New Heaven?

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” ~ Revelation 21:1-2

New heaven, new earth, new city. That always surprises me when I hear it, and I have to confess, it gives me just a twinge of discomfort as well. I’m NOT a city girl, especially; I’m not sure I even like the city all that well. Yet, John tells us, that is precisely where God has chosen to make his home among mortals. In the city. Where babies are born, and the elderly die, and those in the middle ages work and worry and wonder. A new heaven and a new earth – and a new city, the place where you can find anything – business, art, sport, science and education, culture, music, industry – you will find all the things that make us human in the city. Compassion? Yes. Competition? Sure, you’ll find it there, as well as cooperation. New heaven, new earth – and a new city.

And why not? For some strange reason, this God of ours likes to be here with us, right in the thick of things. Born of a woman, raised in the faith, working with the people, Jesus spent his life in the heart of the city. He made his home among mortals: tall / short, male / female, gentile or Jew, free or slave – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And for some strange reason, he liked it here with us so much, not even death could keep him away. A lot of people who hear John’s vision latch on to the idea of the new heaven and the new earth, but pushed out to some time far in the future, and they completely miss the part about the city. If this kingdom Jesus talked about is as near as he kept saying it was, then the new city would be our city, where we live and move and breathe right now – our little city, made new, because the Spirit of God has come to make a home among mortals, not for a few years, but forever. Our city, Keokuk, made holy because God lives here, with us. Can you imagine that?

It still strikes me as strange that God wants to be with us – WE don’t always want to be with us – but I can’t shake the idea that maybe this kingdom thing is more than “some day, some where”. If so, this could begin to sound like good news, really good news.

(original post Apr 2, 2013)

Ordinary Radicals

“Ordinary Radicals” is not my term, I lifted it from Shane Claiborne. It’s a gritty term, but one I imagine would make Jesus smile.  Reading Mark’s version of the gospel, I think he’d approve of the term as well, though I don’t picture him smiling. He took it all with deadly seriousness. For Mark, the grittier, I think, the better he liked it. This disciple stuff was not for the faint of heart. Tax collectors, and sinners, and sundry other unsavories. Oh, my! But now, as then, that’s where you’ll find Jesus hanging out.

Ordinary Radicals

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 1 July 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

I’m not sure why, but Leonard Cohen’s haunting song “Suzanne” feels like the perfect reflection. I love Judy Collins‘ version, and I imagine you will too.

I really think Mark should have done his gospel as manga. I know there have been a few recent attempts to fill the void, but they haven’t met with a lot of critical acclaim. It seems nobody feels comfortable with a comic book Jesus.

Mark’s book, though, cries out for a few visual cues. And the story of Jesus’ first exorcism is one that would have been perfect material for a graphic novel. POW! KA-BAM! WHOOSH!

That Spirit on Your Shoulder

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 17 June 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

Wes Seeliger (1938-2000) continues to influence some of us through the Foundation for Contemporary Theology and through his books, especially Western Theology. It’s a great little book, but be warned – it’s offensive to just about everyone. But then, so is the gospel.

Free, as in Beer

The societal pressures to change in response to technological advances were nerve-wracking. We think we’ve got pressure with smart phones, social networking, and global economies, but the move from Late Bronze to early Iron was serious. Makes me glad I live now instead of then, but then again, reading 1 Samuel, it seems eerily contemporary. If you were to substitute the phrase “big government” for “monarchy”, you’d think this came out of this year’s campaign cycle.

There are the conservative voices (Samuel, in this case). There are the progressive voices (the elders, whoever they were, exactly). And then, there is the divine voice, failing to validate either human faction, but holding out hope for a whole new, and fresh, direction.

Every now and then, you stumble across an elegant turn of phrase that seems to say it all. This is one of them – free as in beer (coupled, naturally, with its mate, free as in speech). It’s not original with me, of course. I most recently heard it from Landon Whitsitt (author of “Open Source Church“), but it’s been knocking around the open access community for a long time. You take the two together, and you have a pretty fair sense of the distinctive direction God has been leading in forever.

Free, as in Beer

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 10 June 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

Oh Lord, How Long?

There are some words (phrases in English) that just signal trouble. This is one of them.

It gets translated as “Here I am!”, like in the song of the same name, you know the one I’m talking about? The one we sing at ordinations, the one that celebrates letting go and letting God? In reality, though, like many things having to do with the divine-human relationship, this human utterance is not so blythe and breezy. It’s a word for situations where words fail us. “Behold!” is how the King Jimmy renders it, but it’s more like clearing your throat because, when you tried to say something, nothing articulate came out.

Most people think that “the call”, as in “call from God”, ends with some poor fool saying “Here I am”. But it’s only the beginning.

Oh Lord, How Long?

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 3 June 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

When I first read the Bible through for myself, as a teenager, I remember thinking, now I’ll find out what the “good news” is. That was the one urgent matter to me, because I didn’t buy the idea that anybody, especially God, could think Jesus’ execution was good news. I understood what it was trying to get at, and I’m deeply moved thinking that Jesus would give his life for us, but pressing the metaphor, to almost any degree, makes it fall apart for me.

What I discovered that year was what Jesus said the good news was – “the kingdom of God is near”. I’ve been chewing on that single assertion for 40 years. And despite the evidence to the contrary, I can’t help myself – I really do trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about. I see it on every page of the Bible – how near to us the reign of God is. As near as the breath of our bodies.

I love the stories of God’s promise to give us life, and new life, and more life. And Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones is one of the very best. I understand what it’s like to be an old, dry bone. That’s why the promise of the Spirit is so sweet.

These Bones Gonna Rise

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 27 May 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

Chain Letter

It took me a long time to learn that everybody carries a boatload of stuff around with them, and most of it isn’t pretty.

I was not very worldly or sophisticated when I went off to college. If I’d come from some little cow town, it wouldn’t have been so humiliating, but I grew up in a big city! Not that it made a lick of difference – I really didn’t know very much about life. The first year I was away at college, I met people who had troubles I didn’t even know a person could have. Troubles that made my “burdens” seem like fluff. Happy problem to have, actually, and I’m grateful my problems were mostly in the annoyance category.

I learned a little bit, from the people I met in college, about empathizing with others. I learned a little bit more when I began working at my vocation as an engineer. I learned more when I married, and oh, boy, did I learn when the kids came along. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but now when I meet someone, I find myself looking and listening to discover their back story, wanting to know about the chains they’ve carried. There was a time I couldn’t understand, and there was a time I didn’t want to. But that’s changed, for the most part. I find myself wanting to come along side and understand why they are the way they are. Why they do the things they do, even when it gives them no joy.

On rare occasion, you will meet someone who has realized that the chains most of us carry are not locked. They’re just dangling free, and for no reason at all, other than habit, perhaps, we continue to haul them around. We profess that salvation comes from faith in Jesus, but it’s kind of hard to tell if we really believe it or not from the way most of us act. Whatever was, is, or will be needed to free us from the things that bind us, Jesus already took care. Done. Over. Finished. Jailhouse doors are swinging in the breeze, chains are laying on the floor, loose. All you have to do is restrain yourself from picking them up again before you walk away. Too radical a message for most of us!

Chain Letter

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 20 May 2012. My friend, Colin Pritchard, wrote an awesome song about this passage.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

In Jesus’ Name

When I read the Bible, especially the New Testament, I’m struck at how remarkable the message is. God loves the world – the whole world! Now, you may find this peculiar, but the thing that really stuns me about this message is that the love extends to human beings. I have no problem thinking God loves “cats and rats and elephants” (to borrow the words of a favorite childhood song), but it mystifies me that he loves us. ALL of us. For me, the message that comes through loud and clear when I read the Bible is that God’s love for the world is inclusive – it’s already expansive, and still-expanding!

Yet, the germ of Peter’s third sermon here in Acts gets trotted out regularly as proof of the exclusive nature of the Christian faith: “no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, Common English Bible).  I do believe, firmly, there is salvation in this name – God has willed it so, and so, it must be.  But I also firmly believe the Bible’s revelation of God’s complete sovereignty and freedom. The most sensible (and humble) statement I’ve ever heard on the matter came from Heinrich Bullinger in The Second Helvetic Confession (1561), when talking about the preaching of the Word of God: “At the same time we recognize that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, for that is in his power; but we speak of the usual way of instructing men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandment and examples.” (5.007)  So, Christianity is exclusively inclusive?Or inclusively exclusive? How the heck is anybody supposed to logically hold both those things together?

Ah, there would be the problem. Logic is a great servant, lousy master. All we can do is confess the bit of truth that we’ve been given to know. Turns out, that job is plenty big enough.

In Jesus’ Name

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 29 April 2012.
(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems,
right click and download the file to listen.)

I have to admit I’ve always had trouble getting into Peter’s sermons. The Peter in Acts is not the good old Peter I’ve come to identify with in the gospel accounts. This Peter cuts right to the chase, eloquently. It’s the eloquent part I find jarring, he was always pretty frank about whatever was on his mind. But when I listened to his sermon this time, in the context of the angst currently churning through our denomination right now, I heard it in a way I’d never heard him before. This sermon was certainly addressed to the troubles “in the family” back in Peter’s day, I don’t doubt that in the least. But the kind of troubles we experience “in the family” don’t, evidently, change all that much. We still can’t resolve the tension between law and grace on our own – but today, I heard a clear voice and simple, straightforward advice: stop, and turn around.

Times of Refreshing Will Come, Acts 3:12-26

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 29 April 2012.
(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems,
right click and download the file to listen.)

Thinking about the ethics of energy usage, and the interplay of  “the powers”  in our lives …

The Transforming Power of Living Lightly on Earth, Acts 3:1-12, 16

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on Earth Day, 22 April 2012.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems,
right click and download the file to listen.)