Easy Like A Sunday Morning

I Thessalonians 2:9-13 – The 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 2, 2014

“We preached God’s good news to you, while we worked night and day so we wouldn’t be a burden to you . . .” (I Thessalonians 2:9)

church5Seminary professors taught me that I Thessalonians represented the New Testament’s earliest writing. Paul’s letters to Thessalonica occurred years before the four Gospels were even started. Revelation wasn’t a glimmer in John’s feverish dreams when Paul conveyed his thoughts to the city by the Thermaïkos Gulf. Though Romans is the first of Paul’s New Testament letters, I recall learning (thanks again, long-ago seminary professors) that the murky decisions creating the Christian canon positioned Paul’s writings on length: from longest to shortest. The Greek community read Paul’s sparse notes as much as a decade before the Romans received their wordy epistle.

But I could be wrong. What do I know?

In the years since seminary, I’ve preached and taught and baptized babies and octogenarians and complained about district superintendents and took leaves of absences and married hundreds of men and women and buried hundreds more and attended 2,437 meetings and stumbled into a campus ministry position and started a new church and held hands in countless hospitals and had 5,692 people tell me they appreciated my swell offer to serve on a committee but no-thanks-not-this-year and became a hospice chaplain and sat by rented beds in living rooms as tearful sons bathed dying fathers and weary wives dribbled morphine into their husband’s open, parched lips and led youth through confirmation classes and hiked with kids as young as 7 and adults as old as 70 and all of them—wise and foolish, giddy and afraid—experienced mountains for the first time.

So, while being preoccupied with the minutia of my modest ministry, maybe a passel of professors have discerned that the Book of Hebrews or John’s Gospel was actually written prior to I Thessalonians. Perhaps Romans was first in the batting order of Paul’s letters because it’s been discovered—since I survived seminary—that a drunk monk in 400 CE rearranged a dusty scroll and moved Romans from last to first. Continue reading →

Visiting Drove Me Batty

I wonder . . . what makes visiting church members so difficult?

Maybe visiting is easy for you (and therefore I’ve already begun to resent you), but it drove me batty. Hospital and emergency visits? No problem. Follow-up on the first-time worship visitor? Easy enough. But it was the general visiting, the checking-in with people that was like soap scum on my to-do list. I’d try to clean the list up, but more visiting lingered.

Was e-mailing an appropriate “visit?” Was a phone call sufficient?

If you’re not a pastor reading this, and therefore on the other side of the door/computer/phone, what do you think? (Don’t worry, your pastor never reads this blog…)

In every church I served, large or small, I could identify folks I “should” regularly visit. Some things worked for a while . . . I made a database and tracked my progress . . . I had my secretary call and make appointments. But most things never succeeded. I know one reason why visiting seemed a struggle. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s LEAVING CHURCH she reflected on people she never knew at the last church she served. At a farewell party . . .

I wound up with a couple I had always thought I would enjoy but whom I never really got to know since they did not serve on any committees and were never, as far as I knew, in crisis. … I did not wonder why I had not sought them out earlier because I already knew the answer. By my rules, caring for troubled people always took precedence over enjoying delightful people, and the line of troubled people never ended. Sitting there with corn stuck between my teeth, I wondered why I had not changed that rule sooner.

It was the same for me. How do we balance the never-ending “troubled” visits with the “delightful?” Or can we?  What do you do?

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 →