The True Banquet


Joel 1:1-13Rev. 18:15-24Luke 14:12-24

As Fall marches on and the weather turns to cold, a number of things sprinkle our daily landscape just as they do every year: talk of stewardship, talk of the harvest, Thanksgiving, and talk of big Packer wins.

OK, let’s get real….If you signed up for these Morning Reflections you certainly had to know what a huge Cheesehead I am.  So you knew what you were signing up for and have to endure: There was a big win at Lambeau last night, a slaughterfest, so much so that by the 4th quarter my mind was wandering and I began perusing Thanksgiving recipes and got thinking about what I would do this year.  My family has already signed me up for my Pecan Pie.  I’m not complaining there.  It really is good.

Those thoughts of food and banquet feasts followed me into the morning.  The parable of the great banquet is told today in Luke’s reading.  It is preceded by a repeated theme of Jesus: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you….”

I immediately thought of the Thanksgiving dinners we have here in the USA.

But so often it is a time for friends and relatives only.  What would Thanksgiving look like if we all invited the poor, the crippled, and the lame?  Jesus is making a point about the poor.  He is certainly not suggesting one should never eat with friends.  He ate with his disciples all the time.  But he also ate with the poor.

I think Jesus wants more from us than simply to eat with the poor.  Remember the law.  Remember the cleanliness code of the time.  For this time, Jesus is really speaking out of turn.  This is a clear violation of much of scripture to be eating with those who are unclean.  Really Jesus???  The lame?  The blind?  The crippled?  Ritually unclean! You have got to be kidding, Jesus!

Jesus is saying something radical here.  In essence, he is saying, “Go ahead and eat with them.  In fact, you must eat with these people.  And eating with these people immediately restricts you from Temple worship.  But no matter.  A banquet with the poor is more important than that.”

Yikes.  No wonder Jesus gets in trouble so quickly.  What a radical concept.  Radical love.  Radical inclusion.  The cost of discipleship seems to be a bit high.  And yet Jesus invites us into this life.  He requires it.  This is what is meant by the stewardship of our lives.

What a glorious banquet invitation this is, for he too invites us to a meal of which we are unworthy.  I’ll meet you there!


Hungry for Freedom


Ecclus. 43:23-33Rev. 16:1-11Luke 13:10-17

We Americans awake to a slightly different political landscape, as we do after each election.  There are some winners and some losers.  Many would argue that last Sunday we put our clocks back one hour, and yesterday put our state back 50 years.  So it is with mid-term elections.

This is particularly the case among many of my progressive friends from Oklahoma, who just endured what many of us consider to be one of the worst governors in all of state history, only to elect someone cut from the same cloth, but with no experience.  We were hungry for release from the past.  What a loss….And yet Oklahoma elected my friend and neighbor Kendra Horn!  So like I said, there are always winners and losers in these mid-terms.

We are fickle people with short-term memories.  It is a day of celebration for some, and it is a day of sadness for others.

In many ways, so is our Scripture passage in Luke.  Jesus heals a crippled woman, which is obvious rejoicing for her, but at the same time Jesus raises serious questions in the minds of the leaders of the synagogue and other orthodox Jews.

Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath and there was a woman there who was crippled for eighteen years.  She was bent over and unable to stand up straight.  Jesus, without prompting, calls her over and heals her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

There are two major problems that many are having.  For one, Jesus is breaking a serious commandment – healing on the Sabbath, an act clearly prohibited by scripture.  Secondly, and perhaps a more grave issue for the day, is that this woman did not ask for the healing.  In many ways her illness and deformity was viewed as a result of sin.  She does not ask for her sins to be forgiven.  So, without a change of heart or even a desire for renewal, Jesus takes the lead and chooses healing for her!  He chooses forgiveness!  This was scandalous.  In some ways it would be akin to performing surgery on someone without their permission, in today’s lingo.

So what was the response?  The crowd rejoiced in the healing.  They were hungry for a release from the oppression of the rules.  They were not wanting to fall back to the old ways of doing things, but ready to turn the corner and have a fresh new start to their religious beliefs and application.  They were hungry for freedom themselves.

In this post-election time, there will need to be some healing too.  (Mainly I think it is a sigh of relief – that we endured and survived another election cycle and all the obnoxious ads that came with it).  And I pray and hope that it will be a time of coming together, and peace.  For we have many problems – monumental problems.  And whoever has been chosen as our leaders, they will have enormous tasks of legislation and building bridges in front of them.  What on earth will our politicians do if not be obstructionists to one another?  (Who knows)

We, Christians, will also be needed in this time, and in this place, to have the same spirit as the Jesus of miracles, who stepped across party lines, who took some risks for what was right, and who called forth healing.  He took the initiative in mercy, reconciliation, and grace.

We will need the same – because all around us there are people hurting – emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, and relationally.  They need more than hope.  They need more than a handout.  They need our genuine care and compassion.  They need us to move past our political doldrums and fall back to a time when the church remembered how to be the church.  Reclaiming Christ’s vision of mercy will be no small task in today’s cultural climate.   So let’s pull our heads out of the sand and get on to Christ’s mission of love, mercy, and grace for a hurting world.


Prayer for Election Day


As we turn our attention to voting in today’s election, I share a prayer written by our friend and colleague Jill Duffield from the Presbyterian Outlook.  Originally published in Nov 2016, but it seems just as appropriate today:

Almighty God, as people go to the polls this day we pray first and foremost for peace. May the sense of community and connection be greater than any division or difference, no matter how entrenched. Knowing we will vote in schools, churches, synagogues, and other communal gathering places, may our commitment to care for one another grow as we stand in lines, talk to our neighbors and recognize we have more in common than we often realize. May we show one another kindness and respect, today and in the days to come.

We thank you for the freedom to vote our conscience, of which you alone are Lord. After this election, we are keenly aware that even if the political rhetoric fades the acrimony it highlighted will remain. Grant us the courage to step into the breaches and not shrink back into our enclaves of homogeneity. Send your Spirit to drive us to the places where you are already working to bring reconciliation. Remind us relentlessly that you are greater than every category we devise, more powerful than any estrangement we have created, eternal, ever present and always calling forth justice, peace and abundant life. Show us today and everyday how to live in the love of Jesus Christ, the perfect love that casts out fear. Amen.

Revelation: The Bible’s Most Confusing Book


Ecclus. 38:24-34Rev. 14:1-13Luke 12:49-59

About once a month, I have a student from some university call looking to interview me on my religious views, what Presbyterians believe, or some such questions.   Do you all get these calls too?

A recent call went something like this: This well-meaning student launched right off with his first question, “Do you believe the church you pastor is the one referred to in Revelation as being sealed (i.e. the 144,000)?”  Maybe it was a question from his professor.  Perhaps he is just on the prowl for a certain answer, to explore certain church traditions.  But I felt like the question itself was already a fundamental misunderstanding of the book of Revelation.  And here is what I mean:

Those who believe that every word in the Bible is literally true are in deep trouble today.

144,000 stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion and approach the throne.  The 144,000 sing a new song before the throne, and no one else can learn the song except those.  These are those who have been redeemed from the earth.  “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins….”

It is a fantastical vision.  And I’m not saying it can’t happen.  The question is why would I think it is not full of symbol and hidden meaning, much like the rest of the Bible?  (I didn’t take Jesus literally when he said “take up this mountain and fling it into the sea” or “pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin”.  Not many pirates among us.  We really do need to look with better eyes than that.)

I remember many years ago some Jehovah Witnesses came knocking on my door.  One of their first statements to be was, “Do you want to be one of the 144,000 that are saved?”  These days you don’t hear them ask this question, now that their numbers have exceeded 144,000.  Their biblical ethic seemed inadequate, so they ditched that emphasis in favor of another ethic.  To complicate matters for those who want to revise the number, but still take the rest of the passage literally: There will be no women in this number saved.  And of the men, none of them have ever had sex.  These are the unmarried and completely chaste.  Leave anyone out?  I probably left most of my readers out.

So what are we to make of this?  How are we to read Revelation?  First, we need to give ourselves permission to not always take the Bible literally, but to read it for its deeper meanings.  (I hardly think that the kingdom of heaven is JUST like Jesus said – an actual mustard seed.  Of course there are metaphors!)

Next, we need to explore the images and metaphors of this passage.  How are we to take these dramatic pictures of the throne, and visions of salvation of the world?  What is behind these images that represent the faithful picture of salvation?

Additionally, we need to understand that in Revelation, numerology is important.  7 is a holy number.  7 times 77, something that Jesus used in reference to “how many times one should forgive,” is considered not to be 539, but meaning more along the lines of “forgive a WHOLE LOTTA times”.  It is a number too big to count.  In the same manner, 40 days in the wilderness, or raining for “40 days and 40 nights” is code for “a long, long time.”  40 years in the wilderness is an “unfathomable amount of time,” so large we all lost track of how long it really was.

And so here, our number 144,000, ties in with the disciples.  The number of disciples grew from 12, to 12 times 12, and that grew 1,000 times!  The writer of Revelation is saying, “The number of those saved is too large to be counted, but it will stem from those who heard and understood the Word.”

Rarely do I see Revelation speaking literally.  It is a dramatic portrait of God at work to conclude creation.  That which was begun in Genesis, and fell victim to sin, is cleaned up.  Another way to say it is, “In the end, nothing can resist the power of God.”

This ultimately is great reassurance, especially to a readership that was under persecution.  To hear that beyond their daily lives, God was in control and God had a plan, was great reassurance.  The same was true of many of the African slaves, who when the going got tough, their theology and songs focused more on the afterlife, redemption, and freedom from this world’s pain.

It is no wonder that we turn to Revelation at funerals and dark times.  They are reassurance of God’s sovereignty, and our desire to be allegiant to the Lamb and bow before the throne.


Beer & Hymns


I have begun as the new General Presbyter for Maumee Valley Presbytery.  One of the joys of this new position is fostering healthy relationships in this region – between ministers, leaders, churches, denominationally – wherever.

Some in Christian circles might question fellowship like “Beer and Hymns” that seems to center around alcohol consumption.  But to focus on that is to miss the point.  Martin Luther, one of the churches early reformers, was keenly aware of how the church needed to reconnect with the masses and change their ways.  He was also connected to the people, and was a frequent patron of the local pub.  He knew where people hung out, and first and foremost was a priest and a pastor to his flock.

We too live in a world that aches for God, and needs to hear of the redemptive love that Jesus Christ offers.  And so Beer and Hymns comes to Maumee Valley as it does every month.  It is a time to connect with our flocks in a different way – a relaxed almost playful way.

I encourage you to come.

And if you struggle with alcohol, you don’t have to partake.  I, for instance, have developed an allergy to most beer with the genetic modification of grain proteins.  So I may have a cider.  But no beer for me.

It will be a time of singing, fellowship, and some fine malts!  Come hang with your pastor and get to know her or him on a different level.  Make a new friend in another part of the presbytery.

See you at the Black Cloister Brewing Company on Monroe St. in Toledo.  7pm.  Sunday.