As lambs among wolves

Sometimes I think I’m just not mean enough, not wily enough, not cruel enough. It seems like the people who get things done have all those qualities, the people who achieve a certain kind of greatness, the people with influence and power.

Today I wrote a letter, or four letters, actually, to my congressman, my senators, and to the President. They are cover letters to go with the statement RevGalBlogPals has made about the travel ban. 354 people signed on to the statement, from across the country and even beyond U.S. borders.

I’m under no illusion that it will make a difference to the President.

“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you.” (Luke 10:2-7, CEB)

I wonder how the disciples felt going out into the world? Were they hopeful enthusiasts? I’ve been that person, convinced that humankind had turned a page in our collective story, toward more kindness and acceptance. Along the way they met people who rejected them, who rejected the Savior they came to represent. They had to shake dust off their sandals and move on to the next town. They had power over demons, but that didn’t make everyone agree with them.

We live in a time of aggressive disagreement. I wish I still had that hopeful enthusiasm. I pray we are living through a wild pendulum swing that will prove temporary, but I recognize that while many will be just fine in the midst of this moment, those who do suffer will suffer terribly.

Here’s my question. If things do come round right, will there be equal suffering for the ones who presently hold power and are using it in ways I believe are wrong in God’s eyes? Jesus called the names of cities that would “cast down to the place of the dead.” (That’s in verse 15. I read all of chapter 1o today.) This is what happens to wolves, at least the metaphorical ones.

I guess my preference is for changes of heart all around.

Lord, make us all more like lambs, more like the Lamb of God. Amen.

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

Twelve baskets of leftovers

I’m still finding last week’s announcement about the “skinny” federal budget infuriating. An American of Irish descent wearing a Book of Kells necktie stood in front of the press and said it was compassionate to *not* feed people through programs funded by the government.

I’m angry, angry at people in Washington and people on social media, but also angry at people I know face-to-face who smugly declare the kinds of things I suspected they thought all along but were careful not to say in politically mixed company until recently emboldened, about their attitude toward government programs that assist the poor, the elderly, children, and others in need.

They seem to be saying,

We don’t have enough for ourselves to be able to share.”

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” (They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. (Luke 9:12-17, CEB – I read all of chapter 9 today)

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 20, 2017].
The message we’re hearing from Washington is that we would better leave money in the wallets of lower-middle class and poor people who could choose to spend it as they wish. The message we’re hearing from Washington is that people don’t really care about taking care of themselves, so why should anyone else do it for them? The message we’re hearing from Washington is that those with money will have the access they can buy, and the rest of the world can figure out how to get by with nothing. It’s a theology of scarcity; it says if we let other people have a little, we might not be able to keep a lot for ourselves.

Jesus is saying something completely different.

He is saying,

“There is already enough to go around.”

Holy God, may we remember that yours is the love that never lets us go, the grace of twelve baskets of leftovers, the mercy of more than enough for everyone. Amen.

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

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

Return home and tell the story

After the first few verses that tell which ladies were traveling alongside Jesus, Luke 8 becomes a kind of greatest hits mash-up of things we can find in Mark and some in Matthew, and the chapter feels less, well, Luke-ish to me.

But here we are (Luke 8:4-56), with the parable of the soils (or the sower), and its explanation, the light that should not go under the bowl, the arrival of Jesus’ family, the calming of the sea, the Gerasene demoniac, and the healing of a hemorrhaging woman paired with the raising of a 12-year-old girl.

And the thing I find fascinating about this combination is the contrast between the last two. A man who has been living with a legion of evil spirits disrupting his life is healed, the demons cast out from him (and sent off to a herd of pigs), and after being naked and bound and pitiful, now he is sane and dressed and sitting around with Jesus. Unsurprisingly,

The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you.” So he went throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:38-39, CEB)

The woman who is bleeding tells what happened in front of everyone, and Jesus tells her to go in peace. Then he goes to the house of the sick young girl, and takes only his three most trusted wingmen inside, and he raises her from the dead.

Her parents were beside themselves with joy, but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 8:56)

So which is it to be? Do we tell the story, or do we keep it a secret? How can we tell the difference?

Maybe the trouble is that so many Christians tell the story of what God has done as their personal victories in the face of the storms and tragedies that are simply part of human life.

Your house didn’t fall down and your neighbor’s did? Praise the Lord! Your cancer disappeared, but your co-worker’s was terminal? Good thing God was on your side. Your child is on the honor roll, while your cousin’s kid dropped out and ended up in jail? Run tell the town how blessed you are!

No. No, no, no.

Today in the middle of so much bad news about the federal budget proposals, which will eliminate funds being used for those in need, we need the real Good News, which is not merely personal. It is for all of us. We need it as emotional and spiritual encouragement, we need it as a reminder of what Jesus was about in the world, and we need it as a spur to our own action.

Here it is in my words.

I believe that God loves us so much that in the person of Jesus, God became human. I believe that God cares *especially* for the poor and the hurting, the homeless and the hungry, the lost and the last and the least. I believe that although we are all sinners, that human beings brought about the death of the one who came to show us God’s love through his life, that despite the worst the world could do God shows us mercy, and that in Christ’s death and resurrection we are all covered by grace.

I believe that in response to that grace, I am called to “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” and what that looks like is serving the ones for whom God showed and shows special care and concern.

I believe this is no time to keep any of it a secret.

“Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you.”

Really. We have no time to waste.

Holy One, in the face of unholy cruelty to the poor and those in all kinds of need, give me the wherewithal to serve you in a way that is fruitful and effective, to share the Good News wherever it is needed, and to confess when I fail you. You have redeemed me and all people. This is the story of what you have done and are doing and, I pray, will continue to do. Thank you, thank you. In Christ’s name. Amen. 

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

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.)

A little of that healing

There have been too many young parents in our circles of family and colleagues dying in recent weeks, all of the deaths coming with shocking swiftness.

Even one would seem like a lot.

We pray for them, for the spouses and parents and siblings left behind, people trying to figure out how to manage the unmanageable, to comprehend the incomprehensible. I think of those who are ill but still living. Collectively, we respond to these terrifying circumstances with action. To fend off helplessness, friends organize meals, rides, even donations of breast milk. (If that last won’t make you weep, well.)

Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come through town and reverse death? (Luke 7:1-17, CEB) To save the life of a beloved one, or restore the life of one gone too soon? The stories of the centurion’s faith and the raising of a young man from a bier being carried through the streets offer us two ways of seeing Jesus’ authority and God’s power, and they serve to escalate the tension in the gospel. If the earthly religious powers already disliked him, were already poised to do something to him, these stories would only further aggravate them.

Imagine, imagine, Jesus on the road near your house, getting word of the illness of someone you love and making him well without even having to come by and lay a hand on the patient. Imagine, just imagine, Jesus coming through the center of town to stop the funeral procession and tell your daughter, your cousin, your friend to sit up, be alive, be well!

Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:16, CEB)

Awestruck, of course, they were awestruck. They got what we wish for but rarely dare ask. They could stop asking, “Why is this happening to her?” They could stop saying, “Why him? Why not me, instead?”

Their hearts un-broke.

Dear Jesus, we could use a little of that healing right now. I wish you were here in body, O Great Physician, to make these mamas and daddies whole again, for their children, for the sake of goodness in the world.

I hope you hear this prayer. Amen.

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

Even sinners do that

Last night, someone suggested it would be great for RevGalBlogPals to do its own continuing education programs. We’ve been doing annual programs since 2008 and since 2013, we’ve had more than one program a year. Most of them fill up very quickly, and we often have waiting lists.

I get that the person making the comment was relatively new to our group, but I was also infuriated because it felt like either the work I’ve done has been worthless or the attempts to make it public have failed. I felt invisible. This is the way many churches feel today, but to have it happen within a group sponsored by the organization was particularly frustrating, especially since there were several follow-ups telling us we are doing it wrong. I took – take – it all personally.

It’s easy to go from there to demonizing the person who hurt my feelings.

“But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

“If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.” (Luke 6:27-38, CEB)

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is very direct (Luke 6:17-49). This may be why the Sermon on the Mount gets more popular play; it’s easier to identify with the poor in spirit than realize we can’t identify with the actual poor unless we do some pretty ruthless self-examination. Overall, the same challenges are laid down for us: treat others the way you want to be treated; turn the other cheek; if people are taking from you, give even more.


Last night’s exchange felt like a slap on the cheek. And even though I’ve read Walter Wink’s take on this text, I am pretty sure that in my case, the slap should have been endured not as an act of rebellion but as an act of humility. It was far too easy to clap back.

“Bless those who curse you.”

I absolutely failed at this last night and again this morning, as the critique from the new person continued to unfold. Instead I engaged in judging and condemning. I wanted to huddle up with my squad and feel vaguely superior so that I would not feel like a loser who did a bad job publicizing a ministry I love.

It’s easy to love my squad.

“Even sinners do that.”

So here I am, a progressive who prepares to think of Lent as a journey, or a season of preparation, and instead, I’m confronted with the need to repent. I’m trying to get there as I write this.

Lord. I confess, I am stubborn. I confess, I resist. I confess, holding on to the resentment doesn’t feel good, but neither does the idea of making amends. Do what you will with me, because I am not doing a very good job myself. Amen.


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