeking his presence, offering your faith, no matter how frail it may be at any given moment in time, God is faithful.  His mercies are new every morning.

“Don’t be afraid,” the rabbi will say to you.  “Only believe.”

“Daughter,” our Lord will say to you, or “Son,” he will say:  “Your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Let us pray together:

Oh, teach us to wait, Lord.
Teach us to wait on you,
for you,
with you,
through you.
By the movement of your Spirit
at work within us,
call us to yourself –alone and together.
Build in us a deep and lasting desire
to be intentionally with you.
Teach us to tell the truth,
to you and to each other.
Remind us of your glory,
that we might regularly fall at your feet,
both in awe and wonder at what you have already done in our lives,
and in acknowledgment of our ongoing need for you.

 And strengthen our faith, Lord.
Strengthen our feeble knees and our faltering lips.
Teach us to trust –
to believe that in the middle of the mess –
whether it’s a new mess or one of long duration –
you are there for us
and with us.
In the name of our Savior,
who welcomes us,
even though our faith is small and tattered,
even Jesus Christ,


A Book Review: The Community Commentary Series – Philippians

There’s this dude I know – one of the very few people in the world that I actually call ‘dude’ – who is committed, hard-working, creative and kind. His name is Dan King and he hosts a remarkable website called He is one of a handful of bloggers that I have actually met in person and I’m here to tell you that he is the real deal. 

He lives clear across the country in Florida, loves his adorable family, travels regularly to Haiti to do compassionate work (and write about it), and he has written a book about that which I reviewed last year, called “The Unlikely Missionary.”  

Last fall, he got this interesting idea: invite Bibledude readers to consider contributing to a study series on the book of Philippians. I signed up – “Why not?” I thought. So I did a little studying, wrote down my ideas and joined them with the rest of the writers. 

Little did I know that Dan, cagey entrepreneur that he is, had a creative idea brewing. “Why not,” he wondered, “make this small commentary available as an e-book?” So he gathered a couple of his editors and added some word studies and a little historical background and voila! We’ve got ourselves an e-book. What looks like it might be the first of several in a Bibledude Community series.

What’s different about this commentary is that…it’s not a commentary (italics added to imply a heavy, academic, technical tome). Rather, it is a user-friendly, approachable, brief and helpful study guide for anyone wanting to extend their understanding of Paul’s words to the church at Philippi. 

And it launches TODAY. Please check it out over at Dan’s fine website.

The Source of Life…a Guest Post

I am writing with the good folks over at today about some of the words in 1 John 5…

When you stop to think about it, the longevity of the church of Jesus Christ is pretty remarkable. Over 2000 years and the church still stands, proclaiming the miracle of transformation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus – who was, is and will always be the Son of God, embodying for the world the essence of God’s love. Just last week – churches all over the world walked through Holy Week, climbing to the cross in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death. And just yesterday, we celebrated the glory of the empty tomb – the perfect picture of the new life found in Jesus. The vitality of our story is unchanged over time; the center remains.
Because let’s face it, without Jesus right there at the center of it all – the church is not the church. And the writer of 1 John wants to remind these early believers to hang onto to Jesus for dear life. He writes from the loving heart of a concerned pastor, someone who cares deeply about the believers in and around Ephesus. And he writes to remind them to be the church…
Joining the Community Bible Study series on 1 John today – over at The Bible Dude’s good space. Join me over there to read this whole reflection?  

Weekends Are for Quieting: “Teach Me Your Paths”

“LORD, make me know your ways.
LORD, teach me  your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
In you I hope all the day long
because of your goodness, O LORD.
Remember your mercy, LORD,
and the love you have shown from of old.”

Psalm 25:4-7
The Grail Translation
(commissioned for liturgical use in the Benedictine tradition.)
Joining this weekend with three gatherings where quiet reflection is encouraged. Sandy King, “Still Saturday,” Deidra Riggs, “Sunday,” and Katie Lloyd, “Scripture & a Snapshot.”


Jesus and Prayer

Reposting an older reflection for this Maundy Thursday, thoroughly re-edited for today.

What a topic. The text is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane – Mark’s version. The assignment is to confine my remarks to 20 minutes or less, to capsulize the teaching and the modeling of Jesus about prayer, and to do it with truth and love.

How did I ever get myself into this???

The preaching task is always an overwhelming one. An intriguing, challenging, convicting, enormously rewarding one, but still….to think that any human person has the right to speak on behalf of Almighty God, to bear the good news to the church, to parse sacred text…yikes.

And, of course, living with the text over time means that the preacher is the first to hear the sermon. If the text doesn’t knock me to my knees, shouting truth into my own heart and spirit somewhere in the process of reading/researching/thinking/praying/talking it through with others, then I will have nothing to say to anyone else. And this one has just knocked me flat.

And as always, I am impressed at how the Spirit weaves together the study and research I do in my office with the conversations and experiences I’m having elsewhere. To illustrate – a brief, but deeply thoughtful conversation with our son and daughter-in-law about prayer – about how we so often view prayer as another in a list of tools to help us manipulate God, to work ‘magic,’ to utilize (in the philosophical, utilitarian sense) our faith to bring about a desired end. Yet the text before me was anything but manipulative, and everything about relinquishment. Hmmm…

Illustration #2 – a wonderful gift from my friend Anita, a small, brilliant book entitled “Everything Belongs,” by Richard Rohr, about contemplative prayer, a book that touches on some of the same ideas that are flitting round this brain of mine. Like…the 3 fold admonition to ‘watch’ given to the sleepy disciples. Isn’t that a lot of what prayer is truly about? Placing ourselves regularly, preferably continually, in a position of prayer, of watchfulness, of presence, of paying attention, even more than it is about saying the right words – or even saying anything at all.

And all of these lovely serendipities of daily life help to thrust me back again into the text before me. As I read through Mark’s account, again and again I am blown away by Jesus’ wrestling match in that olive garden on the night in which he was betrayed. Such a powerful study in contrasts:

….from warm fellowship in the upper room to the cool solitude of the garden
….from the comfort of the reclining supper chair, to the hard reality of the rocky ground
….from a place of acceptance and understanding of what was to come, to a place of resistance and fear about the painful death ahead.

I am humbled by this story, I am moved by it and I am deeply, deeply grateful for it. It gives me great hope to read that the Savior of the world wrestled with the harsher realities of this life, that, if possible, he wanted to avoid pain; that he struggled with the dark stuff, the hard stuff, the ugly stuff. It helps, of course, to know the end of the story, that end toward which we have been moving during these weeks of Lent. It helps to know about and to firmly grasp the reality of the empty tomb.

Yet what I truly cherish about this passage in Mark 14 is how it shows us the fullness of Jesus’ humanity in ways that many of our Jesus stories do not. Here we gain insight into some of his emotional and spiritual struggles. Just days before this time of pleading prayer, Jesus was able to speak prophetically about the restoration of the ‘temple’ of his body in 3 days. Yet here, he begs God to let this cup pass. It seems that Jesus was frightened by the prospect of suffering and death on that night when he stared directly into the abyss. All of us human creatures resist death, we deny it, we cry out against it. Even Jesus cried out for deliverance from the painful unknowing-ness of it all.

Many biblical scholars tell us that this struggle in the garden was about Jesus’ fear of his coming separation from the Father. Maybe. But maybe he was just plain scared of the pain, scared of the suffering, scared of the unknown, just like the rest of us would be. And there is something strangely comforting to me in that idea. To think that the son of God, our fully human, fully divine savior, was frightened by what lay ahead of him somehow helps to relieve my own fears. It’s a paradox, maybe even an oxymoron, to say that. And yet it’s true. There is a wonderful way in which Jesus’ wrestling in the garden helps me to lean into my own humanity a little bit more willingly and easily, to accept my own feebleness and fearfulness with less self-condemnation and disdain.

But here’s what truly, strongly cheers me in this story: after the struggle, after the tears, after the first of what would soon be an avalanche of disappointments and betrayals from his friends – after all of that, Jesus moves out in confidence and trust to meet his enemies, to meet his future. “Rise. Let us go,” he says to the speechless, feckless disciples. “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.”

At the end of the day, at the end of that long night, Jesus chose to trust God.

Jesus chose to believe that God was at work, even in the ugliness of betrayal and conflict, even in the midst of false accusations and illegal trials, even in the brutality of torture and death. Even there, God is.

Once it became clear that God was not going to intervene in the way that Jesus wanted him to do, he made a conscious, deliberate choice to trust God anyhow. To trust that God would take the mess and work a miracle in the midst of it. To trust that God would accomplish something so beautiful, so powerful, so filled with hope and promise that the world would never be the same again.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I believe that for the period of his ‘tabernacling’ with us here on earth, Jesus gave up his right, his divine ability, to see ‘face to face,’ to ‘know fully.’ Jesus lived within the limits that we as humans experience.

But here’s what our truly human Savior learned through living a life of prayer, prayer that came to fruition in that garden across from the temple mount:

He learned to trust that he was fully known,
he learned to trust that the one who fully knew him, fully loved him,
he learned to wrestle through his fears…in the presence of the God who knew and loved him…
and to emerge on the other side with a confidence and a courage that challenged every definition of confidence and courage that his world had constructed.

Oh, may I learn from his example!