1 of 3: Jacob

The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose hip is thrown out of joint so that he has to stop running.

It’s hard to say when exactly Jacob began running.

It seemed in his own mind that he had always been ducking & dodging, always evading anyone who got too close, always running to find a piece of life that he could call his own.

Maybe it began at the very moment of his birth, when brother Esau was held up proudly as Isaac’s firstborn son while Jacob was pried from his twin’s heel. Isaac could have celebrated the gift of two sons in one birth — a double blessing from God — instead Isaac chose only one son. Maybe that’s why Jacob learned the dash & dance of guardedness. Maybe that’s how he came to value self-reliance above all else.

And so Jacob was restrained around his mother, but accepted her favoritism and influence toward his self-sufficiency.

Ducked & dodged his brother, but accepted his birthright in exchange for soup.

Ran from his father, but first accepted his blessing while wrapped in goat’s skin.

Avoided trust with Laban, but accepted the opportunity to build his wealth.

Guarded too with God, but accepted God’s presence for the journey in the hopes that one day he might even stand on his own without God.

But then God threw his hip out of joint, saying, “No more will you duck & dodge. No more will you evade and run. No more will you trust only in yourself for survival and success.

“It’s time to face your brother.

“Time to face your father, your mother.

“Time to face your uncle and your wives and your children.

“It’s time to face me.

You will no longer run; now you will learn the slow pace of covenant. You will no longer hide and strive for your own good; now you will limp in community for the good of others. You will no longer be called ‘one who struggles‘; now you will be called ‘God struggles.’

“And Jacob? I have struggled long enough with you. No more running. Now we walk together.”

The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose hip is thrown out of joint so that he has to stop running.

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The beauty and truth of story is found in its ability to speak in new ways, no matter how familiar the words. Scripture is full of such stories for me, familiar tales that offer new truths & always-needed truths over and again. This piece is the first in a series of three short reflections listening for truth in the stories of Jacob and his wives Leah & Rachel.

In the Spirit of Jonah

Do you see me GOD?!

Do you see how grumpy I am?!

You should stop what you’re doing and look at me.

I’m pissed off and cursing and
kicking the dirt.

Do you know why?!

Look at me, GOD. Listen to me.
Right.
Now.
Listen to me.

Do you know why I’m grumpy?!

Because the sun comes up in the morning,
just as it always does
faithfully
day in and day out,
but GOD I want to sleep.

I’m grumpy because the sun sets at night,
just as it always does
faithfully
day in and day out,
but GOD I still have work to do.

And I’m mad because I don’t like to cook
but there’s an abundance of food
in the pantry
so I don’t have an excuse
to go out to eat.

Plus I’m out of sorts and irritated
because the bush that protects me from the sun
— the work that protects my daily living —
withered and refused to thrive
for my sake alone,
and I should be enough reason
for that friggin bush to keep living, GOD!

And darn it, you’re always
overflowing with love, GOD,
just like you always do
faithfully
day in and day out.

Stop trying to make me smile
or enjoy this beautiful day!

I am just
trying
to be
grumpy
so leave me alone already, GOD.

P.S. Jonah, you rock. Keep sittin’ on that hill and waitin’ for Ninevah to spontaneously combust. I’m with you in spirit, dude.

White Women, Sarah, and Hagar

Dear white sisters,

We are long overdue in examining, confronting, and upsetting our significant role in the systemic racism of American culture.

The six women who acquitted George Zimmerman demonstrated the pattern of behavior that we white women have exhibited across the span of U.S. history … a habitual employment of racialized bait-and-switch that reminds me of the relationship between Sarai and Hagar, respectively the wife and the servant/second wife of father-of-the-faith Abram.

Read my full article on The Huffington Post.

Back to Fishing?

In the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection, you can imagine that the disciples were wired with energy. First there was that high-strung tension in the locked room where the disciples held their collective breath in fear, not knowing if the authorities would arrest them next. Then came the dizzying energy of disbelief & debate as Mary Magdalene reported to the gathered disciples that she had talked with Jesus in the garden near the tomb. And when Jesus himself appeared to the disciples in that locked room, showing the wounds on his hands and his sides, the disciples exploded with relief & excitement & wild confidence! They poured out of that locked room full of energy to go and find all of the other disciples who had scattered after Jesus died. They spread throughout Jerusalem and beyond, ducking from soldiers, keeping their faces hidden from the temple leaders, scurrying & scrambling & telling this miraculous news to everyone who had followed Jesus and everyone who had been healed by Jesus and everyone who had been fed by Jesus and everyone who had hosted Jesus with his disciples in their homes.

But the high energy of activity after the resurrection can only last so long. Pretty soon the news has been spread. Pretty soon the disciples realize that no one is chasing after them. Pretty soon they find themselves at a loss for how to fill their time … because Jesus filled their time for three years, day in and day out, gave them purpose for three years, kept them busy for three years.

Now they find themselves (in John 21:1-14) on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias — Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James & John, and two others — just skipping stones, killin’ time.

In the lull, Peter says, “You know what, I’m going fishing. I still remember how to do that. Fishing used to be my life: putting out to sea, minding the waves & currents, watching the winds, throwing out the nets, hauling them back in, sorting the catch, returning to shore, haggling at market to make an extra penny, mending the nets, then heading out to sea again. I could do that again,” Peter says, “that could be my life again, now that following Jesus no longer fills my days. Maybe I’ll go back to being a fisherman.”

And can’t we relate to Peter, in thinking sometimes that going back is a safe choice when we don’t know how to go forward?

The group agrees with Peter’s idea. They head out in the boat … and their first night as reinstated fishermen is miserable! Maybe they’ve lost their touch out on the water, maybe they read the currents wrong in determining where to cast their nets, but by dawn, the men don’t have a single fish to show for their night’s work. Not one!

Just after daybreak, a voice reaches them … faintly … across the water. But the wind has been filling their ears all night, and the boat’s creaking is particularly loud, and the disciples have been calling fishing instructions to one another, so when that faint call comes, you can imagine that Peter says to the others:

Hush! Hush! Somebody’s calling my name.
Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name.
Oh hush! Hush. Somebody’s calling my name.
O my God, o my God, what shall I do? What shall I do?

And echoing across the water like the call of a Siren, the voice comes again, telling them, “Cast your nets to the right side of the boat.” They cast, and the abundance of what they catch is so amazing … so miraculous … like the abundance of the best wine pouring out of water jars at a wedding, that the disciple whom Jesus loved immediately turns to Simon Peter:

Sounds like Jesus! Somebody’s calling my name!
Sounds like Jesus! Somebody’s calling my name.
Oh sounds like Jesus, somebody’s calling my name.
O my God! O my God, what shall I do? What shall I do?

And indeed! It does seem to be Jesus there on the shore, blessing them like he has always blessed them, calling to them like he has always called to them! Simon Peter leaps off the boat to swim ashore. The others bring the boat to land, pulling their nets full of fish, until finally they are all together: smelly, tired, former disciples who have decided to rebrand themselves as fishermen, standing agape at Jesus who is making breakfast.

There are admonitions that Jesus says to Peter in the latter verses of John 21, but for now — gathered around a beach campfire at dawn — Jesus doesn’t teach or preach or even scold. He doesn’t say, “Why would you think you can go back to fishing? Don’t you know that I still shape your days, that I still give you purpose even though life has changed?” Jesus doesn’t say any of that (yet); he only invites them to share breakfast with him.

As they break bread and share fish around the campfire, I wonder if these would-be fishermen don’t realize that, in fact, they have no desire to be fishermen again! As their stomachs fill and the night’s stresses fade, I wonder if they don’t hum to themselves:

I’m so glad! Trouble won’t last always!
I’m so glad trouble won’t last always.
Oh I’m so glad, trouble won’t last always!
O my God, o my God, what shall I do? What shall I do?

We can put our boats out to sea with the fishermen-disciples, we can try to go back to how things were in those moments when we don’t know how to go forward, we can try to be who we once were before we changed. We can spend all night casting our nets, going through the motions of what is familiar because — in the face of change — the familiar is comfortable, even after the familiar has outlived its purpose. We can lean into the work of our boats and bend our backs to the tasks of the moment and let the wind fill up our ears so much that we don’t hear the voice calling across the water.

But there is a voice calling across the water, calling us not to be afraid in meeting the changes of life, pointing us toward an unimagined abundance that will take us beyond our boats.

And because that voice is calling, we can’t go back to fishing. We can’t go back to … to whatever it is that you wish you could return to: that life or that work or that time that you imagine was once safe & uncomplicated. We can’t even go back to the present — that is, we can’t even stay in today just because we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

The disciples couldn’t go back to fishing because they were no longer fishermen. We can’t go back to fishing because it’s no longer who we are, it’s no longer what we do. We can’t go back to fishing because Jesus is not done calling our names, Jesus is not done showing us abundance!

Hush! Hush! Somebody’s calling your name!
Sounds like Jesus! Somebody’s calling your name.
Oh hush. Hush. Jesus is calling our names.
O my God, o my God, what shall we do? What shall we do?

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Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 4/14/2013.

David and Goliath

You know the story: David triumphs over Goliath. Small topples big. Confidence conquers fear. Shepherd beats warrior. Faith wins over strength. Trusting in the limitless possibilities of God far outpaces, outweighs, outshines trusting in the limited possibilities of oneself.

We know the story. The question is, why don’t we live like we believe the story? Why don’t we live — in our relationships, in our work, in our rest, in our church, in our finances — as though trusting God has a tangible impact on our lives? What holds us back from living with complete peace and deep confidence in the knowledge that what God can do & imagine for us is better than what we can do & imagine for ourselves?

Why do we live (consciously or unconsciously) with the constant underpinning of fear that someone or something might cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time … so that the fear of change and disaster compels us to create and hold onto as many securities as possible? Of course, something can cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time. The story of David & Goliath doesn’t dispute bad things happening and tearing us down. The story of David & Goliath disputes living in fear and lack of imagination for how God can bless our lives, for how we might be built up, for how we can triumph and even thrive no matter the losses or the suffering.

Of all the Bible stories about David, this one might be my least favorite because it challenges me the most. Give me a story about David after he becomes king: when he’s arguing with God’s prophets, or when he’s picking up women inappropriately, or when he’s dancing naked; give me a story about David running for his life from Saul or from his throne-envious sons. Give me these stories of David being a flawed human and I will nod my head: I get these stories.

But the story of David & Goliath! This is a story of a human not living out his flaws but living out his beyond-belief possibilities through trust in God. This story doesn’t invite us to identify with someone’s flawed life. This story invites us to accept the challenge of living our flawed lives without fear, invites us to let our trust in God define us more than our fears of everything else:

more than our fears of others, more than our fears of heartache,
more than our fears of financial needs or health needs;
letting our trust in God define us more than our fears of suffering,
more than our fears of uncertainty, more than our fear of fear.

How would we live differently if we believed the story of David & Goliath? I don’t know what the exact details of “living differently” might mean for you, but I know that it’s time. It’s time to practice trusting God in all things, in all moments, in all of life. It’s time to remember God in all things, in all moments, in all of life — daily, hourly, with each breath and each decision and each interaction.

Trusting fully in God, trusting boldly in God, let us not be afraid. Amen.

Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 8/5/2012.