Holy Repetition

Psalm 78:1-7 – The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 9, 2014

“I’ll declare riddles from days gone, ones that we’ve heard and learned about, ones that our ancestors told us . . .” (Psalms 78:2)

106098The writer of Psalm 78 wrote, “I’ll declare riddles from days gone, ones that we’ve heard and learned about, ones that our ancestors told us . . .”

And indeed the Bible does repeat (and repeat) those ancestral riddles, stories, parables, and more. How many times are the same stories shared, added to, referenced, and sometimes simply repeated throughout scripture? How often were the Israelites reminded they were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? How often was the exodus referenced? David lived and died, and was never forgotten, in story after story.

Of course, it wasn’t just one person who wrote the Old Testament; instead the hands, hearts, hopes, and hubris from many went in the telling of the tales. The writing and revising of the books in the Biblical “library” took centuries. Even the New Testament, with Paul’s earliest letters likely written in the mid 50s CE and the final parts of the official Christian “canon” occurring well before the end of 200 CE, spanned several lifetimes. Everyone who had anything to do with putting words in the Bible wanted—needed—to include their version of events.

So, stories were repeated.

I’ve read that people need to hear about something at least six times before remembering that “something.” We require repetition for retention. I’m sure there are those who need to be told about a new event but once . . . well, good for them! However, a story repeated sixty times might be inadequate for the rest of us befuddled masses. We are overwhelmed by the endless torrent of new news (or recycled, rehashed, ridiculous junk) in this “information age.”

We often say we hear. But do we? Continue reading →

Doubt Whispers

Matthew 28:16-20 – Trinity Sunday & 1st Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 15, 2014

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)

doubt-300x276Jesus, alone on a mountain with the inner circle of eleven disciples, tells them to, “Make disciples of all the nations.” It’s called the Great Commission. And then Matthew ends.

How did Jesus feel about giving that instruction? Or what did Jesus think about the glaring absence of Judas, the traitor who made the twelve become eleven? Was he confident or nervous about Peter’s leadership? We don’t know, for here—as elsewhere—the Gospel writer doesn’t share much about Jesus’ interior thoughts. Frequently, the faithful reader only knows Jesus’ spoken words. Maybe Jesus’ silence could be called the Gospels’ great omission?

But we do know something about “the eleven” at the end of Matthew.

They worshiped Jesus. The ancient Greek could also be translated as “bowed.” Whether it’s translated into English as the more emotionally charged worship or the physical action of bowing, all of the disciples apparently participated in this final response to the risen Christ.

Along with worshiping/bowing, some of Jesus’ inner circle—maybe ten of the eleven, maybe only one—felt . . . doubt.

All worshiped, some doubted. Continue reading →

The Passenger Side Of A Hearse

Psalm 23 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter – for May 11, 2014

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .” (Psalm 23:1)

Psalm 23 is an old friend, following me throughout my ministry’s journey. Indeed, even before ordination, Psalm 23 frequently starred in Sunday school lessons. As I kid, I might’ve wished for the Lord to act like a cowhand more than shepherd (since my grandparents’ ranch had cattle), but I understood the meanings . . .

How comforting that the Lord is my shepherd.
I easily picture green pastures, imagine still waters.
My cup overflows; goodness and mercy shall follow me.

Still waters...
Still waters…

Psalm 23 is like a favorite pair of jeans.

It’s comfort food, the macaroni-and-cheese of sacred scripture.

How each believer views the psalm’s still waters may be different, but every distinctive memory inspired by the ancient words calms and soothes. In the six spare verses, we can be transported to a favorite beach, to the bend of a placid river, to the view of a mountain lake when the sunset paints the water gold.

*      *      *

In the year after my ordination, I was an intern in a church, a newly minted clergy testing the ministerial waters. Three other full-time pastors served the bustling church. Except for one wedding, my more experienced colleagues celebrated every “I do” event. No one trusted me with a baby (let alone an adult), and I didn’t do a single baptism. I preached once, with my faulty memory recalling it as of those splendid summer Sundays where every preacher was on vacation and guess who’s left to proclaim the good news?

One wedding. One sermon. Zero baptisms . . . but wait! Continue reading →