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Saturday, February 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Esther 3:1-4:3; John 9:1-7; 2 Corinthians 1:12-20; Psalm 125

Featured Reading: Esther 3:1-4:3. In the early days of the church, there was a debate among the early disciples about what would be asked of those who claimed to follow Jesus. The pillars in Jerusalem (Peter, James & John) took a hard line position regarding the maintenance of religious practices that started while many of the early believers were still Jews (i.e. dietary restrictions, circumcision, etc.). Paul was an advocate for inclusivity and advocated that such practices should not be required since they would prevent many Gentiles from coming into the faith. For many years, I was a critic of Peter, James, and John’s position since it seemed awfully rigid. The older I get, however, the more I am able to understand the concerns that lay behind Peter, James and John’s position: namely, that if the new Christians didn’t maintain distinctive practices their faith would get lost as the Christians moved among other members of society. In many ways, that is what’s happened (at least in the Western world); we’ve lost a sense of how our faith makes us different. Please note here that I’m saying “different from everyone else” – not “better than everyone else”. There is a huge difference between those statements. So why am I thinking about this ancient debate? Well, in reading today’s passage from Esther, I couldn’t help but notice the distinctive presence the people of faith had in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Their presence was so distinctive that Haman noted: “There is an odd set of people scattered throughout the provinces of your kingdom who don’t fit in. Their customs and ways are different from those of everybody else” (Esther 3:8 from The Message). My question for you to consider today is this: does your faith cause you to stand out in any way from “everybody else”, or do you fit in? Til next time…

Friday, February 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 137; Esther 2:5-8, 15-23; John 8:47-59; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Psalm 127

Featured Passage: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. One of the most memorable times of my life occurred during the spring of 2001. Let me set that time up for you. You see just two years earlier, I had finally quit fighting my call to ministry and decided to enroll in seminary. I had narrowed my choices down to seminaries in Berkeley, CA; Chicago, IL; and Denver, CO. Whichever seminary I picked meant that I would completely uproot my life at the age of 32 – move somewhere between 870 miles (Berkeley) and 1700 miles (Chicago) – and start my life all over. I figured it would be okay to take such a risk since I had everything mapped out. In the middle of my seminary experience, however, the bottom dropped out on my plans: I was rejected as a candidate for ordained ministry in the denomination in which I was raised due to my sexual orientation. While I initially saw that as a crushing blow, over time I began to see the developments differently. In other words, I learned to see the wisdom in Paul’s words when – in speaking of the unexpected detours he had experienced in his own faith journey - he wrote: “As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally!” (2 Corinthians 8:10 from The Message). Had everything gone exactly the way I had planned when I first moved from Spokane to Denver, I realize now that the ministry I might have walked away with would have been my own ministry – a ministry forged according to my own wants and desires. Instead, the detour I experienced stripped away all of my ideas and forced me to open myself to the leading of the Spirit. Perhaps there are areas of your own life that have not unfolded according to your expectations. In the past, the frustrations that grew out of these areas might have driven you away from God. Today, I would invite you to sit with these detours and think of them differently – think of those detours as things that helped you “trust God totally”. Til next time…

Thursday, February 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 41; Esther 1:1-19; John 8:41b-47; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Psalm 142

Let me begin by saying, yesterday I accidentally used the wrong day’s readings. I used today’s readings yesterday. In order to get things back on track, I’ll re-use the scriptures I published yesterday and reflect on a different passage and theme. My apologies for the confusion! I will also work to incorporate a suggestion that came in from one of my readers. That is, at the beginning of my entry I’ll highlight the individual passage that I’m reflecting.

Reading for today’s reflection: Esther 1:1-19. Today’s reading from Esther is a difficult passage for me to engage. It's difficult because the values underlying the story are so patently sexist. For example, we are told that Queen Vashti’s offense was basically not saying, “How high?” when the king said “Jump!” In other words, she refused to leave a personal commitment she had previously made when the king simply wanted to treat her as a possession and show her off to his friends. Members of the king’s council then went on to say they couldn’t stand for such behavior in Queen Vashti since the consequence would be that it would produce “a country of angry women who don’t know their place”. The qualification for the woman who would succeed Queen Vashti? The successful candidate had to be “a woman who knows her place”. The whole scenario reads as if it came from a manual for male chauvinist oinkers. So what are we to make of it? Well, for me, the story reminds me that in spite of our personal and cultural biases, God’s presence can still abide in our lives – and positive outcomes can be produced. In spite of King Xerxes’ bias, circumstances unfolded in such a way that the path to the throne was opened for Esther. And once she was enthroned, Esther was in position to save the lives of her people. The story makes me wonder about all the ways God can work around our own limitations and biases to accomplish transformative things. That gives me a great deal of hope today as I head out into the world. Til next time…

Wednesday, February 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 41; Esther 1:1-19; John 8:41b-47; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Psalm 142

There are lots of wonderful gifts that I’ve been given during the course of my lifetime. Some of those gifts have been superficial (i.e. those AWESOME e-bay gift certificates that allowed me to expand my collection of Houston Oiler/Houston Texan media guides). Others have been life-changing (i.e. the gift of our two dogs Biggie and Tupper). If I were to tell you what the most meaningful gift I’ve ever been given, chances are you would be shocked. That gift? The homophobia I’ve faced during my lifetime. “So why would anyone in their right mind say the prejudice they’ve experienced is a gift?” you might wonder. Well, I look at it this way. If I had not faced homophobia, I would have never understood what it was like for people to deal with other forms of prejudice (i.e. sexism, racism, classicism, etc.) My pain has given me amazing insight into the experiences of others – insight that has made it possible for me to walk with countless others in similar pain. I would not trade that insight for all the money in the world! This notion that our pain can be a bridge between ourselves and others is picked up on beautifully in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians where Paul wrote: “God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, God brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 from The Message). Perhaps you have experienced pain in your own journey. If you have, I would encourage you to consider ways in which that pain might be transformed into a bridge connecting yourself and others in need. Til next time…

Tuesday, February 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 13; Joshua 24:1-15; John 8:21-30; 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; Psalm 105: 23-45

I’ll never forget the summer following my freshman year of college. I had spent the previous school year attending a college that was 6 hours away from home. As the youngest of four children, I was the first to leave the area in which we were raised – so neither my parents nor I had any experience dealing with a situation like this: a child who was anxious to exert his independence and establish his identity apart from his parents. Needless to say, the summer was full of potential landmines. “When would I come home at night?” “What sort of summer job would I look for?” “Who would I hang out with?” The list of questions went on and on. Any time I felt my parents encroach on what I considered to be my space, I would respond by getting incredibly testy. “It was MY life,” I remember thinking. “Who are you to butt in?!” As I got older, however, I came to terms with much of this and realized that my parents played a pivotal role in my life and my development. And – whether I liked to admit it or not – they would always be present in my life as a guiding force as I faced the issues of each day. Some folks have a similar tension in their relationship with God. In a day and age when our culture stresses the centrality of the individual, they like to think their lives are theirs – and theirs alone. They have no time and interest for a God who would butt in and get involved. For such people (including myself at times), today’s second Psalm is a real challenge – for it represents a theology that suggests God is intimately involved in the lives of the people. And while I would argue with the psalmist as to whether or not God was the cause of each event (especially those portions where violence and mayhem ensued), I do respect the conviction that God is with us each step of the way. So how do you stand with this? Are you in a place where you feel compelled to assert your total independence and claim your life as exclusively your own; or are you willing to open yourself to God’s guiding presence in your life? Til next time…

Monday, February 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 105:1-22; Joshua 23:1-16; John 8:12-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Psalm 115

In the spiritual community I serve, we are trying to pay more attention to help people connect with their passions/spiritual gifts. Consequently, I’ve spent more time thinking about the various gifts. The resource that we are using to help people identify their gifts is an inventory provided by the United Methodist Church. One of the things I most appreciate about the materials is the definitions of the various gifts. Let me give you a couple of examples. The curriculum defines the gift of tongues, for instance, as having the ability to “communicate across barriers of language, culture, age, or physical limitation”. And the gift of prophecy entails being “open for God to speak God’s word through us”. One of my favorite definitions is the definition they provide for the gift of miracles. “The gift of miracles,” the authors write, “is not about performing miracles, but about living in the miraculous reality of God’s creation”. I was reminded of this definition as I read today’s first Psalm. The psalmist advised: “Keep your eyes open for God, watch for God’s works; be alert for signs of God’s presence” (Psalm 105:4 from The Message). While your primary gift may not be the gift of miracles, the psalmist writes that all of us ought to live in the space where we are watching for God’s works. Do you regularly live in such space? If not, today I would invite you to slow down a little and do just that: keep your eyes open for God and watch for God’s works. You just might be surprised at how present God is in your life in ways that you were never aware of before. Til next time…

Sunday, February 15

Today's Readings:

Here's my reflection/sermon for the day:

One of the most challenging aspects of reading Scripture is getting in touch with the biases that you bring to the text. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Biblical translators who have wrestled with this week’s story have two very different approaches to describing Jesus’ emotional state at the beginning of verse 41.

There are those - like the translators of the New Revised Standard Version - who believe that when the leper approached Jesus, Jesus was “filled with compassion” or “moved with pity”. Individuals who describe Jesus this way would see his defining traits as kindness and empathy.

“No so fast!” another group of translators would counter - a group like those from Today’s New International Version. “The correct translation of that verse suggests Jesus wasn’t filled with compassion. He was filled with something else!”

“Like what?” testy members of the first group might respond.

“Anger or indignation!”

Those who believe Jesus was angry would hone in on a different side of Jesus – the side prone to challenging authority and speaking truth. These folks believe Jesus was angry for a number of reasons including the possibility that the leper had been refused healing by the religious authorities before he had sought Jesus out. Hence, their belief that Jesus was angry.

So why am I starting out my time with you this morning talking about how one’s bias can color one’s understanding of a story?

Well, I’m doing so because I want to explore a bias that we modern readers of the Bible might be bringing to this morning’s story that could cause us to completely miss an essential element of the story. That bias has to do with how we understand Jesus’ instruction to the leper immediately after Jesus facilitated his healing.

Think back to that point in the story for a moment. What did Jesus tell the leper to do immediately after he was healed?

[Pause a moment to allow individuals the opportunity to answer.]

That’s right. Jesus told the man to present himself to the priest. And why do you think Jesus told him to do that?

Our modern bias shows in how Eugene Peterson communicated that reason in the version of the text that was included in your bulletin. Peterson told us Jesus sent him there “to validate your healing to the people”. It sounds here as if the sole reason the man was sent to the priest was to gain legitimacy for the healing from the religious establishment.

But is that the sole reason Jesus instructed the leper to see the priest? Or could there have been another?

I like to believe there was – for the Jesus I know wasn’t a person preoccupied with gaining legitimacy from the establishment. There was something else going on. And that something else had to do with Jesus’ understanding of what it meant to be healed.

You see Jesus understood that the man’s healing wasn’t complete just because the man’s leprosy disappeared. No, at that point the man was simply cured. In order for the man to be healed, however, something more was needed – the man’s acceptance and re-integration back into community.

And that’s precisely where I believe we modern folks have lost our way in our reading of this morning’s healing story. You see in all of our efforts these days to shed ourselves of a variety of afflictions – physical afflictions, mental afflictions, and spiritual afflictions –our goal has been to simply shed the afflictions we carry. In other words, we modern folks have become willing to settle for simply being cured. The more we’ve lost sight community (and its ability to bring dimensions of wholeness to our lives), the more we’ve given up on the notion of healing.

Thankfully, Jesus won’t let us do that. Jesus will do with us what he did with that leper – send us back into community where we can get a taste of healing.

One of the greatest blessings I have been given in my ministry is the ability to watch people who – like the leper in this morning’s story – walk through the front doors of our Open and Affirming community in desperate need of healing. Oh sure, many of them have already had their afflictions cured. But they’re struggling to find healing because they’ve lost a sense of wholeness when their faith community rejected them on some level. In some cases that rejection stemmed from their belief systems. In other cases it was due to their social location. Whatever the reason, many of us found ourselves walking through those front doors because we were searching for the final stages of healing that can only be found in community.

As we nervously walked through those front doors, there was a piece of us that spoke the same words the leper spoke: “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

And guess what?

The living spirit of Christ that we found within this community – spoke to us and said: “I want to. Be clean.”

On a Sunday morning when it would be easy to settle for simply re-living the leper’s experience, I want us to do more than that: I want to use the story as the jumping off point so that we can speak to our own experience of healing that we have found in this community. And as you share, I would ask that you don’t lift up any individual or individuals in the church who have helped you to this place. Rather, I ask that you lift up the ways this community as a whole has facilitated the healing touch of Christ for you…

[Time for individual sharing.]

Friends, we have heard powerful words about how this community has opened itself up to serve as Christ’s partner in the restoration of healing and wholeness in the lives of those already gathered here. As we go forth this week, my hope and prayer is that we won’t lose sight of that call. Instead, my prayer is that we will use these stories to renew our energy so that we can reach out to those in need of healing on the other side of our walls.