Scares The ____ Out Of Me

Matthew 18:15-20 – 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 4, 2011

“If another member of the church sins against you…” (Matthew 18:15

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20) has been a source of great strength for me. It reassures that a handful of people can make a difference.

When I attended seminary in the mid-1970s, I never heard the term “megachurch.” By the 1990s, it seemed commonplace, a go-to description for congregations with 2,000 or more in weekly worship attendance. Megachurches were likened to shopping malls. Size matters. Choice matters. The bigger the better.

The bigger are better. Really?

Nearly every pastor I’ve known would love to preach to thousands on a Sunday morning. However, for many it doesn’t matter how open they are to God’s guidance, their church won’t become a booming megachurch. Often the reason’s as simple as the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. Some churches were once perfectly positioned in a neighborhood . . . then a new freeway made access a maze of wrong turns and dead ends.

But nearly every pastor I’ve known—whether preaching to twenty or two thousand—relishes moments in a hospital room or a supermarket aisle that become a transformational encounter with another. Christ is present! In the hospital, hands are held and prayers are whispered and honest fears are shared. In that supermarket aisle, a pastor learns from a woman about her miscarriage. It was her secret until that moment. Both had their shopping lists of juice and a loaf of bread and then, because two or three have gathered, God’s grace allows for a private hurt to become a burden shared and a hope to be glimpsed.

And yet there’s a raggedy edge to “where two or more are gathered.” The verses leading to Matthew 18:20 also trouble me. They are sharp fingernails on the chalkboard of the soul. When Jesus speaks in the 18th chapter, the Nazarene cautions about one person sinning against another. What you must do, so says Matthew’s Jesus, is “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”

Frankly, this suggestion scares the ______ out of me. (Every day I clean up something my dog deposits in the backyard and it’s an awful lot like that blank space . . . see, I can be polite.)

It’s one thing to sit beside others and prayerfully support them. To listen to them, guessing they’ve rarely had anyone take the time to hear their story. To speak with them, giving them the simple gifts of honest praise and trusting support.

Where are you so “right” that it’s hard for you to learn from and listen to another?

But how can I confront another when they’ve “sinned” against me? Continue reading →

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K is for . . .


There’s a well-known painting of Jesus knocking on a door. Did I first see it in Sunday school or at home? Maybe both.

Regardless of when or where I saw it, I understood it from a child’s perspective: Jesus would keep knocking until the person opened the door. Persistence. Commitment. Urgency. It was a good Sunday school lesson, almost as compelling as those happy paintings of children sitting on Jesus’ lap.

As an adult, I wonder more about the painting’s perspective.

If I’m the observer, I’m watching the Nazarene at work from my comfortable distance. Good for good old two-dimensional Jesus, I hope he gets that stubborn person inside to open up.

I can also easily imagine being on the inside, pretending the knocking is only branches clacking in the wind. Or it’s those mean kids from next door, smacking baseball bats against a fence. I convince myself it’s unsafe outside; it’s smarter to stay inside. I’ll just turn up the TV’s volume and drown the irritating noise.

The old painting was right about one thing: he’s persistent. For me, Jesus is a defiant example challenging the part of me that prefers to let someone else do God’s work. Jesus is also a compassionate example nudging me to acknowledge where I’ve built walls between others and myself.

Jesus keeps knocking.

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Z is for . . .


A few years back I took an official sabbatical from church. It represented a step away from serving full-time as a pastor and a step toward writing as the focus of my ministry.

How much money would I earn for taking this leap of faith? At first, nothing. Zero. Later? Perhaps double or triple nothing!

In the months that followed my announcement to leave the parish, kind church folks asked what I’d do with my time. My standard reply was, “Nothing.”

How flippant. How true.

Every form of creative expression begins with nothing. There is no outward music until the inward sounds nudge (or elbow) the composer. A dance floor remains empty, filled with space to be defined by an initial spin or jump. A preacher turns from studying the comforting (or troubling) pages of the Bible to a sermon hoped for (or dreaded), but either way, it’s not yet there. A novelist, about to plunge into the marathon of writing and rewriting 100,000 words, contemplates a blank yellow legal pad or a lonely cursor blinking on a monitor as vast as the Pacific.

The Biblical story opens with a zero. Chaos. A void. A waiting. Awaiting. Every form of creative expression begins with nothing and then . . .

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