Cup Of Coffee, Anyone?

Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 18, 2011

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses…” (Exodus 16:2)

Books have always been an essential part of my life. In my youth I read about dogs and cried (like Lad: A Dog). I read political thrillers and stayed up late until finished (like Seven Days in May). I devoured adult novels and scorned kid’s comic books (James Michener’s 1,000 pager The Source but not Superman, please and thank you).

As a young teen, I unwrapped a birthday present from Mom and Dad. They knew my desire. Not just a book, but the Book.

My first "adult" Bible...

Adam and Eve’s sly reach for fruit. That terrible flood and Noah’s heroic boat building. Abraham leaving home, headed for the unknown, trusting God. The baby Moses plucked from the Nile. David slaying Goliath. Jesus born in Bethlehem on a starry, starry night. Mary Magdalene’s early morning walk to the tomb. Paul, struck from his saddle, soon harnessed by God’s call. The Bible seemed chock-full of saints with gumption and grit.

And yet, as I matured, and kept reading, I realized there was more than gumption and grit displayed by those populating the Bible’s pages. There were grumblers.

Which eventually made me appreciate the Bible more. As a child, I wanted heroes. As an adult, I sought honesty.

When I regularly preached, few Sundays didn’t include referencing one of the essential stories of the Bible: the exodus. It’s a history lesson, a journey story, a rallying cry and an enduring metaphor. Even if I didn’t directly mention the exodus, I wanted listeners to be freed from bondage to Pharaoh, knowing the ancient oppressors of Egypt were not unlike the modern “slave masters” of racism or sexism or commercialism. There are endless ways for people to be shackled. The exodus also informed my counseling with individuals. Guilt or self-doubt enslaved a person. I knew they (and I) needed to start a personal exodus, leaving a past, braving a future.

With grit and gumption, to be inspired by God’s call to freedom.

What have you unnecessarily grumbled about?

But don’t forget the grumblers and grumbling. Continue reading →

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Mathematics of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 – the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 11, 2011

“. . . how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

In Matthew 18:21, the disciple Peter ponders forgiving another seven times. In Matthew 18:22*, Jesus challenged Peter—and therefore us—to forgive seventy-seven times.

Ah-oh. Note the asterisk by 22. Don’t race to the bottom of these words to find what it refers to . . . I’ll deal with it now. Almost every Bible has a footnote or asterisk linked to Matthew 18:22 because different ancient manuscripts, and different ways of interpreting Greek, lead to a different number. Instead of forgiving another seventy-seven times, Jesus may have exhorted Peter to forgive seven times seventy. Gulp. Take a breath. Now do the math. How many times should I be prepared to declare, “I forgive you?”

7 x 70 = 490


10 down, 480 to go.

Jesus must have been kidding, right? He exaggerated, used hyperbole. It’s all about shock value.

In the faithful mathematics of forgiveness, whether the answer to Peter’s question is 77 or 490, there’s always a crucial, single number at the start . . .


Me. You. One nation. A corporation. Every giving or receiving of forgiveness will begin because an individual or an institution steps forward and truthfully says, “I forgive you.”

And yet, if one person doesn’t begin . . . Continue reading →

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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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