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 →

But He Looks Back

Exodus 3:1-15 – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 28, 2011

“. . . and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’” (Exodus 3:13)

With sandals again strapped to his feet, did Moses gaze back toward the burning bush after his encounter with the Holy?

You know what happened in the fiery confrontation between Moses and God. Aren’t we grateful Cecil B. DeMille happened to be there with his camera crew and Charlton Heston conveniently served as a body double for the handsome Jewish shepherd? (As an alternative to Mr. Heston, I’ve placed an interesting YouTube link at the end.)

Whether possessing deep faith or no belief, whether a Christian, Jew, Muslim or even if you’re the solitary member of the church of Me-Myself-and-I, you know something about a desert shrub that flames couldn’t consume.

The sacred chat between God and Moses wasn’t short, covering most of chapters 3 and 4 in Exodus. Once Moses removed his sandals, his best and worst sides were revealed. He’s a clever enough fellow and talked God into revealing the divine name. And yet he also whined about how he couldn’t speak well—even as he speaks well to the Holy Flame—and implied the Lord God Almighty should choose a sweeter-tongued servant to deliver the Children of Israel from bondage.

You know this.

You can thumb through your Bible and “read all about it.” Or you can watch a clip from the TEN COMMANDMENTS, feel slightly guilty for taking the easy route, but could still convey the basics of the Holy/human chat beside a glowing plant.

What is a nickname you have (or had) that reveals something about you?

This is the moment of Moses’ call. What will he do when confronted with a new path, a new task, a new way of seeing himself? Will he acknowledge his gifts and God’s invitation? Moses in this moment is every person. This passage is not anchored to one religion or one period of time. Are you engaged in what brings you great joy? In my first year of seminary, a fellow student declared, “You better feel the call to ministry. Do you really want to serve God?” He asked those questions with more conviction than any of the clergy who were on the endless committees guiding my ordination process. But it’s not a question unique for clergy. You better feel the call to teach, fix cars, defend clients, drive a bus, raise a child, sell stocks, repair toilets, insert catheters. Whatever it is you do, do you want to do it? Have you seen the burning bush, or are you still wandering in the wilderness, eyes averted, life avoided? This question should haunt us. Honestly answering it dares us to declare who we are. Continue reading →

A ? Is Shaped Like A Hook

Matthew 16:13-20 – 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 21, 2011

“But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

The Bible offers a multitude of questions. Each generation hears them anew. They invite answers, but even more reveal the depths of our faith. Or doubt. Or fear. Or hope.

“Where are you?” God asks Adam and Eve in the mythic grandeur of Eden. Before Adam replies, does he swipe the forbidden fruit’s juice still dribbling down his chin?

“What is his name? What shall I say to them?” Moses demands. Coarse sand pinches his naked feet, and it takes all his courage not to retreat from the burning bush. Does Moses gulp, throat parched, between the two questions he poses to God as he seeks the Holy Name? Moses is, after all, caught between the divine call and the ever-grumbling Israelites.

“Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s request wasn’t a proper query. But I hear an anguished plea. Near Easter morning’s empty tomb, eyes literally open and yet figuratively closed, she first assumes Jesus is merely a gardener. What has been done with him?

These ancient longings rise from the mouths of fools and saints, of the weary and the wary, and yet seem . . . just asked, as if whispered in your ear. It’s like a question mark, its top shaped like a shepherd’s crook, reaches across the millennia to encircle us, drawing us closer to the Holy, challenging us to be honest with our faith. Our doubt. Our fear. Our hope.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you have favorite questions asked in oft-read verses. Some always challenge you, because they expect such truthful answers. If you don’t give a damn about the Bible, there are still profound questions you ask about faith—though you might scorn words like faith or religion. I’ll make two guesses about your questions. First, you too will struggle to truthfully answer them. Second, somewhere in the Bible, a peasant or a king has also posed your deepest questions.

Questions embolden us. Questions take our breath away. The curve of the hook tightens against our chest and draws us nearer to the Holy.

I wonder . . . would you answer Jesus’ question differently now than, say, ten years ago?

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples (Matthew 16:15).

And asks us. Asks me. Asks you. Continue reading →