Monday, August 27, 2007

when diy doesn't go so well

The prophet Jeremiah (like most prophets, really) has harsh words for the people. That is, harsh words from God for the people who God has tried to love and care for so well. (Not to mention that whole "brought them out of slavery in Egypt" bit...)

But God names two "evils" they've chosen, in this week's passage: forsaking God's "life-giving water," and trying to make cisterns for themselves.

Maybe it's my independent, do-it-myself streak, but this hits home. In choose to make our own way without God, we end up stumbling twice. First, by turning away from God, and then, because our own attempts to do God-stuff on our own come out pretty faulty. Cracked cisterns, Jeremiah said.

I've been thinking about this. I have a vision for an ad campaign that would target cars parked in the Ikea lot (if only I didn't hate the idea of leaflets on windshields so much): church is for all those times with do-it-yourself gets lonely. Or for all the things in life that can't be flat-packaged.

(Of course, I'm also infatuated with Ikea's pictographs that illustrate many things, from assembly instructions to warnings on flammable objects. If only we had more pictographs in church. But, again, I digress...)

So much in our world tells us that we can have the perfect life if we just buy the right things, or achieve the right status.

Jeremiah reminds us that our attempts at making the stuff that really matters are going to look pretty half-baked. (They won't hold water, to run with his metaphors.)

And then, this Sunday's gospel lesson continues to make this point: if we think we can be cool by inviting the right people, or positioning ourselves in just the right spot, we're sadly misguided. In Jesus' kingdom, the winners are those who humble themselves, and the thing to do is to invite the people who are least cool.

Actually, Jesus says to invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind," which, in his time, would all have been people unable to participate fully in community, and about whom people made all sorts of assumptions about their being sinful people. I wonder who most fits this bill in the culture of our community, and our church. Perhaps we should invite folks with prison records, addicted to drugs, or who lack legal documentation and immigrated here illegally? Or perhaps we should invite people whose politics are contrary to our own? Or who suffer from mental illness?

When we do a good job of welcoming all God's children--of inviting them to the best party we can throw--then maybe we'll find ourselves in the midst of God's kindgom.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

stand up

This week's scripture is a story of a healing. And standing back up, tall.

This image, of Jesus urgently attending to a woman who has been bent over for 18 long years, strikes me as a lot like how I feel.

It's like this: I'll let something weigh me down or keep me captive for a good long time and then, as if all of a sudden, I'll be ready to change. I remember that it doesn't have to be this way. And then the healing is urgent.

I wonder if that's what was going on in this woman, and if Jesus could see that. (This might help explain why he felt it important to break Sabbath law in order to heal. I mean, what's one more day when it's already been eighteen years?)

All of which means I have two songs running through my head, which I cast out there. Maybe one is your kind of music:
Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up"
and Sugarland's "Stand Back Up"

Bob got the piece about Jesus' grace being meant for this world. When you realize Jesus wants us to know the kingdom on earth as in heaven, you're suddenly ready to make it happen now.

We sick an tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin n goin to heaven in-a jesus name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty God is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you cant fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do? ),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Sugarland gets the personal courage it takes to say: it doesn't have to be like this, and I want to do what I can to make a change for the better. Then, healing can happen.

I've been beaten up and bruised,
I've been kicked right off my shoes,
Been down on my knees more times than youd believe,
When the darkness tries to get me,
Theres a light that just wont let me,
It might take my pride, and my tears may fill my eyes,
But I'll stand back up...

What are you ready to be set free from, so YOU can stand up, tall?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


A confession: I'm a little bit afraid that my obsession with gardening is making my sermons too agricultural.

But, then, there are those scripture passages. This week, I'm caught on the poetry of Isaiah, who writes a heartbroken love song about a vineyard. This piece of Isaiah brings us another image of God, a bit reminiscent of last week's. Then, God was worn out by our hypocrisy, and sick to the stomach for the ways we make elaborate show of our religion but fail to care for people in need in our midst.

This week, Isaiah continues, using the metaphor of God as a vineyard-owner who lovingly planted and prepared his vines, only to discover that they bore bitter grapes. Wild grapes.

And, even with my fears (see above), I can't resist this agricultural image. I give thanks for God having tended to us and our world. And I, too, have tasted those bitter grapes.

If you were interpreting this passage (follow the link and check it out yourself), what would you say these metaphors describe in our own time? How has God "tended" to us? What are our "wild grapes"? And, what would be good grapes?

Sinead O'Connor sings this passage on her new album, "Theology." The track is "If You Had a Vineyard." Check it out. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I know I'm a bit of an idealist, but I'm always energized by scripture like this week's passage from Luke. Especially the bits about how we can live in community. Sharing in a commonwealth, if you will. Not just because it's good now, but because it connects us to God. Because it makes us ready for God's kingdom, which is coming at any moment.

(I also like the part about making "purses that don't wear out," because I've been imagining up some handbags I could craft out of recycled cloth. But I think that's missing the point. I digress...)

Certainly, remembering that "where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also" is good self-analysis.

I wonder what you'd learn about my faith by looking at my bank statement. Or credit card bill. Or what a careful analysis of how I spend the hours of my day would tell you about how Jesus has my heart.

I don't mean to get too pushy or uncomfortably confrontational. We're not supposed to talk about money, I know.

But I have this sense--this dream--that thinking and talking about these things more clearly might free us from a lot of heartache. Might remind us that there's a better, more life-giving way to live than can be purchased with the right level of income.

I read a story in the New York Times this week about millionaries in Silicon Valley who feel like they need to keep working 80-hour weeks because they're not rich enough. Makes you wonder.

Perhaps remembering the things that make our lives rich, the things we share together, might release us from a whole lot of drudgery that is making us miserable.

What makes your life rich?