And Then Jacob Did

Genesis 28:10-19a – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 20, 2014

“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” (Genesis 28:15)

"Jacob’s Ladder" by Albert Huthusen
“Jacob’s Ladder” by Albert Huthusen

Jacob battled his brother Esau in the womb, later ripped off his brother’s birthright, and then tricked their father Isaac into blessing the younger Jacob instead of the elder—and expected—Esau. After Jacob’s deceit, Esau plotted revenge, declaring he’d kill his younger brother. Isaac’s paternal solution to this sibling rivalry was to encourage Jacob to get outta Dodge. Dear Dad, such the pillar of the Judeo-Christian tradition, suggested that Jacob vamoose for the relative safety of Uncle Laban’s haven in Haran.

Jacob, preferring to be on the run rather than be run down by Esau, heeded his father’s unimaginative advice.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned God?

Which is not to say God wasn’t in these verses. But the Holy, the One who set creation in motion, the One who sent Abraham toward the promised land, the One who vowed to Abraham and Sarah they’d children, the One who fulfilled that vow in Isaac, was ignored by Jacob.

Isaac’s younger son didn’t reference God. Didn’t encounter God. Didn’t fear or love or call upon God.

And then Jacob did. Continue reading →

Jesus’ Teachings Are Too Hard

John 6:56-69 – 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 26, 2012

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)

Since it’s only you and me, I want to honestly reveal a few thoughts about my Christian faith.

Sometimes I think myself a:

Yes also . . . a doubter.

These insights were easily triggered after reading John 6:63-64, where Jesus supposedly announced, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [Here comes the verse that makes me gulp.] But among you there are some who do not believe.”

Soon after these verses in John’s Gospel, many of Jesus’ followers drifted away. Left. Vamoosed. However, speaking for the terrific twelve, the disciple Peter stayed, reassuring Jesus about their belief and commitment to the Nazarene’s words and way.

Good for you guys! It’s swell to have buds that’ll stick with you through thick and thin, when the going gets tough, as the storm clouds gather and . . .

. . . Oops. You and I know the whole story. Twelve brief chapters later, with Jesus under the imperial thumb of Rome, boastful Peter will mumble he’s never heard of Mary and Joseph’s first-born (John 18:25-27). For our friend Peter, the shelf life of belief had expired.

And yes, the wayward fisherman, the brother of Andrew, the Peter who becomes the “rock” of the church, will stage a comeback.

Still, there are those passages, scattered in the Gospels like landmines, where both unnamed and famously named disciples skulk off into the night. Jesus’ words were too hard. Jesus’ ways of confronting powerful institutions, and challenging an individual’s weaknesses, demanded more commitment than seemed humanly possible. Continue reading →

What’s Your Favorite Verse?

Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

I was thinking of that question after meeting with a family to plan an upcoming memorial service. One of my “standard” questions for a family’s funeral preparation is to ask about any special readings from the Bible, or other sources, they’d like to include in the ceremony.

Sometimes I get a quick answer. Often, it’s the obvious: Psalm 23.

Occasionally it’s popular, like the non-scriptural account of walking along the beach with God (or Jesus), but seeing only one set of sand-marked footsteps. Google “footsteps” and “beach” and “God” and you’ll find a host of versions, and a confusion of sources, for that reading. A few years ago, in a month with three or four memorial services, I remember at least two different requests for the “footsteps on the beach” reading. The requests came from people of extraordinarily different backgrounds. But, each in their own way, the words had mattered to those individuals and families.

On rare occasions, I’ve been handed the deceased person’s Bible and it’s very clear, on a well-worn page with an underlined verse, or a faded newspaper clipping tucked into the pages, what held meaning for them. Equally rare, a member of the family voices the hope that a favorite reading of theirs is included. With these choices, the Bible competes with the likes of Kahil Gibran, Oprah Winfrey and Buddha.

Most typically, the family has no “favorite” to suggest. They look at me and basically say, “You choose.” Continue reading →