A Prayer for Easter Sunday 2019

On this Resurrection Sunday morning, we are going to use a responsive chant from the earliest years of the church. The longer prayer from which this short phrase is taken is called the “Exsultet,” and it was a call-and response prayer that was adapted from an even earlier synagogue prayer. Early Jesus-followers offered that adapted prayer every year as the re-lit Christ candle was carried back into the sanctuary in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning.

The small piece we will use together today consists of two short phrases:I will say the first one at several points as we pray together:“Christ our Light!And when I say that, you respond with the second half, which is: “Thanks be to God”

Let’s pray together:

Good and Holy Triune God, we come before you on this glorious morning to say thank you! Thank you, first of all, for Who You are — Creator, Redeemer, Comforter, Friend — the God who chooses us, the God who sees us, the God who absorbs our broken, sinful selves into the body of your Son, our Savior. Thank you for that dark afternoon and thank you, too, for the brightness of this Easter morning!

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

A special word of thanks this day for the women, the women, who followed after you, who tended that wounded body as it was laid in the grave. The women, who were the first to see our Risen Lord. The women, who carried the great good news of RESURRECTION to all your friends, your students, your followers. Thank you for their faithfulness, thank you for their obedience. Thank you for choosing them to be the very first evangelists.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

And thank you for all the others in the early church, for disciples who stayed true, for their openness to the Spirit, and their willingness to give everything they had, including their own lives, to the work of the kingdom.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

As we gather in this beautiful space today, we want to thank you, too, for the early disciples in this place. Those who gathered, and dreamed and prayed and planned. Those who gave and built and longed to be your hands and feet in the community of Montecito. We have a rich heritage, Lord — an ancient one and a much more recent one — and we thank you for both.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

You know this, Lord — even better than we do ourselves — you know that your church finds itself at a kind of crossroad right now — your church around the world, and your church in Santa Barbara. The terrible news from Sri Lanka this weekend, the loss of an iconic sanctuary to fire during Holy Week, and our own time of upheaval right here.

It’s been a confusing time, filled with questions and misunderstandings. Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we have contributed to that confusion, to those misunderstandings. Guide us into true repentance, and guide us into a clearer understanding of who it is you are calling and forming us to be at this point in time. Give us, we humbly ask, extra measures of grace, forbearance, forgiveness and kindness as we pick up the pieces and follow after Jesus anew.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you for our Council leadership and their willingness to work extra hours to help us find our way. Guide their search for a long-term Interim Pastor, and give us all grace to be encouragers as we travel together down a road we didn’t expect to have to walk right now.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you most of all for the meaning of this day, for the richness, the surprise — even the scandalous shock of our story: we gather here today to worship and then to serve a risen Savior, one who was hung on a tree to die a humiliating and difficult death, yet who conquered the grave and sits now at your right hand, interceding for US. Amazing! Astounding! 

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you, thank you, thank you! In the name of Jesus, our Risen, Living Lord. Amen.

The Darkest Day — SheLoves — Good Friday 2019

It’s my turn at SheLoves Magazine again today.

It’s always darkest before the dawn,
at least, that’s what they tell me —
“Each new day brings resurrection.”

But to get there,
we must always move
through the dark.

There are gifts to be found in darkness.
That, too, is true.
Rest, coolness, quiet.

But terrors hide out in its
creases and folds,
ever ready to worry and wound.

And darkness
in the middle of the day
is disquieting,

On this day, the disquiet was deep;
terrible, in truth.
Creation cried out in disbelief.
How can this be?
The Word who spoke this sun,
disgraced, rejected,
impaled outside the city gates?

Ah, yes. Yes, indeed.

God’s enormous YES to
humankind’s repeated no’s.

And so, from the darkness of the garden
to the darkness at midday,
that Word walked right through
the worry and the wounds,
endured the terror,
bore the pain.

All for Love’s sake
All for Love’s sake.

Not to even the score,
not to satisfy the whims
of a harsh, mercurial deity,
with a gigantic ax to grind,
not to play some kind of
cosmic game of tit for tat.

This darkest day was
the necessary prelude
to the brightest dawn
this old earth has ever seen.

This darkest day and
that brightest dawn
are two halves of the same
magnificent truth:

we are loved;
we are free;
we are God’s.

The question is—
do we believe it?
And if we believe it,
can we live it?

Will we enter our own
dark seasons
with trust and hope,
steadily looking for the
dawn, that Light of Lights?

Will we whisper our own ‘yes’
right down into the darkness,
fully expecting to see
the shining glory
of that early morning Son?

Book Review: How the Bible Actually Works – by Peter Enns

The following review is written as a part of my responsibility as a member of the Launch Team for Pete’s latest book. I received an advance copy in exchange for these words. I also purchased a copy for my Kindle and am eager to share it with anyone in my family who wishes to read it!

Pete Enns is sarcastic, funny, thoughtful, well-educated, occasionally gruff, and often covers what I guess to be a particularly tender heart with a large layer of snark. He chooses to write for an audience who loves snark and is thoughtful and intentional about pursuing the tougher questions regarding their faith and the book it is based on. Pete’s readers are people who want to find their way to understanding how best to understand, interpret and wrestle with that book.

The latest in the growing list of his controversial, well-thought out, relentlessly honest and deeply helpful books is pictured above. I recommend it to you with enthusiasm and also — with a warning. The warning first: if you are not willing to entertain the possibility that the Bible is at once more coherent AND more confusing than any other text you have encountered in your life, this book is not for you.

If, however, you are genuinely searching for answers to tough questions, if you are more than a little bit bothered by what appears to be the changing nature of the God depicted in its pages, or if you want to find a new way to think about a book that you love and have loved for decades, then dig in. You will not be disappointed.

I fall into ALL those categories, with the emphasis on that last one. All my life, I have loved the Bible. I have memorized chunks of it, winning all the badges possible on my little wooden sword in elementary Sunday school. I have enjoyed teaching others about its beauty and wonder from about the age of 15. And I have turned to it for comfort, challenge, assurance and reminders of God’s powerful presence in this crazy, broken world of ours almost every day of my long life.

What I have not ever done is viewed the Bible as a rule book. A guide? Yes. A series of stories that highlight the surprising nature of God’s grace? Sure. Set in concrete thousands of years ago and never to be messed with in any way, ever again? Not a chance.

For me, the Good Book is God’s Word Written as Jesus is God’s Word Living — a fascinating, puzzling, challenging, enlightening AND confusing mix of both human and divine. What I love about this newest of Pete’s books is the thread he pulls out, from start to finish. The theme, if you will. And here it is:

The Bible is a wisdom book — and that, my friends, is the single most helpful definition I have found to date for this virtual library of small volumes, written and collected over about three centuries, all of which happened a long, long time before any of us ever breathed earth’s air. If we can grab hold of that idea, push against it wherever necessary, test out examples of it from a scattering of books and stories between its covers, then we will have a far sturdier foundation for the faith we claim than any fundamentalist, inerrantist, rigid, put-it-in-a-box-designed-to-mark-outsiders-and-insiders point of view ever espoused and shoved down people’s throats.

Can you tell that I am DONE with the Bible-as-weapon mentality found in so many churches today? Yeah, I am done. And so is Pete Enns. Pete Enns, however, also happens to have a PhD in biblical studies and a long career of research, teaching, speaking and writing to back up his ideas. You may not agree with all of those ideas, but I’m here to tell you, you will find them thought-provoking, helpful, and fun to read.

In thirteen chapters, he looks at both Testaments, including stories and ideas that are both familiar and obscure. In each instance, he argues that the Bible itself models for us how to deal with the sometimes contradictory nature of the truths it teaches. In fact, by the time you finish this volume you will give thanks to God for the contradictions because . . . let’s be real, here, okay? Life itself is contradictory and there is no one-size-fits-all answer for many of its questions.

From money to child-rearing to the role of the law in life and faith, Pete takes us down the wisdom road, showing us how the Bible rethinks things, up to and including our understanding (limited as it must be) of the nature of God. Laws are adapted over time, as people and situations change. Even historical events are told and re-told from different time periods and conflicting understandings of what happened and why.

I love this quote, found on pg. 77: “The Bible isn’t a book that reflects one point of view. It is a collection of books that records a conversation — even a debate — over time.” YES — a conversation, even a debate. What a gift to have such a conversation, printed and in our hands. What a lovely invitation to continue the conversation, to keep asking hard questions to not be frightened by the answers that become clearer with time and experience.

Which leads me to this question: why are we afraid of this truth? Why is it so difficult for us to admit that not everything is wrapped up neatly in this book of ours? What is it inside of us that pounds a book of overwhelming beauty, majesty, truth, conflict, surprise, time-bound customs, and eternal gifts into a system, a rule-book, a codified, rigid set of definitions?

For Pete’s sake (yes, pun intended . . . and also, not!), Jesus modeled this approach himself at every village and watering hole and mountainside and boat bench he ever occupied. He was a story-teller, and not one of those stories was crystal clear. They all require thinking, pondering, wrestling. And the truths they reveal are both timeless and time-bound — yes, they are. BOTH. No, I have never herded sheep, nor will I. And yet, I can sift out truths, I can catch allusions, I can understand the metaphors.

Enough. Let me close this wandering reflection with one final quote from the book — just one of many from my exceedingly marked-up copy:

“We are both bound by the past and charged with remaining open to the movement of God’s Spirit, which is free and never bound to tradition or our theologies that try to articulate it.

Christian theology, in other words, is an exercise in wisdom– perhaps far more than is normally thought. We are not simply maintaining the past, we are transforming it, again and again.” pg. 196

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Fifteen


John 12:36-43, The Living Bible

Make use of the Light while there is still time; then you will become light bearers.” After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them. But despite all the miracles he had done, most of the people would not believe he was the Messiah. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted: “Lord, who will believe us? Who will accept God’s mighty miracles as proof?” But they couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said: “God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so that they can neither see nor understand nor turn to me to heal them.” Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he made this prediction, for he had seen a vision of the Messiah’s glory.However, even many of the Jewish leaders believed him to be the Messiah but wouldn’t admit it to anyone because of their fear that the Pharisees would excommunicate them from the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Sunset is a favorite time,
watching the light lengthen
as long as possible,
and then disappear from view.

Seeing that sun set
reminds me
to be a
my own self,
shining whatever
light I have
right into the darkness.

And yet,
the very next line
tells us that Jesus
made himself

Even the Light
needs a break
now and then,
I guess.

(Have you noticed
how often the
word ‘glory’
appears in these readings?)

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Fourteen


Luke 1:5-17, The Message

During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.

But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

“He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”

I love Zachariah. He gives me hope! He was old, he was faithful, he was also uncertain, frightened and eventually, silenced! But this beautiful promise? This assurance of answered prayer? It changes him in profound ways. And it changes the world in profound ways, too. John, we’re told, was filled with the Spirit from the get-go, a dedicated servant of God from infancy. Another Elijah. Do you get that? That right there is the prophetic fulfillment the people of God had been waiting for — Elijah was to come again, to announce the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one, the promised one, the deliverer. Only Elijah didn’t look like Elijah, did he? Nope. He looked like John. And the Messiah? He didn’t look like what they expected, either.

But then, he never does.

Lord, thank you for the many ways in which you surprise us! Thank you for being the kind of Messiah who uses love as your only weapon and forgiveness as your only shield. Thank you for calling us to newness of life in the kingdom of God, that kingdom of upside-downness and wonderful, unexpected strangeness. Give us eyes to see, Lord. Eyes to see.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Nine


Acts 11:19-26, TLB

Meanwhile, the believers who fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, scattering the Good News, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene also gave their message about the Lord Jesus to some Greeks. And the Lord honored this effort so that large numbers of these Gentiles became believers.

When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to help the new converts. When he arrived and saw the wonderful things God was doing, he was filled with excitement and joy, and encouraged the believers to stay close to the Lord, whatever the cost. Barnabas was a kindly person, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. As a result, large numbers of people were added to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to hunt for Paul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch; and both of them stayed there for a full year teaching the many new converts. (It was there at Antioch that the believers were first called “Christians.”)

Those kids up there in the picture? They’re the ones we’ve been ‘sent to help.’ We teach Confirmation every Sunday morning to a room full of 18 middle school students. It can get pretty chaotic in that space, I’ll tell you. But you know what? These kids fill me with hope. They are kind, friendly, committed to learning more about Jesus, sincerely wanting to grow in their faith. And those kids — and you and me and everyone we know who follows after Jesus today — are direct descendants of those Greeks that the early church reached out to in Antioch. There are others who trace their roots to Thomas, who went to India, the tradition tells us. And maybe others descended from that Ethiopian eunuch who went back to continental Africa a newly baptized believer in Jesus. That yeast-like spreading of the Good News has brought us to today, where the church in the 2/3 world is larger than the church in the northern hemisphere! AMAZING. And we can say a hearty thank-you to Barnabas, among so many others, who carried the gospel of Jesus with them and then passed it along to others. May we do the same!

Lord help me to be a Barnabas, a person who overflows with your good news. Help me to be brave and faithful and open to the promptings of your Holy Spirit. Build your church through us, Lord, even as you began it through those early disciples. Thank you, thank you.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Four — HOPE


There is something about a colorful sky that lifts my heart in hope. We have floor-to-ceiling windows across the entire back side of our house and our view is wide and colorful, giving glimpses of city life, the mountains across from us, and a peek at the sea down the hill and to the right. In certain seasons of the year, we have a direct view of the morning sunrise; at other times, we enjoy the sunset. Sometimes, we get to enjoy a bit of both!

This was a spectacular sunrise early in the month of September, a joyous surprise when I rose early to make a trip across the hall to the WC. To say I was stunned is an understatement. It’s been a tough season the last several months — lots of loss in our broader circle of friends and family, and I was feeling tired and discouraged much of the time. 

This view, early in the day, literally caused my heart to lift and my spirit to sing! Yes, there is loss. There is always loss — it’s part of life, it’s part of love. But. BUT, there is always a new day, isn’t there? And sometimes that new day is filled with surprising hope. 

This was one of those days.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Six


Matthew 22:23-33

The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”

Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.

Always trying to trip Jesus up. If it wasn’t the Pharisees, then it was the other important group-within-a-group, the Sadducees. They were the ones interested in ‘the law,’ sometimes described as ‘teachers of the law’ in scripture. And they did not believe in a bodily resurrection. So they decided to hone in on that doctrinal issue and see if they couldn’t stump the teacher.

No such luck. They took a fine point in the law – the levirate marriage succession, wherein a widowed woman became the wife (or the property?) of her former husband’s brother – and came up with the most complicated scenario they could devise, sure that they had finally found a way to make this popular teacher fumble and bumble his way to an answer.

As always, Jesus turns the tables. He didn’t just do it literally, you know. He did it all the time with these pesky questions, and today’s little vignette is a particularly interesting example of that technique. Not only does Jesus affirm his belief in a resurrection, but he fills in some blanks about that transformative new life that awaits us after death. Not sure if this means we’ll be asexual or just unsexual, but it’s surely different from this life, isn’t it? And then he pulls the rug right out from under them and asks, “Why do you keep talking about the resurrection of the dead?? We serve a God of the living!”

And that is just about the finest and simplest expositions of the doctrine of bodily resurrection I’ve ever read anywhere.

Thank you, Lord, for the promise of eternity. We don’t understand it — something we share with the Sadducees of the first century! But we trust that you DO understand it and that you’re speaking truth to these trouble-makers. Thank you for always telling the truth, even when we try our best to trip you up. Thank you for making it simple and for keeping the main thing, the main thing.

31 Days of Paying Attention — DAY THIRTY-ONE!!!

We made it! THIRTY-ONE DAYS IN A ROW. My deep thanks for those who have followed along on this daily journey, and my sad farewell to some who said, ‘enough,’ and unsubscribed. I have really enjoyed this year’s challenge and I hope those of you still reading have enjoyed it, too. Here’s the last one:


Yesterday, we had a party. A really big party. Our church community gathered to celebrate our senior pastor and his wife. They have been with us for eleven good years and yesterday was their last day with us. They’re making a big move, in two parts, to get themselves closer to retirement in a few years. We will miss them very much, but are grateful for their service, commitment, good humor, skill, and love.

A small steering committee gathered to plan this farewell — for which we had only about five weeks notice — and had a grand time figuring out gifts for them that might bring them happy memories of their time with us. We had that photo up there blown up BIG, got a special write-on-able mat for it and then invited everyone to sign it on their way into luncheon and a fun program following our farewell worship service.

We chose this photo because Butterfly Beach became a favorite place for both of them —  especially for Don, who used this glorious spot for his own private swimming hole on a regular basis. They are now heading for work in Minnesota (for him – interim work) and establishing their new, permanent home in North Carolina (for her — a beautiful setting, to be sure . . . but one without a glimpse of the ocean to be found anywhere). 

There were other gifts as well, things we came up with as a group of friends who have tried to pay attention to what moves them, what makes them smile, what brings them a feeling of satisfaction. I hope we paid attention well.

Giving gifts can be a risky thing, you know? We hope we’ve guessed right. But I’ve learned over the years that sometimes that is really tough to do. So money is a fabulous smooth-over-the-unknown-spots kind of gift and we did our best to gather up a bit of that as well. 

Godspeed, Johnsons! We’re grateful for you, we bless you, we send you off with love and thanks.


31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Thirty


The last of our ‘touring quartet’ of would-be poets was a woman I’ve known for the last several years. She is a Catholic nun, currently residing with and caring for her aging father. She is feisty! Smart, efficient, well-organized, she was often the only female in the retreat center where she was the resident director for almost twenty years. That’s how I knew her initially — she was the check-in person when I resided at that Mission retreat center for two weeks each of the two summers I was in training to become a spiritual director. Sister Susan was a no-nonsense, quick-to-smile, energizer bunny in that setting.

And then we were classmates at a writing seminar I went to earlier this year. I hadn’t seen her in about five years and it was an absolute treat to get to know her in an entirely different context. So when I walked into that library at the Museum of Natural History last month, I was delighted that she would be in the same walking group I was.

This tree was her silent selection as we made our way from point to point on our metaphor-seeking journey. Look at it closely and tell me what YOU see there. This is what I saw:

each one a story,
a souvenir
of life,

We all bear scars, don’t we? Life isn’t life without making marks on us, all kinds of marks. I’m working on seeing my particular scars as lovely things, reminders of a lot of living — some of it pleasant, some of it not so much, but all of it . . . GOOD.