Learning to Live in Community – the Family

Just like there are no perfect people, there are no perfect families, but it is there that we begin to learn how to live in community. Even the best of families have their moments of insensitivity, missed cues, self-absorption and blind spots. Each of us, goes through this life making mistakes, wishing we could change things in our past, feeling regret for words said or not said. At times we are wrong. We do and say what we will later wish we had not. Disagreements flare up. People who should know better hurt us. What we do with those moments of hurting and of being hurt can shape the rest of our lives. Our response can turn a life around, or bury one in resentment.

One of the saddest stories I hear as a pastor, are stories of adult siblings who simply do not and will not try to get along with each other. In one of the first churches I served there was a woman in her mid seventies who continued to hang on to a grudge against a brother that started when they were teens. Worst of all, her anger was based on a simple misunderstanding. Her children and her other siblings begged her to see her brother. The brother so wanted to make peace with his sister. No appeal could reach her stubborn heart. Her grudge and the anger she carried had become a way of life.

In another church there was a man who refused to see his very ill mother, not because he was mad at her . . . No, that wasn’t the problem. He was angry at his brother. Harsh words had been spoken by both. After the argument, he had decided he would stay away from his family. When his mother because seriously ill, he refused to visit her, lest his brother be there. I spent forty-five minutes one day pleading with him to visit his mom, who had only been given days to live. Still her son refused. But, sometimes God gives us the gift of extra time. His mother rallied. Then three months later, she was once again near death. I never knew just how God got through to her son. A couple of days before his mother died, he came to see her that one last time. Still simmering with anger towards his brother though, he would not attend his mother’s funeral.

One of the joys in my life is to have siblings who know and understand my growing up years. Shared memories bring peals of laughter and nods of understanding as a story begins. I think siblings are the only people who can fully appreciate your childhood. The know both the gifts and the flaws of your parents. There is a shared memory of what it was like to live in a particular family in a specific time of life. I know families that are terribly dysfunctional with a legacy of trauma, abuse and heartache. It can be necessary to leave the family of origin behind for one’s emotional health. But, the families I’ve mentioned here were not ripped apart by addiction or dysfunction. They were just ordinary people who made a couple of mistakes.

For most of us, the arguments would have been over in a few days or we would have found a way to get around the disagreements. Someone would have apologized, or made a phone call to break the ice. But for others . . . Well grudges can lodge in the hearts of some very good people. This is what makes me the most sad. I see families where siblings are upset with other siblings. Grudges are hung on to. Experiences which ought to have been left behind, forgiven or resolved years before have been carried into the present.  Pride gets in the way of love and stubbornness gets rooted in the heart.   I think of the joy that is being missed. The shared journey which is unique to ones sibling. I listen to those who have never had a brother or a sister and how they envy those of us who do. I think of how the person carrying a grudge is hurting themselves, denying themselves companionship, friendship and the joy of shared memories.

What I hope and pray for my children is that they always have each other and that they are wise enough to let go of the inconsequential to hang on to the precious in their relationships with one another. The psalmist says, “ How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head . . . It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.” Psalm 133:1-2a & 3

Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus defined the limits and purpose of his life. Scholars refer to that as Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon. It is found in the gospel of Luke.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-23

When we look at the priorities of our nation, I think it is important to keep in mind the words of Jesus.   Jesus came, he said,  to bring good news – especially good news to the poor.   He came to bring release to any who are  captives of abuse, addiction or  exploitation.   He came for the sick and  those with disabling diseases or conditions.    Jesus came to free the oppressed and to announce the year of God’s favor.   The Jubilee year that Jesus was referring to, was one where everyone would return to an equal status economically and socially.  It was radical talk.  No wonder he quickly made enemies.

The question for us, as followers of Jesus,  is how closely do we follow the defined mission of Jesus?   In our conversations and in our politics do the poor have a priority?   Do we care about those who do not have affordable  health care coverage?  Are we advocates for people with disabling conditions?     Are we more interested in keeping for ourselves or in addressing the income inequality in our nation? Would Jesus recognize us as one of his followers because of our words and actions?  If not, what needs to change in our lives?

Posted in Faith & Politics, Poverty | Tagged , , ,

Living Like Jesus

I’m convinced that if all of us who take the name of Christian seriously were to focus on the words of Jesus, there would be a lot more harmony in our country.   These words from the Gospel of Matthew speak to me  of how Jesus wants me to live my life.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   Matthew 25:31-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The parable is often referred to as “The Last Judgement.”   I admit to liking the first part better than the last of this parable.   I recall too many times when I have passed by or forgotten about a person in need.     I think what Jesus was trying to get across to us is that they way we treat each other is of utmost importance to God.   Whether  it is the neighbor who is sick, the young family in poverty or the  immigrant  in our midst, God wants our response to be one of loving care.   We may disagree about many things in our country.  But as Christians we have these words of Jesus to guide our discussions, to illuminate our thoughts and to enlarge our vision of who we can be as a nation and as a neighbor.

Posted in Faith & Politics | Tagged , , , ,

The Complicated Family History of Jesus

One of the most intriguing texts in the Bible is found in the very first chapter of Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus. At a  time when the lives of women were discounted, Matthew  included the records of five women, last of whom is Mary, mother of Jesus.

Each suffered from prejudice in one form or another. Each woman included in the genealogy of Jesus has been a person on the outside. Through the words in the first chapter, Matthew tells us that the Savior came for people who are the least loved in the world. He does that by naming the skeletons in the closet of Jesus.

Each of the women have compelling stories. Tamar’s story is found in the 38th chapter of the book of Genesis. Tamar is a young widow. In her world it was expected that when her husband died his brother would become her husband. The tradition insured that the line of the lost child would continue, as well as support his widow. Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law. When Tamar’s husband died, she married his brother. But, then that brother died. Judah was convinced that Tamar was jinxed. With the passing of years Tamar realized that Judah was never going to allow her to marry another of his sons. Yet, she could not legally marry anyone else. One day, disguised as a temple prostitute of a pagan religion, she met Judah on the road. The encounter results in her becoming pregnant. Judah is outraged when he learns that Tamar is going to have a child. He is ready to put her to death – until he discovers he is the father of her child. Among the ancestors of Jesus is the woman Tamar. Matthew is telling us that the Savior comes for people who have been unloved and unwanted.

The story of Rahab is told in the 2nd Chapter of Joshua. The Israelites are ready to move into the promised land. Rahab is a prostitute, forced into the trade by her economic circumstances. She offers to protect the scouts who stay at her home, as she comes to believe that their God is the one true God. Rahab is brought into the community of Israel. According to rabbinic tradition, she is one of the four most beautiful women in the world and remembered for her kindness and courage. Among the ancestors of Jesus is Rahab, mother of Boaz. Matthew tells us that the Savior comes for those who have not always been proud of the way they have lived their lives. The Savior comes to give fresh starts and new beginnings.

The Familiar story of Ruth told in the book of Ruth, is the third woman named by Matthew. She is from Moab, a land and people hated by the Israelites. After her husband’s death, Ruth insists on going to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of her mother-in-law Naomi. Soon the village of Bethlehem sees Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law. They see her kindness, loyalty, and goodness. In spite of her immigration status she wins the hearts of the people and the heart of Boaz. Matthew tells us that among the ancestresses of Jesus is a foreigner. The Savior comes for the immigrant, the alien, the foreigner – anyone who is an outcast in society. Matthew tells us that the Savior came for people who have not found acceptance elsewhere.

The Wife of Uriah is the last before Mary to be mentioned. We find her story in the 11th chapter of II Samuel. Her name is Bathsheba and her story could be on the front pages of our newspapers. A powerful man and King takes advantage of her. She is caught between love for her husband and being a subject of a king. Her husband is off on the field of battle when King David spots her one day. She is a beautiful woman and he wants her for himself. Not long after he sends for her, he discovers that Bathsheba is pregnant. David decides to cover the deed by sending Uriah into the front lines, knowing he is likely to be killed in battle. Uriah dies, then David takes Bathsheba for his wife, but their first child dies. Bathsheba experiences losses and tragedy. She is violated by a king. Her husband dies in battle. Her life is manipulated by David. Since her first encounter with David, her life becomes crisis after crisis, filled with loss and pain. Later she will give birth to Solomon. Bathsheba stands in the line of Jesus as a statement that Jesus the Savior comes for those who have been violated and used by others.

Most all of us have some kind of skeleton in our closets. Along with the ancestors and family stories we tell only in whispers, there are the deeds we are ashamed of. We remember moments when we lost our temper. There are words we would take back if we could and attitudes which have been destructive. We carry shame for things that have happened to us . . . ones we blame ourselves for. We keep our secrets tucked away. There are regrets for actions of an earlier day.

The promise is that Jesus came for those who have reached their emotional and physical limits. The Savior comes for everyone who has felt forced by circumstances to compromise their deepest beliefs and values. The good news is that in Christ there is forgiveness for sins, a place for the outcast and acceptance for those who are living with shame. Most of all there is a love which frees us from our prisons of fear, of shame and of guilt.

Prayer: Loving Savior, You came to walk this journey with us. You came to free us from the hurt, pain, guilt and shame of yesterday. In this day, may we be willing to surrender our hurts, our pain, our guilt, our shame to you, trusting that in your love you will accept and love us even as we are. We give thanks for the message that each of us is loved and cherished by you. Amen.

A version of this was First published Jan 4, 2018 as “Skeleton’s in the Closet” in  a “Pastor’s Heart” as an Advent-Christmastide devotion.

Posted in Christmas, Faith & Politics | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Building a Christian Nation

Lent is just around the corner beginning on Valentines with Ash Wednesday.  Traditionally,  the church has taught that Lent is a time to give up something you value or to fast from certain foods.     I was reminded this morning in my reading that God has already given us some guidance on what kind of a fast we should choose.

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
   Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator  shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
  if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.”
   Isaiah 55:6-11

The best way to live our lives as a Christian Nation is to remember  that to work for justice, to reach out to the oppressed in whatever form, to care for the hungry and the homeless is what God honors.   Its in refusing to   blame people caught in oppressive systems for their plight . . .  building ladders and bridges of hope instead.  It’s in  helping  people out of the pits they’ve found themselves in – that –  God says – is when our light will shine and only then,   will healing within our nation begin.

Posted in Faith & Politics, Poverty | Tagged , , , ,

Remembering the Way Home


A recent poll indicated that seventy percent of us believe our country is going the wrong direction. I always wish that the poll takers would sort out why people feel the country is going the wrong way, but I suspect it has something to do with our national discourse. In this bizarre political season, when politicians have played to our fears, our skepticism, and our prejudices, we know there is something wrong.

A few years ago, my family gave me a Garmin GPS for my car.  What I have discovered is that whenever I get lost, whenever I don’t know how to get out of a situation – all I have to do is hit that button which says “Home” and I will be all right. My GPS knows the way home. It may take me in a roundabout manner. It may send me on the long way instead of the short one. There may be roads to travel that I would not have chosen. But it will always, but always find the way home.

I have learned in life that hitting the “Home” button, turning to God, works when I am out of sync with myself. God knows the course change I need to make and is aware of what in my heart and mind needs to change direction. God knows way before me what attitude needs some serious adjusting. God sends out an alarm, before I even figure out that I’ve gotten lost. When I turn back from where my heart and mind have wandered to, I get out of my rut. I discover new truths. I recognize my prejudices and can name them for what they are.

The prophet Micah, in ancient Israel, was no stranger to a political system in trouble. In the midst of economic uncertainty, raiding bands of neighboring nations, political upheaval and a people who had lost their way, he spoke God’s truth. To a nation searching for direction, he reminded the people of Israel that God had already shown them the way to God’s favor. It was not to sacrifice their children for the good of the country, or to offer vast amounts of wealth. Instead God was waiting for a return to the deeper truths. “God,” he said, “has already shown you the way back” and “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 NIVUK    God draws us away from bitterness of spirit to compassion and faithful living. God still calls us back to these central truths away from our fears, to be people of justice, to live with compassionate hearts . . . to be people who show mercy . . . who recognize God’s great love for all of God’s people . . . to be people who truly walk humbly with God.

A version of this post was first published as “Hitting the Home Button” April 12, 2016  On “A Pastor’s Heart”

Posted in Faith & Politics | Tagged , , , ,

The Revelations of Social Media

I became an unintentional observer of Steve’s life as email destined for him, landed in my inbox. Somewhere, in the world of Comcast, we ended up with a similar email address. All of that worked just fine when everything was case sensitive, but after a bit, I started to get some of Steve’s email. I learned that we had some shared values. His friends sent the same sorts of either obnoxious or sincere religious emails to him as I was receiving. I was pleased to learn that he served on a planning committee in his community. He was a connoisseur of wines and dabbled in the home made variety. When his mother died and the children were left to divide up her household belongings, I saw that his mom had raised them well. The child in charge had carefully planned out what was fair for each and had listened to their wishes. I did regularly send back emails to all senders with a note, “I think you meant this for Steve” on my reply. They promised not to send me any more, but most did.

I’m quite sure that Steve would have preferred I wasn’t observing his life in this way. He should feel good about my conclusions though. Through the messages of his friends, he showed me he was conscientious and a person whose values shaped his life. He felt a need to give back to his community. There was a degree of civic pride. When I think about it, I’m surprised at how much I learned about Steve through his email friends. I knew that I would like him as a friend.

The use of all forms of social media is revealing much about us. Who we are is shown in the “likes” we link ourselves too and the comments we approve of. What is in our hearts is revealed in a more public sphere. Whether it’s an unintended look at someone’s email or checking out a social media page, we can’t hide the values that guide our lives. What I profess to believe and what I have put into an email are not always the same. Sometimes, I’m frustrated by the words which slip out of my mouth and onto a page. God continues in the business of transformation though. Day by day, God works in my heart urging me to become a kinder and more loving person, to use my words with care. So, I ask God for the grace to live with integrity, to be faithful in my following of Jesus. On the days I fail, I cling to the words of an old friend who told me long ago, “that we grow in grace.” I find myself singing the lyrics to Eddie Espinosa’s song, “Change my heart oh God. Make it ever true. Change my heart oh God. May I be like You.”

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

First published on  June 15, 2015 as “An Unintentional Observer of a Life” in “A Pastor’s Heart”

Posted in Faith & Politics | Tagged , , , ,