Which Comes First?

You are an egret on a gloomy day in the San Joaquin Valley.

Which, for me at that very particular moment, felt the same as, “You are the light of the world.”

(Photo from - Creative Commons / Mehmet Karatay)

On a recent morning, I’d read the snippet from Matthew on “the light of the world,” a passage I’ve used with sermons, Bible study, and—in deeply private ways—for my prayer life.

Hours later, while pedaling through a park, I glanced right, abruptly squeezed my brakes, and came to a complete stop. An egret stood, still as a statue, in the middle of the field. Behind, vehicles rumbled by on a busy street. Beyond the roadway, suburban homes sprawled, backyards jammed together, and endless driveways poured more cars into the Fresno-area roads. Above and around me, low clouds dulled the day, creating a vase expanse of monotonous, relentless gray.

The 5th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 6, 2011

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

The egret, a magnificent bird with feathers as white as fresh snow, remained immobile. It seemed, in that dreary cold, like “the light of the world.”

Alive. Glowing. Phosphorus.

I stood, watching. I pray for my faith to be that bright. That metaphor. That truth. To be, if only for a handful of others, if only once or twice in a lifetime, alive and glowing and phosphoric enough so that those others may see my, in Matthew’s words, “good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

I wish all of us would remember that we are the light of the world, that we are called to shine forth with beauty and mercy. It’s awful hard these days to “shine forth” with the divides between red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, angry Biblical literalists and people like Christopher Hitchens and his God Is Not Great atheism. On too many days, the world seems roiling with hate and spoiling for a fight. What difference can I make? What difference can you make? Continue reading →

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You Be The Judge

Did I pass or fail the test of my own making? You be the judge.

However, before judging me, maybe you’ll join me.

This week I read the extraordinarily familiar beatitudes. They are the first notes, a kind of fanfare, to the symphony of Matthew’s fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, also known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” After reading the eight beatitudes—or are there nine?—I wondered: “What if tomorrow, I tried to recall all the ‘tudes?” Since I was the teacher setting the rules for me the student, I made sure I didn’t look at Matthew again and also decided to give myself a minute (tick, tick, tick) to jot down what I remembered.

The 4th Sunday after Epiphany – for January 30, 2011

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying . . .  (Matthew 5:1-2)

Decision time for you! If you think you know the blessings Jesus spoke of in Matthew . . . quickly turn from your computer and list them right now. Don’t dawdle. And it’s not an open book test. Then come back and see how well, or how poorly, I did.

First, let’s confront the “tude” count. Most scholarly types claim eight. They stop at verse ten and the “blessed are those who are persecuted . . .” But isn’t there one more blessing? Sure it’s repetitive (another reference to persecution), but verse eleven does begin with “Blessed are . . .” and also adds a unique twist. Let’s go with nine. Continue reading →

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Head Case

About twenty seconds into a twenty-mile bike ride, I thought, this is foolish.

The mid-40s temperature lowered dramatically when I started the ride because cyclists create their own wind chill factor. Brrrr! Good news: the streets were dry. Bad news: California’s San Joaquin Valley has Tule fog, and looks like a soup tureen filled with thin gruel. The good news about the bad news was the fog wasn’t terrible on the day I shidled* for about an hour.

Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – for January 23, 2011

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… (I Corinthians 1:18)

Ah, but the day before, that was a foolish day. In the final moments of my wife’s winter break from teaching we cross-country skied. We wanted to put the San Joaquin’s Valley’s dismal fog in our rear view mirror. We selected the snow-covered road that led to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove for our adventure. Two miles down this road awaited the fabled sequoias. Just. Two. Miles. Alas, since California’s had a zillion inches of moisture in the last month, the snow depth on the usually pleasant road rivaled the Sahara Desert’s sand dunes. But freezing! Brrrr! I fell. Often. Several times, in the endless, powdery snow, I feared I might drown if I wasn’t careful.

Here I am, shidling.*

Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.

See that picture of me on my two-wheeler? I may look like a dork, and I may be a fool to pedal in the winter, but do you notice how good my hair looks? No. You don’t. When I bike, my helmet’s strapped on. Of the 714 bicycle-related deaths in the United States during 2008, 616 (86%) of those cyclists were helmetless. Boys and girls, don your dorky headgear!

Here’s another stirring statistic: approximately 40% of the body’s heat “escapes” from the head. Your noggin will “lose” more heat while struggling in cold conditions than arms, legs, and derriere combined. And so, even though I fell early and often on the snow-choked road to the Big Trees (which on that day I never saw), I was also a mostly toasty lad. I wore a cap. My ears were covered.

Don’t call me no fool! I guard my thinning follicles and vanishing brain cells. If I fall off my bike, I’ll probably be able to talk about it the next day. When the wind howls across the Sierra ridges, I’ll adjust my comfy hat and bravely smile.

In my physical activity, I’m good at protecting my head. And yet, in my spiritual life, my head often gets in my way.

I read Paul’s statement in I Corinthians—the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God—and smile. What a clever use of words he has. And then I cringe. If Christians are fools for Christ’s sake, I will often do everything possible to avoid looking faithfully foolish.

I prefer to think about God. Me? I’ll read the Bible. Or I’ll read scholarly insights about the Bible. Or I’ll even read commentary about commentary about the Bible. It’s all so, well, interesting to ponder what I’ve read about God. And safe. Continue reading →

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