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Pursuing Excellence

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 How do we pursue excellence – in our lives, in our world, in our churches? I was thinking of that question this week when I read this story of well-known pastor and author Nadia Bolz Weber.  Nadia tells the story of a time, after she published her spiritual autobiography, when she began to receive massive amounts of email and Facebook messages.  Concerned what others thought of her, Nadia diligently returned every email and Facebook message she received from strangers, seminary students and desperate pastors alike.  Every single one.  She wanted to be accessible and well-liked, but the thing is that because she was answering all these emails from the public she wasn’t answering any emails from those she cared about – friends, family and congregants.  Caught in a dilemma, Nadia was afraid if she stopped answering emails, strangers would say, “Oh Nadia? Yeah, I emailed her once but apparently she thinks she’s too good to return my email.” She was afraid that she didn’t continue to respond to the massive amount of emails that people wouldn’t think that she was excellent. So she worked harder. Eventually, Nadia came to terms with the fact that she could not control what everyone thought of her, so she put out a generic reply to that said she was not able to respond because she had attend to her family, friends and church.  She said to “no” to one area in […]

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Modern Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12 Desperation. Jesus can see the desperation in the eyes of the crowd, their longing, their bleeding heart, their frantic need for transformation, so Jesus climbs up the mountainside with his group of newbie disciples and begins to teach.  The first words that tumble out of Jesus’ mouth are words of blessing, proclaiming these weeping, yearning, hopeful, tender people […]

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Changing Your Life

Matthew 4:12-23 “Just do the next right thing.” This is what Glennon Doyle Melton tells herself as she sits on the bathroom floor.  I have mentioned Glennon previously.  Glennon is an author and blogger who tells the story about her addiction to food, alcohol and drugs. One day, in the midst of her struggle, she finds herself sitting on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test.  Her hands shaking; Glennon says of the moment: “I am empty, alone, addicted – and yet still invited.”[i] Glennon balks at the invitation, saying she doesn’t “know how to be a sober person or how to be a mother, or how to be a friend.” [ii]   So what does she do?  She promises herself that she will show up even if she is scared and just do the next right thing even when she is shaking. So, right there on the bathroom floor, Glennon says yes, yes to motherhood, yes to sobriety, yes to the idea that there is a God, that that God is trying to speak to her, love her, and invite her back to life.  Glennon decides to believe in a God who would believe in a person like her. Glennon acts immediately.  She doesn’t say, one day I will be a friend, or a sober person, or even a believer in God; she says I will practice being those things right now. Immediately. That’s the word that jumps out […]

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Home by Another Way

Matthew 2:1-15 Mary and Joseph had created a home for Jesus.  They had hung up their equivalent of curtains and settled in.  They took Jesus to synagogue on the Sabbath and watched in wonder as Jesus ran around Joseph’s workshop and squirmed in Mary’s arms. Then life took a detour. It started when these strange astrologers showed up at Mary […]

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Ash Wednesday II & Lent

For this Ash Wednesday altarscape, I obtained shiny and gauzy purple material from a local fabric store and layered the gauzy fabric over the shiny one.  I used books and hymnals underneath the fabric to create a height differential.  After Ash Wednesday, I switched out the candles for a Lenten look, which I achieved by placing sticks in two glass vases […]

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Christmas Meditation Year A

Luke 2:1-14 Exhausting. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Mary and Joseph’s ninety mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the Roman census.  That trek is equivalent traveling from here to Falls River, Massachusetts by foot or by animal. Ninety exhausting miles. As Joseph and a very pregnant Mary plodded one foot in front of the other, their hamstrings ached, their backs were sore and their arms wearied from leading the pack animals.  They fantasized about what it would be like to finally arrive Bethlehem … with a warm bed and hot food.  As they continued, they wondered if they would ever get to Bethlehem.  Sometimes their trip felt endless.  When an angel had first appeared to Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had both thought things would be different – like Mary would be treated with reverence or at least been allowed to get out of this whole traveling to Bethlehem thing.  But here they were, dressed in dirty, ragged clothing, plodding through the wilderness fantasizing about food and beds. Just like any other dirty, smelly pilgrim. It was ironic that their child’s name was supposed to be Jesus, which meant salvation, because Joseph and Mary could use some salvation right about now, salvation from the bone-crushing weariness, salvation from the monotony of their days, salvation from the oppressive Roman empire, salvation from their fellow human beings who were full […]

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Lessons from Joseph

Isaiah 7:10-16 Matthew 1:18-25 Who has shaped your faith? That is a question not just for us but for Joseph. Who shaped Joseph’s faith?  The Gospel of Matthew answers this question by spending the first seventeen verses of the book telling us that so-and-so begot so-and-so who begot so-and-so, covering twenty-eight generations all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.  This genealogy lesson reminds us that Joseph did not grow up in a vacuum, but rather descended from a long life of people who wrestled with faith and experienced God’s love.  Mary and Joseph in turn taught these values to Jesus.  Jesus did not just show up and happen to be a loving justice-oriented person rather Jesus learned these values from those who had gone before him. We pass on our faith from generation to generation. Who has shaped your faith?  Who has brought you to this moment in your spiritual journey, to this church, to this denomination, to this faith? Perhaps it was a stranger who helped you, a Sunday School teacher who taught you, a feisty member of the community who care when nobody else did. Who has shaped your faith? I have been thinking about that question this week.  I am Baptist because my great-grandmother raised my grandfather as a Baptist and when he moved with my grandmother to Washington DC, they joined Calvary Baptist church, a church on the edge of China town, where they raised […]

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Singing for Joy

Isaiah 35:1-10 Luke 1:46b-55 Matthew 11:2-11 Psalm 130 reads, “I wait for God more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Third shift.  This psalm refers to watchmen who pull the third shift 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.  The watchmen stand on the stone walls of their towns and look forth into the darkness.  With no artificial light, all they can do is stand and wait, listening to each rustle of the leaves and crack of the stick.  Their only light is the moon, the stars and the nearby torch. (1) Third shift.  The sentries stand at their post, watching in anticipation for the first dawn light.   The psalmist tells us that joy comes in the morning, but what if, what if joy also comes in the evening, when we are pulling the third shift and waiting in the brisk, cold night-time air?  What if joy comes not only with the morning but also with the darkest hour of the night? This is a question not only for us but also for the Israelites exiled in Babylon.  Uprooted from their homes and all that was familiar, the Israelites remembered joy only as a faint memory or an old friend who had not visited for a long time.  They had forgotten what joy looked like, or how she laughed or what her mannerisms were. They wondered: how do we sing a song of God in […]

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