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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Starting Over

The people left Jesus. Literally walked away from, John says in his gospel. Your teaching is too hard they complained. So they left him.

And it's here where Jesus, wondering if anybody was going to stay with him at all, asked his most loyal disciples if they too wanted to bail? Peter says, "Lord, where could go? You have the words of eternal life?" And from that moment on we have Christianity...

Believing about Jesus is not the same as believing in the God whom Jesus worshiped, indeed, the God whom Jesus is. It has to do with commitment, with passion, with desire. To believe Jesus is God is to accept some pretty difficult things to accept, to trust in God's undying love in spite of the available evidence or lack thereof. To live with Jesus to to live in a mystery, within an opaque shadow of hope and dreams, filled with suffering, and oftentimes despair. Living with Jesus, the Christ of God, is not for the faint of heart. There is sometimes too much failure to comprehend, and yet we strike another match and move on...

So we have this song 

And if you want, you can also listen to a sermon I gave on this topic recently.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Learning to Share

It takes awhile for us to learn to share. We usually need some catalyst, some person, some motivation to move us out of our greedy prisons of self-hood to share gifts we have been given. Most of the problems I see in our world come from people not wanting to share anymore. (If they ever did?) White people don't want to share privilege with black people or any people of color. Rich people don't want to share with poor people. Men don't want to share with woman. Straights don't want to share with gays.

Yes, people donate goods, services, and money. Yes, there are many people who have learned to share. But there are many who have not learned this yet...and they all seem to be running for political office. Sharing makes the world go around.

Over the years it has been my pleasure to meet a lot of people who work as bartenders and servers in the food industry. They make $2.14/hour. That's all their wealthy owners are required to pay, so they pay that, and sometimes complain about that too. Needless to say, unless somebody shares with my friends, they aren't going to last long on $15 a day. So we share with them. Unfortunately, we call it "tipping," but it is really sharing. Sometimes people don't share at all with them. Sometimes people try to share the least they can with them. That is sad. Share to make their life better, not so you can eat more or drink another beer.

The Christian Church has always put sharing as the top priority of spiritual maturity. We get it from Jesus, who begotten from God, shares the Spirit's energy and life eternal with us. So we share. Not because we want to, not even because we like to share, we share because that's how we got we have, and to not share those gifts, would be the most greedy, selfish act of all. Happy sharing!

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

They Call it a Lectionary: In Support of Boring

Lectionary: lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion. There are sub-types such as a "gospel lectionary" or evangeliary, and an epistolary with the readings from the New Testament Epistles. (from Wikipedia, August 13, 2015)

Image result for lectionary My congregation organizes its worship life around the readings found here. Other congregations use a "Narrative Lectionary," and still others do not use any lectionary at all in organizing its worship. Notice though: everyone organizes around the scripture, it's just a question of which scripture?

But something problematic is happening in congregations that use lectionaries. (I have limited experience with congregations that do not use lectionaries, but those I know of do not have this problem.) The problem is that somehow preachers have the idea that the lectionary readings for the week can speak to whatever problem arises in our world today. This is not so. (Unless you are a theologian who argues that all problems arise from the same source, like lack of trust, or blasphemy, or idolatry. Then, of course, every text does apply because the problem the text deals with are the same problem we're dealing with today.) But if the problems of the world have multiple sources (and I am not advocating there are multiple sources), then clearly, assuming the lectionary readings correspond to the issues of today is problematic.

Here's the thing: if you're going to be a lectionary preacher all your sermons will be the same. The examples and stories will differ, but every sermon will root out the same source, till the same problem, and harvest the same fruit. Although the Bible has a lot of variety, to distill it to one message week in-and-week out for forty years of preaching could get a bit boring.

Many preachers opt for other things; some unfortunately, abuse the Bible to fit their version of the problems and issues of the day (for example, Paul may really have been afraid of sex.) It
is tricky to preach on the lectionary because it forces us to distill every text, every story, every poem in the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Your sermons will sound boring, repetitive, and recycled because every week you are going back to the same starting point to end at the same destination.

That's why my sermons are boring. They all start with the human inability to trust God, the inability to trust our God-given humanity, and the inability to trust our neighbor. Every sermon I've ever delivered starts there. I don't care what the lectionary text is, because for me that's where every verse in the entire Bible starts, so it doesn't matter what the text is, it will start there. And every sermon ends at the cross and resurrection, and the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to free us for forgiveness. That's as far as Christians can go; the rest is just day by day, walking paths un-walked, crossing streams never forded, and climbing mountains of corporate and individual struggles as yet un-crested. Starting the same place, ending the same place...yes, my sermons are predictable and boring.

But there are many stories to tell about that beginning and ending. There is great variety on how God's love gets shared through our inability to trust. There are many ways in the Bible that get at that issue, and many ways in our lives that show us how God responds. God's love constantly battles against our lack of trust, and preaching, whether from a lectionary or through a dart at the table of contents of the Bible, shows that love in action. Granted, after a while, the same thing week after week can get a bit dull.

But sometimes God's love can feel that way too...even in the lectionary.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Here's a sample sermon of what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Racism and Listening

Below you will find a sermon I preached yesterday. Although I preach on social issues all the time, I rarely provide the over-arching "meta-type" of sermon that goes to the systemic heart of all our problems.

A long time ago, Hegel taught me about systems. His idea of competing forces seeking a new reality strikes at the heart of systems theory. Even the great Edward Friedman hasn't improved on that idea. But here's the thing to remember about Hegel, he gave Karl Marx an even better idea. Marx took Hegel's ideas and placed them in our historical, material world. And that's how most of us learn about systems. (When was the last time you read Hegel?)

Every time a Black American is abused, killed, or punished because of their skin color, Marx (and Hegel) wins. Every time a woman receives less pay for a job just because she is a woman, Marx (and Hegel) wins. Most people learn about the unfairness of systems in our day-to-day living. We don't need Hegel or Marx to point us to the injustices of racism and sexism (and any other "ism.")

Jesus Christ has entered the world of Karl Marx and history. His death and resurrection frees us from the traps of history so that we may be free to live in history unencumbered by sin, death, and the devil. You see how well that works out. Those three are tough foes, and don't give up without a fight.
So here's the sermon. Remember, I live one mile from Warren Buffet, and the town I preach in has a median household income of about $80,000 a year. This is our reality...what's yours? And how are you listening to the stories around and about you?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Divine Congregation in Action in the Human Congregation (Back to the beginning, part 2)

One of the reasons I use the metaphor of God as the Divine Congregation is to highlight the importance of humans who congregate. Congregating, as followers of the Divine Triune Congregation, is not really optional if one is to to be of God. If you wish to follow this God, you should probably find at least two others to make it a real and authentic following.

Some people believe they can "follow Jesus." In fact, many folks these days call themselves Jesus followers. Now, if by that phrase people simply mean they do the things Jesus did, I suppose that is OK. I mean, Jesus did some pretty radical things, and those who wish to do similar radical things could do worse than to follow him. But, if by "Jesus follower" they mean something more, something like "Jesus is my God. Jesus is my ultimate" and do not include the God who Jesus worshiped, the phrase becomes problematic. You see, Jesus is God because God is God.

Paul gets to this idea most poetically when he writes (many people believe it is a quotation from a song)
          "Therefore God highly exalted him,
                and gave him the name
                that is above every name,
                so that at the name of Jesus,
                every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth,
                and every tongue confess
                     that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2. 9-11)
What Paul wants us to see is that although Jesus is God, God exalted him. That's why being a "Jesus follower" is not enough to follow the way Jesus wants us to go. It is a good beginning, but there is way more to Jesus as the Christ of God for Humanity in the power of the Holy Spirit than just some radical politics.

There is living together with people you don't like, don't agree with, and probably don't like you. There is constant bickering about who gets what, and who gets to decide. There is going hungry even though you don't have to because there are some who have so little. There are children that are too noisy, and some elderly who are too crabby. There is pot-lucks that stretch for miles. Smiles that capture rays of sunshine. Love that seems to connect us with another dimension. Hope that springs eternal. We call those places congregations. Which, it seems to me, is precisely what the Divine Triune Congregation is looking for amidst us humans.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Staggering Lack of Imagination

In my experience, most congregations, and by extension the people who are within them, suffer, stagnate, and die from a staggering lack of imagination. People get frustrated that things are declining, scared that a promised future will not appear, and generally bored to the point of not caring. Those are people suffering from a staggering lack of imagination.

Bored is something you do to yourself. God didn't create you to be boring or bored, but you were created to be part of the party. If you choose not to go to the dance floor, that's probably OK, as long as your not bored with whatever you're doing on the margins. I feel especially bad for millenials in this case.

As a group, the people who have come of age since the advent of the internet are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to basic human interaction. Many of their formative experiences happened on a screen, whether a computer, phone, or video game, and as such they have reached ages in their mid-twenties still not having a lot of experience dealing with people face-to-face. They can be shy and reticent, simply because they are not used to dealing with people without a screen. So they get bored unless a screen is involved because that is often when they are most involved. The workplace, school, community events, are often places where they are uncomfortable and disengaged, and they find them boring. Congregations fit this bill. (Clearly this is an over-generalization, but I want to highlight one point: namely, face-to-face interactions, the life-blood of most Christian congregations, are not something we get from genetics, they have to be learned.)

A congregation that offers face-to-face interaction as its reason for existing (I get this a lot when people say, "My church is so friendly." No one cares. If that's the only reason why your congregation exists, I recommend closing. It's not a compelling reason to live.) is a congregation that many people don't know how to deal with anymore. The question congregations have to answer for many people these days is: How can we minister in face-to-face ways with people who only know how to (or are only comfortable with) screen-meditated relationships? You can lament all you want about this switch, but the millenials are already raised, and the next group? They were born in Twitter.

God believes in our context, our world. That's why Jesus bothered to come over here and muck around for awhile before we couldn't stand the honesty and truth he brought to us: humans matter to God. God doesn't want you to be bored, God wants us to be part of the world, part of life, to live, to suffer in love (which is different than suffering in abuse), and to relish a future God has promised. God gave humans imagination, and to not use it seems like such a waste.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.