Have you ever been around something that stinks?  A smell that makes your head swim and your eyes water and there is a bit of gag reflex occurring? Early one summer in my childhood, my sister’s room stank like that.  Her room was at the end of the hall, so it took us a while to notice.  It crept down to my room and then to my parent’s room and soon it was hitting you as the top of the stairs. My sister Mary smelled it.  She smelled of it.  She claimed to have no uneaten food, no dead hamsters, no load of long-forgotten dirty laundry.  My mother insisted on a top to bottom, every inch search.  And there is was. In the second drawer of my sister’s dresser. Tucked in the back, in a little piece of cloth.  Mary had found a perfect little blue robin’s egg, on the ground, nowhere near a nest.  She brought it home, thinking she could keep it. That was a couple months before and she had forgotten it. Mary and Martha have not forgotten their brother Lazarus. They know exactly where the body of Lazarus is and how long it has been there. And they know he stinks.  “Lord,” Martha says to Jesus, “our brother has been dead four days. He reeks.” This is what Martha says after Jesus has come to the diminished family. After he told her that her brother will rise again.  After she explained, like many a grieving loved one, “I believe there will be a resurrection. But that’s someday. I wanted him alive today.”  Martha tells Jesus...
Thirsting for a New Way

Thirsting for a New Way

During my sabbatical, my daughters and I got to visit Greece for six amazing weeks. I wouldn’t have traded spending a lot of time in one country for spending a little time in a lot of countries. However, one member of the traveling trio was intent on getting into as many countries as possible.  I think that was to collect the passport stamps that can come with that. So, when we had four days when it was just too hot to see anything else in Athens, we went up into the mountains of Greek Macedonia, parked our rental car, and walked up to the border crossing of Macedonia, whose official name is – awkwardly – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This wasn’t like going through security at the airport. We were crossing a definite border. For one thing, there is a great deal of animosity between Greece and Macedonia – over refugee entrances and crossings and – more hotly – over who should get to use the name Macedonia. And, crossing into Macedonia felt like leaving Western Europe – where they are prepared for tourists and non-native speakers – and entering an Eastern European country. We couldn’t speak a word of Macedonian, English was a struggle, and the locals seem baffled, if not annoyed, that we would visit. At the border crossing, the Macedonian officer looked at our passports and then at us. He was having trouble figuring out why we were there and how we were related to one another. I’ll spare you my atrocious Macedonian accent, but when he finally decided to make a connection he...

There is a sign that is held up at almost every football game. John 3:16. It just may be the most well- known Bible verse. Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the gospel in a nutshell” because it tells us of God’s profound love for us. It tells us of the depths to which God would go to convey that love for us. The verse leaped into popular sports culture when born-again Christians started holding “John 3:16” signs as a way to spread the gospel. The most famous 3:16 holder was Rollen Stewart. In the 70’s and 80’s, he wore a rainbow-colored wig and danced behind the goal posts at football games, home plate at baseball games and the backboard at basketball games, even the finish line of the Indy 500. Stewart said he wanted John 3:16, on as many tv screens as possible, so people would repent and believe. Right now, Stewart should be repenting. He is serving three consecutive life sentences after a bizarre incident in which he locked himself in a hotel room, held a maid hostage and threatened to shoot down airplanes. Despite that fall from respectability, John 3:16 has remained popular as a witnessing device among evangelical Christians. Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, says that’s “because it’s short and information-packed: God loves humankind, man has sinned and is destined for eternal punishment, but eternal life awaits all who believe in God’s son, Jesus.” And faster than the Patriots can turn around a game in the fourth quarter, a verse about the love of God has changed into a verse that is telling people they...
Thirsting for Worship

Thirsting for Worship

In a church I once served, there was a woman, who liked to make a quick buck, by which I mean she kept trying to get rich quickly. She set up a meeting with me to try to sell the idea that together we could get the whole congregation involved in selling pre-paid phone cards. A few of you are young enough not to know what that is. They were very popular back when people couldn’t roam around the country talking on a cell phone a single exorbitant fee. You purchased a card- like a credit card – which had a set number of pre-paid minutes of long distance calls on it. That was easier than dropping handfuls of coins into a pay phone and the minutes were sold at a cheaper rate. My worshipper was convinced that with only my support and every worshipper’s participation, this idea would provide the church with all the cash it would ever need. Everybody need phone cards, she reasoned, so we could get everyone involved in selling them. You see, a certain percentage of each card sold would go back to the church. She named ten percentage so that it had the sound of a biblical tithe to it. Of course, a percentage would go to her, oh, and a percentage would go to me. It would be great if I got in on the ground floor. And she knew how important mission was for this church and – incredibly – this would qualify as a ministry to the poor because we would be helping lots of poor people get really good...

  Ask someone what Christmas is all about. Most will answer: it is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God. Then ask: why was he born? The answers will start to vary widely. Many will say he came to save us from sin. He was born to suffer and die in our place. Others will answer that Jesus was born to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Others say he came to show us God’s love. All these answers are true, of course. As is in so much of faith, there is not a single simple answer. The answer that the gospel writer wants us to know this morning is that Jesus was born so we can claim our identity as children of God. John writes that Jesus’ birth – the incarnation – had to because of who God is, a God who is entirely present in the world. The word that was God and is God became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s John’s Christmas story. After a few short but glorious sentences, John moves on to answer the why of Jesus birth. His focus is on another birth. Or many births. John believes that the significance of the Christmas story is that it offers us – you and I – new life and our true identities. …to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. I know too many Christians for...

Oh, how we have longed for Christmas this year. Personally, I don’t think I have been as excited for Christmas to come since I was a child. It isn’t just the celebration we need. We need the vision that we are blessed in our humanness, for we spend so much time cursing one another. We don’t just need the peace. We need to hear of peace on earth, goodwill to all because we spend so much in confusion, fury, and fear. Angels appear in the stories about the birth of Jesus with a consistent message. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to take your part in the birth of God into the world. That message comes to us eternally and ever new. Even when times are anxious, we are to be fearless. We have our part to play in God being born into this world. GK Chesterton wrote that when he was a child he was delighted on Christmas morning to find a gift so big only half of it went into a stocking. As a grown man, he said he was delighted every morning to find a present so big takes two stocking to hold it and then leaves a great deal outside. It is, he said, “the large and preposterous present of myself.” Christ was born at Christmas. And so are we. By the gift of the incarnation, we walk on earth as a present of good news. Live with the joy of a well-loved child. Be at peace even in disagreement. Offer shelter to those who wander. Care for those who lives are intertwined...