Reorient (a prayer for pastors)

File Mar 19, 8 33 20 AMO Holy One
We thank you

For trips that dislocate us
For maps that reorient us
For views we could not have imagined
For voices we never quite heard before

For all travel that leads to you

For armchair journeying in a good book
For podcasters with unfamiliar perspectives
For conversation partners who push us
For prayer that redirects us

For all travel that leads to you

For taking off with all we think matters
For coming home with nothing to show for it
For thirsty work and unexpected meetings
For hurrying back to share the good news

For all travel that leads to you
We thank you

Reliable with the Ladies

Jesus had a way with women. I’m not suggesting he was some kind of tomcat or lothario, rather that the gospels show him facing off with men everywhere, while women sought him out, anointed him, traveled with him, and quietly financed his ministry.

Soon afterward, Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. The Twelve were with him, along with some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses. Among them were Mary Magdalene (from whom seven demons had been thrown out), Joanna (the wife of Herod’s servant Chuza), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3, CEB)

This picture of the traveling company of disciples, male and female, follows two stories in which male figures question not only his authority but his sense of how the world works (Luke 7:18-8:3). First John the Baptist’s disciples come to question whether he really is the one, and he responds that no one is ever happy, either with John’s ascetic approach to life or with Jesus’ more relaxed embrace of eating and drinking with both friends and foes. Names have been called, clearly: Glutton! Winebibber! (Thanks, Greek interlinear!) Next, he dines with a Pharisee who thinks he must be stupid for not recognizing a sinful woman when she came right up and anointed his feet with fragrant ointment.

JESUS MAFA. Jesus speaks about forgiveness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

How slow not to see that women loved him *because* he knew exactly who they were!

When I hear contemporary complaints about the feminization of the church, or hear that all a church really needs to come back from decline is a good, strong, male pastor, I wonder if people have ever read their Bibles. These women will be ready to go to the cross with him. He must have given them some sense that their faith mattered to him, in a world where what they thought may not have mattered much at all. Somehow, they knew they could rely on him.

Thank you, God, for caring that we believe in you. Thank you for encouragement to take the risks required to follow you. Thank you for being reliable. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

(And yes, today’s title is another Hamilton nod.)

The ax at the root

To say that I had a complicated relationship with my mother would be an understatement. She had a way of saying things – to me only, as far as I know – that left me feeling I could never be adequate to please her. I used to think that as her adopted child I was somehow alien, did not exhibit traits she saw as typical for her family, but as I have aged I conclude that people often feel this way about their biological children, too.

In a rather striking use of metaphor, she told me in my 20s that I still needed pruning. She was a gardener, and she knew the good it might do to cut off a branch.

“The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.” (John the Baptist in Luke 3:9, CEB – full passage here)


A tree that wouldn’t die

Although the pruning comment hurt – she said nothing to soften it – having learned about gardening from my mother, I know that some plants come back even when you chop them down. I know from visiting the Gulf Coast for several years after Hurricane Katrina how some trees that look dead can grow again. I know from having lost parts of my identity that God can bring new life even when we think everything that matters has been tossed into the fire.

I tend to look at this dire prediction as a misused metaphor on John’s part. We believe in a God who is making all things new. There may be things, attitudes, behaviors that need to go in order that we might bear good fruit, but like my mother, God is more likely to prune, I think, than get rid of us for good.

John knew only in part. (More to come later in the gospel.)

Great gardener, thank you for the patience you have shown with me, the grace you have given my sometimes inadequate crop of fruit, the love in abundance available in every season. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? Full schedule can be found here.

Derailed (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

I like to have a plan
for every season
of the church year,
for every season
of my life.

I love making the plan,
with variations,
assembling the materials
practical and vocational,
doing the research
geographic, theological.

I want the plan
to serve You,
to express my
faithfulness to You.

derailedI want my plan
to stay on track.

Sometimes, though,
I am derailed,
perhaps by grief,
or economic chaos,
by unexpected
human frailty,
even by

I don’t know
what Jesus planned,
or if,
whether he lay awake
in the wilderness night
looking at stars,
imagining the day to come.

Be with me in my work,
and in my planning,
and in the moments
plans derail.

Especially then.

Help me
to get up again,
and to follow
the lead of the Spirit
even into the wilderness
without plans,
without rails.


“Peace, good will among people”

It feels weird to read a birth narrative in Lent. Lent is an adult season, in which a grown-up Jesus sets out into the wilderness to fast, to have his vision quest, if you will, to come back out to the edge of civilization only to be tempted by the Devil.  (Find Luke 2:1-20, CEB, here.)

I find I’m most interested in those other guys who live at the edge of civilization, the shepherds. Imagine the blinding brightness, the mighty messenger, the seraphic singing:

“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:1-14, CEB)

Hmm, “…among those whom he favors.” This phrase demanded a renewal of scholarship, to make sure I was being honest with myself. How many times have I paraphrased this to make it more inclusive? Am I influenced by Handel’s Messiah (“good will to-oo-oo-wards men”)? Am I making things up to suit my own interpretation? Every translation is an interpretation. I know that.

Today I looked to Burt Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels (Fifth Edition), in which he worked with the New Revised Standard Version, and I was relieved to discover in a footnote, “peace, good will among people.” He traces this variant back to five Greek manuscripts (S A B D W), two Latin versions and one Coptic, and gives it the imprimatur of two Church Fathers, Irenaeus and Origen.


I feel better.

We don’t know exactly how the angels said it to the shepherds, of course, nor how clearly the shepherds understood the words to the angels’ song. I do know that the spirit of the message matters a lot to me. This slight textual difference sums up the primary difference between Christians divided by their theology. Is this good news for all people, or for a chosen few?

The Syriac version ends simply.

“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace and good hope to people.”

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible; tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 2:21-52. Full schedule can be found here.

Charred Hosannas

Sunday before last, someone sitting close wore cologne that irritated a tickle in my throat. In these first months of my unintentional retirement from parish ministry, I have moments of missing the refuge of the chancel, where we have become allergy-sensitive, even ordering stamen-free Easter lilies.

When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. (Luke 1:12, CEB)
Yet Zechariah went into the Lord’s sanctuary for the hour of burning incense, to thicken the air with scent, as pungent as the cloud that startled me the first time I burned the previous year’s palms in my fireplace.
blackened-hosannasSweet and acrid, it filled my head: caramelized palm, charred hosannas.
You can buy a pouch of tidy ashes from Amazon – I have – but I long for those inefficiently rendered fronds, smoldering on a piece of foil while I sat overcome near the fireplace grate.

Holy One, may the fragrance of Your presence never cease to startle and overcome us. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible; tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 1:26-56. Full schedule can be found here.

When we come down again (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

We have been to the high places,
the extreme edges of bliss,
the far reaches of where-to-find-you,
the mind-bending moments of truth,
the spill of something ineffable,
the fragrance of words-can’t-describe.

We have been there,
most of us, once
(or twice – the three-plus
attenders being mystics),
if that. Some
still wait for a trip
to the mountaintop.

We felt

We said things,
possibly laughable.

And then it was over.
The moment passed.
The brightness dimmed.
Clothes, faces, sounds
returned to normal.

I guess You know
we need You even more
when we come down again.

Please, be with us,
down here on the ground,
where we need healing,
and truth-telling,
and a way to make You real
to those who need You most.


For Christ’s sake. Amen.