Come on

Christ of the Breadlines, a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg

To people of significant religious and political power, Jesus said:

“People will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom.” (Luke 13:29)

While at a party hosted by a man who enjoyed significant religious and political power, Jesus said:

“When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.'” (Luke 14:12-14)

Welcome the people who can’t pay you back, require the most need for the most resources, and are most often excluded–that’s the point of Jesus story told in a context of power. It would do society good if the Church would listen to Jesus rather than find reasons (and other programs) not to.

Because Jesus chose to welcome us, even when we could have remained excluded, we must choose to welcome others, especially those most often excluded.

Come on Church. Let’s do better. Relinquish some programs. Takes risks. Extend God’s hospitality and generosity to those who need it most. Let’s learn to love. We have the Spirit of Christ and the resources of God’s kingdom.

And Pastors, let’s model the lives we proclaim. Say no to some church folk so you can say yes to marginalized folk. Take courage and call the Church to join you and meet Jesus in the margins where the excluded are found. If they don’t want to, fine. Maybe they’ll eventually come around. If not, I assure you they’ll find dozens of other churches to join where they can remain comfortable and complacent (and I don’t say this lightly). As for you and me, let’s obey Jesus and trust him with the consequences.

The city to which God has called us needs us to.

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The Contrast

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Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

This morning I was reminded that throughout the stories of Jesus (the Gospels) there is a contrast between those who are well-integrated in society but are too busy and those who are excluded from society and have too much time. (Thank you Jean Vanier.)

Maybe Jesus knew that those whose lives were deeply connected to the norms of society–good jobs, well educated, a measure of influence and privilege–would be too invested in the lives they’ve already built than to consider rebuilding. No wonder he didn’t travel to cities like Tiberias, a wealthy city on the western shore of Galilee, or spend much time networking in other centers of power. Maybe Jesus knew that they were too preoccupied with the promises made by the Roman Dream.

Instead Jesus travels to the cities where the poor and marginalized are found. He spends time with those society called “sinners.” Their dreams were up for negotiation because their standing in society offered them little power and privilege to pursue them. The only government willing to let them dream again and welcome them to the center of blessing was the one Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

It makes me stop and ask, who will I become and what kind of life am I building?

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You Are Loved

As you journey into your week, don’t forget that you are loved by a triune God, an eternal community of three distinct Persons of diverse participation in faithful self-giving love and perfect unity (what a mouthful!). There are three simple implications to this beautiful truth.

You are made in the image of our triune God, so you are made for relationship. Don’t allow sin to create isolation or division in your life or in your relationship with others. Our society misguidedly prioritizes the individual over community. Don’t give into the temptation to elevate yourself to the point to isolating yourself. The triune God as eternal community and communion opens outward to invite us into his life.

As one made in the image of our triune God, you are made for self-giving participation. The Father gives himself, the Son gives himself, and the Spirit gives himself, all for our good and as a signpost to the Lordship of Jesus. As the Father gives us the Son who gives us the Spirit who gives us God’s presence, he summons us to join him in this beautiful dance of mutual submission expressed in the diverse participation of God’s story of redemption. You have a distinct place within God’s purposes and among his people. Trust in his Spirit’s leading as he bears witness to the Lordship of Christ working within you, around you, and out ahead of you in the lives of others.

As one made in the image of our triune God, you are made for love. We yearn to be known and loved as we are and to feel secure in this love, so much so that no other kind of love will satisfy us. Our God, who is eternal communion and love, knows you best and loves you most without caution or restraint. His love is anchored in the covenant he made to his people. When God makes a covenant, he keeps it. God’s faithful love can liberate you into the kind of life his Spirit longs for you to experience. Trust in God’s love and listen to the King as he whispers, “Abide in My love. Follow me.”

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This beautiful piece of art is entitled, “The Burning Bush” and is by Scott Erickson (scottericksonart.com). Scott is one of my favorite artists. I have this print and will soon hang it in my study.

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When I See Jesus in the Gospels

My perspective shifts when I look at Jesus in the Scriptures. When I turn through the pages I see the crucified, resurrected, and ascended liberating Lord and redeeming King I’ve always needed. And still do.

I see Jesus as Lord and King teaching the worshippers in synagogues, healing tormented people, and proclaiming good news in Galilean neighborhoods. I see him holding the hands of unclean lepers, showing compassion to the vulnerable, and sharing a table with people religious leaders labelled as sinners, just to prove his love.

Jesus as Lord and King welcomes a religious skeptic too fearful to be seen with him in the light of day, just to prove his love (John 3:1-21).

Jesus as Lord and King pursues a woman at the well hiding from her shame, just to prove his love (John 4:1-26).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to let a newly married couple suffer the reputation-ending embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding feast, just to prove his love (John 2:1-12).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to leave a widowed mother in her grief and frightened father in his fear, just to prove his love (Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-56).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to leave the hungry without food and thirsty without drink, just to prove his love (John 6:1-15; Mark 8:1-10).

Jesus as Lord and King honors a Roman centurion soldier, a leader in the enemy’s army, and embraces a desperate foreigner, a Gentile mother from Canaan, and even heals her child¹, just to prove his love (Luke 7:1-10, Matthew 15:21-28).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to kill his enemies and chooses to die so they might be saved, just to prove his love (Luke 23:34; Romans 5:10).

The people religious worshippers deem irrevocably unclean and unholy he makes irrevocably clean and calls holy. The ones considered stained and profane he welcomes as sacred and honored. He gives the poor kingdoms and the guilty freedom. And he does it all just to prove his love.

What becomes clear to me when I look at Jesus in the Scriptures is a display of love that demonstrates God’s stubborn refusal to let us be held captive to the divided ways of a divided world prone to fear, exclusion, and violence. The love I see in Jesus’ teachings and actions enables me to see God’s heart-healing, mind-freeing, wholeness-making, life-giving love made available to all of us.

The good news for you and me is that his love hasn’t changed.

Christ Mural in SF

I took this picture of when visiting the chapel of St. Joseph’s Prep and Gesu School building in Philadelphia. It is called, “Christ of North Philadelphia.” You can read more about the incredible work here.


¹  Matthew’s use of the old term “Canaanite,” is different from Mark’s description of the woman as “a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia” (Mark 7:26). Writing to a Jewish audience, Matthew recalls historical animosities to remind the reader that significant social barriers existed between Jews and non-Jews, a.k.a. foreigners.
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Praying & Delaying

“I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club
and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly
to your chapel in the cellar
and prayed for my release.
I was naked
and in your mind
you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely
and you left me alone
to pray for me.
You seem holy;
so close to God.
But I’m still very hungry
and lonely
and cold.

So where have your prayers gone?
What have they done?
What does it profit a man
to page through his book of prayers
when the rest of the world
is crying for his?”

~ James Cone, Speaking the Truth, 113.

The Church must awaken to the possibility that as the Spirit-filled royal priesthood of God we will often be his answer to the prayers of others.

It is not about activism. It is not about party-politics. It is not even about justice. It is about faithfulness, both to King Jesus and the integrity of our confession. We are co-laborers with God and prophetic witnesses of his kingdom.

Anything less is a parody of Christianity.

And it begins with you and me.

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God is with Us

“And they will call him Immanuel, which means God with Us.”

In loneliness, there is hope because He is Immanuel.

In confusion, there can be peace because He is Immanuel.

In sorrow, there can be joy because He is Immanuel.

In darkness, there can be light because He is Immanuel.

Compassion can overcome condemnation, significance can replace shame, hospitality can heal hurts, and love can conquer loneliness.

Immanuel is our way, He is our light.

Immanuel is always true, He is our life.

Immanuel never leaves, He is our peace.

Immanuel is our help and comfort in grief.

Immanuel is our strength and His love is sure.

Immanuel is King Jesus and Redeeming Lord.

Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas. God is with Us.

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Bonhoeffer, Closed Minds, and Blinded Eyes

Blessed Advent Wednesday to you all.

I wanted to share a couple of quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One is an excerpt from his sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9, the other from a letter he wrote to his grandmother (hat tip to David Fitch for posting these on Facebook).
“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9
He later wrote this note to his grandmother in August of 1933:
“It is becoming increasingly clear …that what we are going to get for “church” is a volkisch nationalistic church that in its essence can no longer be reconciled with Christianity … we must make up our minds to take entirely new paths and follow where they lead. The issue is really Germanism or Christianity, and the sooner the conflict comes out in the open, the better. The greatest danger of all would be in trying to conceal this.”
 – Bonhoeffer (vol 12 Bonhoeffer Works).
Looking back into the pages of history and the uprising of Nazi Germany we see that Bonhoeffer’s words should have provoked Christ-followers to think critically about what was taking place. Yet, they were ignored by over 10,000 German Lutheran pastors who remained supporters of the nationalistic christianity promoted by the Nazi regime.
Bonhoeffer was not the first to speak prophetically during troublesome times. Over the course of history God has raised up prophets to speak to His people to draw them away from the ideologies that promoted exploitive or death-dealing movements. In the U.S.A. prophets have tried to awaken us to movements like the Trail of Tears, to the mistreatment and denial of full equality for women and people of color.
Stop and think.
As native peoples were being marched to a slow death, christians gathered in church buildings to sing Amazing Grace while never thinking critically about what was taking place. As women were given limited opportunity for real independence in American society, from education to vocation, many christian men sitting next to them in worship services listened to stories about how Jesus treated women while never thinking critically about what was taking place. As people of color were forced to social separation from the majority of American society, and as they were limited to the attics and basements of a white congregation’s church buildings, if allowed in at all, white people gathered in church buildings to come to the Lord’s Table while never thinking critically about what was taking place.
Closed minds and blinded eyes lead to unliberated lives.
May the Spirit of the Lord open the eyes of many blinded by the god of this age so that willful blindness and denial be present among His Church no more.
“But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”
~ Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:3-5
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