God’s grip.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13: 31-32

Mustard seed was a weed in Jesus’ world – dreaded by farmers like crabgrass or bindweed today. Starts out small, but before long it takes over your field.

You see, the weed has this way of spreading beyond anything we could even imagine – even infiltrating every nook and cranny of the system – and eventually taking over as host.

Why does Jesus compare the kingdom of God to a weed? Maybe it’s not about the weed at all. Maybe it’s about God’s in-breaking reign and reality in our lives – far more potent than we can even fathom and ready to spread into every corner of our lives?

What if we thought about God’s reign in our lives with this kind of hold on us every time we encounter God? Not only in our everyday lives, but all the corners of our lives, even in the routine faith elements of our lives like coming to worship, studying the bible, prayer – I mean do we really expect God to show up, much less surprise us with this kind of magnitude?

Here we have this seed – this ever so tiny of a seed, that is buried deep. But it has this incredible root system that spreads through the rich soil to the very inner depths of the earth. It fingers its way through the earth, and because of its tight grip, it begins to grow up through the soil reaching the surface. And there, even though the surprise – the transformation – may start well below the surface – in the heart of the earth – its surprising strength is manifested in glorious grandeur – spreading its wealth and richness across the landscape.

Does God have a grip on your life like this? Where the seeds of faith are rooted deep within your heart? And do you believe God’s reign can push through the hard and soft surfaces of your heart to reveal to you and the world this amazing love and grace that spreads across the landscape of life?

I believe in a God who is much bigger than I can even fathom or put words to. And so there’s this mystery of this God that I hang on to – believing that even and especially in the midst of earthquakes and life-taking storms and hurricanes, in the tragedies of life and loss of life, in illness and in health, in the midst of nuclear threats, in broken relationships, and threatened deportations, in love and new life – I believe that if this God DOES NOT permeate the very depths of my being, and spread to the four corners of the world, then there is no pathway to hope.

But only by God’s grace, I believe. I believe in the cross and the resurrection and the life. I believe in the promise that spreads beyond anything I can even imagine. I have HOPE.

I believe in this God’s power to overcome the greatest of this life’s challenges and to bring the greatest of blessings – from even the smallest seeds of hope. Do you have HOPE?

May God’s reign grip our lives and continue to surprise us – take our breath away! – at the beauty and depth of God’s promises – not only for our sake but indeed for the sake of the world. Amen?

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with the seed in it.

“The earth brought forth vegetation; plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” Genesis 1: 13

Why haven’t I every seen that before?  Don’t just bear fruit, but bear fruit WITH THE SEED IN IT!

This week is the 2nd week of our Creation Series in worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church where I serve here in Denver.  We will be celebrating the Land and the Soil, and all that comes from it.  As I was pondering the creation story according to the first chapter of Genesis, I was struck by these words “bear fruit with the seed in it.”  Now maybe that’s not very significant to you, but I realize in this text that it’s not enough to bear fruit, but that fruit must have seeds to produce more fruit.

Crimson-Sweet-WatermelonNow I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the store and when I’m buying fruit, I look for the seedless version; you know, like watermelon and “seedless grapes,”  because seeds can just be an annoyance!  When you’re cutting up a watermelon it just takes too much time to “seed” the watermelon. And grapes?  Where do you put the tiny little seeds from each and EVERY grape?  Not to mention how strategically you need to eat them! You get my point.

But what’s also true, is that seedless watermelon, at least, just doesn’t have that sweet sugary taste quite like that of watermelons with seeds.  (do your own experiment the next time you’re at the market! It’s true!)

So not only will fruit without seed not produce more fruit, but it also isn’t as flavorful!

Indeed God desires that we be fruit with the seed in it.  So just as the seeds of a watermelon produce a more flavorful sugary, watery watermelon, so we are called to bear juicy fruit…WITH THE SEED, exploding flavor in the world – seeds of God’s love planted in our communities, neighborhoods, families, workplaces – where ever God has planted us.

Today, be the seed that bears fruit that bears more seeds.

 

go deep.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Luke 5: 4b

school of fish

When Jesus called his first disciples, he didn’t just say, “Come wade in the water,” but “Go deep!”  Don’t just dangle your toes in the water, but plunge right in to the depths of life! Jesus also says, “Don’t be afraid – don’t be afraid of my power in you, don’t be afraid that you are not worthy, don’t be afraid to go deep.  For I choose you to go deep in my name for the sake of others.”  When we go deep, giving up self gain and self doubt for the sake of sharing God’s love, we might just need to hold on to our fishing poles as the blessings overflow!  Why? Because Jesus went deep for us first.

My prayer for all of us today is that we would heed God’s call to go deep – into our own hearts, and into the world – sharing God’s love and hope with a deeply broken world.

peace. prL

it’s a dog’s life.

 What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh, look—the deep, wide sea,
    brimming with fish past counting,
    sardines and sharks and salmon.
Ships plow those waters,
    and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.
All the creatures look expectantly to you
    to give them their meals on time.

You come, and they gather around;
    you open your hand and they eat from it.  Psalm 104: 24-27a (27b-30)

This psalm just makes me want to do the dance of joy!  Especially these verses when I’m reminded of the Creator God who loves all that God has made and calls it GOOD.  And I marvel at the master plan – how the creatures of the sea, the birds of the air, the mountains and valleys and deserts, and us humans – are are part of this marvelous plan.

IMG_3477I have this Grandpuppy – Sierra – that my daughter claims that I love more than her.  Well that’s true only part of the time…. 🙂  Dogs, though, are amazing creatures to have around; Sierra loves me unconditionally, when she stays with us, she is always waiting for me to come home with the biggest wag of a tail that says, “I MISSED YOU!”, she listens and obeys (well most of the time), frolics with delight, smells creation likes it’s a wonder to behold each and every time she walks out the door,  and she sleeps without a care in the world.  It’s a dog’s life. Beautiful.  A life that knows that all is well with her world- that she will be cared for and loved, beyond worry.

Sometimes it’s just plain good to know that I don’t have to worry about life.  But it’s not easy to get to that place – so I need to be reminded that all comes from God. (You come, and they gather… you open your hand and they eat from it.. verse 27) It’s kind of like when my puppygirl Sierra sits and waits expectantly for treats from my hand, so does God provide for me.  It’s all there for the taking. If only I waited with such enthusiasm and trust.

Today I’ll take some love lessons from this four legged furry creature that God has blessed me with to be a part of my life.  Bless you Sier.  And bless your mommy for sharing you with us.

just like Job.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Job 38: 4 (view larger text)

Creation has certainly taken it’s beating these past few weeks.  Hardly in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma takes a turn at creating devastating destruction, not falling short of the loss of life.  And let us not forget that in the midst of destroying winds and rain, an earthquake takes the lives of many others.

It makes one wonder with Job, who’s very physical and spiritual body took a devastating beating, “How much more can we take, O Lord? Do you really know what’s going on?  Where are you?” And then God reminds Job (and all of us) that it is God who is the author of all life – who formed us and created us and all the world not leaving one detail out; that it is this God who laid the very foundation of the earth.  Wow…

I spent time with our confirmands this past weekend, working on putting words to our faith, preparing “faith statements” for Confirmation Sunday in October when they will publicly declare who they believe that God is. As I was checking in with them (hi’s and lows!) one of them raised the question about whether all this devastation is God’s response to all the bad stuff that humans are doing in our world today.  “Maybe God’s punishing us,” one of them said.  “If you read certain portions of scripture, it can be easy to come to that conclusion,” I told them as there are indeed examples of God’s judgment on a wayward people. Just take Noah’s story as an apropos example!

But I continued: “Here’s what I believe – I believe in a God who is so much bigger than I can even imagine or put words to. I simply don’t have the capacity to understand the fullness of this God.  But what I do know is in my heart, and that is that God made each of us and all creation to be in relationship with God.  That God loves God’s creation, and weeps for God’s creation when it suffers.  So when bad stuff happens in our lives and in our world as the result of sin – not God’s punishment, God never abandons us. But God indeed walks the journey with us, showing us the way.”  Then one of them responded, “I’m good at “falling” (screwing up).  But I know that when I’m going through some really hard times, I can also learn from them and God helps me through it.”

I must say, I love those “good confirmation answers.”  But I also know that we have to remind ourselves of those words all the time.  Whether it’s a hurricane, and earthquake, devastating illness or any kind of loss in our lives, it’s hard not to lash out at God and say, “You could have stopped this!”

We will each come to our own understanding of who God is. For me, I don’t have the answers to pain and suffering in this world, other than to say that, in the midst of suffering, I believe and trust that God is there.  This God who reminds us that God is the author of all things living – having been in this cosmos, this universe, laying the foundations of the earth before it even came into being.  Somehow, then, though I cannot comprehend all that God is, my faith informs me of one thing: this God is love and calls me into a relationship – to lean on, cry to, shake my fist at, and ultimately, fall down and worship ….just like Job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one in heaven and one on earth.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;  Psalm 103: 11

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nearness of heaven these days.  We celebrated the remembrance of Resurrection Day for my father, Darrell, yesterday. It has been 6 years since the angels sang such sweet melodies in his heart and called him home after 12 years of living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Meanwhile, my precious mother, Aileen, has been waiting patiently to hear those same melodies.  In the days following his death, I remember her saying that she would be next in “not too long of a time from now – a year at best,” to join him in heaven.

And I remember being angry with her for talking that way.  Well, here we are 6 years later; 5 of those years spent with her own deepening dementia to the point that she does not comprehend much of this earthly life anymore. So she waits. And we wait, for that glorious reunion to take place.

I know that the author of this text above perhaps thought little about life and death and those in heaven and those on earth while writing this psalm, but for me on this day, I  can only thank and praise this God of steadfast love who binds these two together – one in heaven and one on earth.

Deep in my mother’s heart, though she not remember the events that surround her in Chronos time (earthly time), she, I believe, lives in perpetual Kairos time (God’s time). So that though her days on earth run on, our God who lives both in heaven and on earth, surrounds her with a steadfast love so great, that nothing separates her from God’s love, not even a fading memory.  So perhaps she is not waiting at all for the fulfillment of the promise, but lives perpetually in that promise.  May we all abide in that kind of steadfast love, God’s love that binds heaven and earth together.

feeling a little Jeremiah-ish.

15 O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult. 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless. Jeremiah 15: 15-21

My silence for the past days has been self imposed.  Pondering the events of our world, most pointedly Charlottesville and it’s aftermath, Las Rambles, a total eclipse, and Hurricane Harvey in the past few weeks, my heart and head have been struggling to keep up.  But mostly, it’s my voice that has needed the boost.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little “Jeremiah-ish.”  The Jeremiah who said in response to the Lord’s calling him to be the Lord’s mouthpiece, “Who me? But I’m just a small child.”

In time, Jeremiah caught on – stood strong in the face of a wayward people – and proclaimed the word of the Lord.  The thing is, it wasn’t always a Word of peaches and cream.  Jere was known to deliver the tough stuff and then face the consequences.  Often abandoned and persecuted, he also felt abandoned from the presence of God, as noted above, naming God as a “deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”

In the climate of our world today where we face destruction, brokenness, loss, evil and hate, it is with great conviction that I hear God’s call to proclaim a prophetic Word that challenges all of us to speak and act out the Gospel in the face of what God calls “wickedness.” And I, like Jere, simply want to crawl up in a ball sometimes and respond, “Who me? For I am but a child.”

Yet God has been faithful, and has given me the Words “to eat” as Jeremiah says, and I have shared them – with boldness and humbleness, fear and confidence – because in my heart and in my head, I believe that these are the Words of the Lord.  Not mine, for I am humbly called to be a mouthpiece of the Lord.

How about you? Are you able to step out of the boat like Peter, or speak up and speak out for the marginalized, as the Canaanite woman did?  How will you answer Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” in the midst of our world today?

Only with God’s help, can any of us follow the footsteps of Jeremiah.  For remember the Lord’s promise in response to the small child Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:8

keep drinking.

imageJesus said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37–38 (NIV)

I need that living water flowing through me. These have been some difficult days in our world and in my heart and I feel parched. Feeling like I can’t drink enough of the goodness of God, of living water that drowns out evil.

So I keep drinking. Come Lord Jesus come.  Fill our hearts, fill our lives, fill our world with love and compassion and all that is good, to overflowing heights and depths. To you alone do I give glory. Amen.

God’s rescue mission.

Psalm 97: 1-6

The Glory of God’s Reign

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
    and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
    and all the peoples behold his glory.

Fear. …. (My cursor has been blinking in this space for 5 minutes now.  Literally, “Fear has stopped me in my tracks.”)

This past week has certainly given us pause and cause for worry and fear; both in the global and local arenas of our lives.  In my sermon yesterday I began by listing the top stressors in our lives that cause fear, according to an article I had read earlier..  Things like fear of failure or fear of success (!)  Fear of public speaking, and fear of spiders. Fear of heights or small spaces, and fear of dying.  But what didn’t make the list, was fear of nuclear war, or fear of a hatred and bigotry so intense that it causes violence, anger, destruction, and even death.  Or fear of hunger, or a whole country’s economic collapse. Fear of natural disasters such as earthquakes, or fear for the life of a infant born with severe physical and mental problems.  Or the fear of another friends’ unknown medical test results. And those are just the fears from this past week..  Indeed, the world is in need of rescue.

In the gospel text for yesterday we witnessed the disciple’s fear in the boat, all alone, on the raging seas, and then we hear the voice of One familiar who calls out, “Don’t be afraid. In fact, come to me.”  And then one brave enough, trusting enough – at least for a moment – steps out of the boat, until this one too is in need of rescuing.

If this walking on water text indicates one thing besides the questionable, wobbly, unsteady faith of a disciple, it reminds us even more, that because of our wobbly insecure faith, that we aren’t in charge of our own rescue mission.  That Jesus is the One who rescues.  And to that, I say AMEN.  For the many many times that I sink in fear, there is Jesus, each and every time, stretching out a hand for me to grab a hold of.

When I read the Psalm text above for today, I must admit that at first all I could see was a powerful, violent God, even if this God is on “my side!”  I literally run from uncertainties with fear.  And I run even faster away from violence.  When the earth trembles and the mountains melt, we are talking some significant power force to be reckoned with. It makes me want to run and hide.

But then I stepped back for a moment (maybe back into the boat?), and as I read,  the Hebrew for these translated words reminded me of this somewhat poet use of the word ‘fear’ in this context.  ‘Fear of God’ in Hebrew,  is not being afraid of a destructive God, but rather being in AWE of this majestic God who has come to rescue you and me and all the world. Not tear it down or destroy it, but rather bring the earth and the seas and the mountains and you and me  – all of creation – to our knees in AWE and glory and honor.

There is clouds and darkness and destruction that surrounds our lives and casts a shadow over the world – you bet. But in the midst of that darkness, is the Light able to shine so so brilliantly and brightly. My response can only be one of AWE, affording me the opportunity to see the light  – in you and me, and in the voices that refuse to let evil and darkness have the last say.  God is rescuing us each and every day and calls us out of the boat to follow God on God’s rescue mission – yes, even with our wobbly legs.  To God be the glory!

nothing more precious than that.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5: 17- 21

When anything is entrusted to me, I get a little nervous.  Am I capable?  Can I take care of it?  Will I break it?  Will I ruin it? Will I lose it?  The word “entrusted” by itself causes me to be anxious.  Like something precious is being handed over to me – for whatever reason – and now I’m responsible for it. Now I get to hold on to it, whether I want it or not.

When I think about what has been entrusted to me, I can think of material things that have been handed over to me, either temporarily or for a lifetime to be passed down through the generations.  But I also think about people who have been entrusted to me. Together, Mark and I have been entrusted with our two children, Jason and Sarah, precious precious gifts from God.  And as the generations grow old, when I was once entrusted to my parents, my mother is now entrusted to me.  To hold, to love, to care for, by the grace of God.

In the text today, Paul talks about being entrusted in another way.  Instead of focusing on any thing or person that we are being entrusted with, God entrusts us with God’s self. God is entrusting us to bring God’s message of reconciliation into our lives, and into the world.  The message of the cross.  The message of love. The message that God sent God’s Son to reconcile us to God – to wipe away our sin – and make us a new creation!

There is nothing more precious than this.  And the thing is, I can’t break it or lose it or ruin it. But I also can’t hold on to it.  For it has been entrusted to me so that I might share this Good News – give it away –  so that the world might share in the reconciling of Christ.     Just as an ambassador is an official envoy, especially a highest ranking diplomat who represents a state, so are we called to be God’s official, highest ranking children of God, representing this God who has already reconciled us to God’s self – entrusted and called to bear this message of reconciliation for all the world. Yes, there’s nothing is more precious than that.