Monday, February 25, 2019

Being Blessed

We read Jesus' Beatitudes ("Blessings") two Sundays in a row: Once the way they are told in the Gospel of Matthew (5:3-12) and then as they are told by Luke (6:20-26). Both versions have similarities and yet they are quite different. 
Matthew's Jesus blesses those who are "poor in spirit." Luke's blesses "you who are poor." Matthew's Jesus only extends blessings, Luke's also incorporates "woes:" "Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who are laughing now." Fascinating stuff! But also challenging. My interpretation is that Jesus is saying, as long as others are poor and weeping, you cannot be rich and be laughing and still be part of the kingdom of God. That's not God's vision for the world: for some to be well off and others to suffer.
"Woe" to you who are rich and happy means, get on board with the kingdom of God! Become a part of the new world that God wants to build where there is no more poverty and injustice!
It's up to us where we place ourselves in those categories: do we consider ourselves to be poor, or rich? Hungry, or full? Laughing, or weeping? It's also up to us how we respond to these words of comfort that are calls to action at the same time.
Jesus healed people who had all kinds of diseases and were troubled with unclean spirits BEFORE he ever said a word to them. He made them well, and then he spoke. Because he knew they wouldn't be able to hear anything until their suffering had been alleviated.
Jesus wasn't all talk. He walked the walk and talked the talk.
That is my inspiration, my challenge, and my blessing.
However you may interpret the words of the Beatitudes, know that you are blessed. Know that you are loved. Know that you are a blessing. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


We just celebrated Valentine's Day and I hope you got to enjoy time with someone you love.
I did, and I'm incredibly grateful for the people I have in my life that love me and support me.

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays that can be exclusive. It's only for people who have a date, a lover, a romantic connection. Or at least someone, anyone who loves them!
But for those who don't, it hurts. It hurts to see hearts and roses and chocolate and happy faces. It hurts to be lonely, to feel left out, to not be acknowledged or appreciated. It hurts not to have anyone say to you, "I love you. You are special to me."
I struggle with that: How to acknowledge that this is a special day for a lot of people, how to share their joy, and still not make it even more painful for those for whom it is already a difficult day. The same is true for Christmas: a time most celebrate with family and friends. But for those who just buried their husband, or lost their daughter to suicide, or haven't spoken to their brother in years - for them, Christmas is hard and painful.
How do we celebrate the special occasions in the life of the church without pouring salt in the wounds of those who are hurting? 
When we plan events for people of all ages because we want everyone to come together: We want to be a place where people from different generations connect and grow and have fun. How do we invite families and couples without making those who live alone feel excluded? 

You may be rolling your eyes and thinking, well, you just can't make everybody happy.
I know that. I experience that all the time. But isn't it our calling as the church, not so much to make everybody happy, but at least not to hurt those who are already hurt? To be a little more compassionate towards those that we may think are "too sensitive?" 
We just read the Beatitudes in worship on Sunday, from Matthew 5:2-12: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." 
As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to comfort those who mourn. We are called to be merciful, and pure in heart, and to make peace. None of this is possible without compassion. (Which, if you ask me, is just another way of saying LOVE.)

So at the risk of making things complicated or difficult for those who just want to celebrate their favorite holiday, I will err on the side of love. I will include in my celebrations, in my preaching, my writing, and my prayers, those who cannot celebrate. 
It's what Jesus taught me to do. 

Monday, February 11, 2019


There's a passage in the Bible where Jesus preaches in his hometown Nazareth. People are happy to see him, they are proud of him. But then, after he tells them what God really sent him to do, they chase him out of town and almost drive him off a cliff. (Read the story in Luke 4:16-30.)
They don't want to hear what he has to say. Because he tells them that sometimes God chooses foreigners over the ones who consider themselves to be God's favorites. God chooses the poor over the rich, the oppressed over the oppressors. And while that is good news for the poor and the oppressed, it is bad news for the rich and the oppressors. 
It's been almost 2000 years since Jesus preached that sermon. Millions and millions of Christians all over the world claim to follow his teachings. And yet... A small percentage of people (many of them self-proclaimed Christians!) own the majority of wealth in our world, while a large number can't afford nutritious food, healthcare or education. The wealthy benefit from certain parts of the population remaining oppressed and poor (depending on what country you're looking at this could be immigrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, people of color, women, children, LGBTQ folk, and many others.) 
Really? 2000 years we've been supposedly following this Jesus and we've only moved further away from the good news he came to proclaim. How did we miss this message of his that is so abundantly clear?

Honestly, if people had taken Jesus' message seriously and actually tried to live by it, Christianity would still be a small minority. Maybe it wouldn't even exist anymore. Because who would want to give up their wealth, their freedom, their privilege just because some carpenter's son said so? 
And yet we call that carpenter's son our Savior. 
Which he is. But his mission was not to save us from hell and eternal damnation. That was an instrument used by the religious institution, the church, to instill fear in people and keep them under control. What Jesus really came to save us from was greed, power, bigotry, and selfishness. 
And we need that salvation today more than ever before.
What can you do? Do what Jesus did. Speak uncomfortable, even provocative truths about the injustices of our society. Educate yourself about the life of marginalized people. Share what you have learned. Don't be afraid to offend. Jesus wasn't! 
Maybe things had to go from bad to worse so we would finally see that something needs to change. And it needs to begin with us. It's time we really started to follow Jesus. 
What will you do?

Monday, February 4, 2019


Yesterday we celebrated "Sonshine Sunday," appreciating the light that Jesus, the Son of God, brings into our lives. We wore bright colors, sang songs about light and had ice cream. Because as the winter drags on, the cold and lack of light can get our spirits down.We thought about the Maori proverb: "Turn your face toward the sun and the shadows fall behind you." The light of Jesus, the light of God is there, even when we cannot see it or feel it.
I'm not denying that shadows exist. We have reason for grave concern. One that came to my mind as I was thinking about the sun and its powers to warm, give light, but also to destroy, was climate change. We're witnessing extremes like we never have before: severe cold in some parts of the world while others are experiencing extreme drought or flooding. Thousands of people are losing their homes, their sources of income, their lives. The effects of climate change will lead to mass migration of people from parts of the world that are no longer habitable.
While I did not mention this during worship yesterday it has been on my mind and we can't afford to remain silent about it. This is a real threat to all life on this planet. If we keep living the way we have been it is certain that life on this planet will be very different 50 years from now.
I don't have a solution but I cannot pretend this problem isn't real.
When people come into my office they comment on how I am all bundled up wearing wrist warmers, a scarf, two sweaters. I refuse to turn the heat up because I don't want to add to the amount of harmful carbon dioxides we are emitting into our atmosphere. I avoid short trips in my car for the same reason. If I have somewhere to go I try to combine it with an errand I need to run. I take reusable cups and water bottles everywhere I go. I always get my drink without a straw and bring my own container for my leftovers. And I never accept a plastic bag when shopping. Sound inconvenient? Yes. Do other people sometimes look at me like I'm from outer space? Yes. But it's worth it to me. Recycling is no longer enough. The amounts of energy needed to recycle plastic add to our carbon dioxide emissions and the warming of the planet (not to mention the large amounts of plastic that are non-recyclable and end up in the ocean, destroying sea life).
These are all just small things but they remind me every day that I don't want to pollute this planet. I don't want to leave behind a mountain of trash and death and destruction for those who come after me.
What will you do?
The Son, Jesus, said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). What that means to me is he gives hope and he wants life. He also said, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). The world needs you, the world needs us. Life is so fragile. Life is a gift from God. Someone's got to protect it. What will you do?