"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Monday, November 16, 2015

Prayer for France

Image result for French flag images

On Saturday morning I contacted my dear friend Lewis Galloway, the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, and asked him for a favor. Lewis is fluent in French. I asked him if he would write a prayer for me in French that I could read in church on Sunday. Instead of making fun of my terrible French (And it is terrible, it was pretty good once. Once.), Lewis told me he would see what he could do. After a while he told me he had something. He told me he had .written and translated a prayer based upon a reflection by Laurent Schlumberger, Pasteur of the French Reformed Church. Laurent's reflection was in response to the November 13 attacks. So Lewis wrote it. I read it. And I post it here as several have asked for it. Please forgive any translation errors or French errors. Any errors are entirely my responsibility and for them I am sorry.

Notre Seigneur, les mots manquent, devant l’horreur et l’absurde de ce massacre en Ile-de-

France. L’horreur de ces dizaines et dizaines de morts et de blesses. L’horreur de ces vies

détruites et de ces familles décimées. L’absurde d’un massacre qui tue à l’aveugle. L’absurde

d’une idéologie terroriste qui évoque un dieu assoiffé de sang.

Nous portons devant Vous  les victimes, et toutes celles et ceux qui en prennent soin. Nous

portons devant Vous  les hommes et les femmes des services publics qui sont mobilisés, et les

responsables de France, de notre pays, et le monde entier. Mais aussi nous prions pour que la

violence recule chez ceux qui sont aveuglés par des fantasmes de pureté radicale.

Donnez-nous le courage et la discipline à cultiver la solidarité et la fraternité, si fragiles, si

précieuses. Nous remettons le temps présent et toute chose, à Dieu qui en Jésus-Christ  nous

rejoint et nous accompagne dans nos détresses et dans nos espoirs. Au nom de Jesus-Christ.



Lord, words fail before the horror and the absurdity of the massacre in Ile-de-France (Paris). The horror

of the dozens and dozens of dead and wounded savagely killed.  The horror of lives destroyed and

families decimated. The absurdity of a massacre that killed blindly. The absurdity of a terrorist ideology

that evokes a blood-thirsty god.

We lift before you the victims and all those in need of care. We lift before you the men and women in

public service who have been mobilized and the leaders of France, our country and the entire world.

Also, we pray that violence recedes from those who are blinded by fantasies of radical purity.

Give us the courage and the discipline to cultivate the solidarity and unity that is so precious and so

fragile. We give this present time and all things to you who in Jesus Christ joins and accompanies us in

our distress and in our hopes. In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sighs Too Deep for Words

Sighs Too Deep for Words

I got an email early Sunday morning from a good friend. It said simply, Paris… Kenya… sigh...."

Sigh indeed. There are times and moments when words cannot fully capture what the heart feels and the mind suspects. Some problems defy easy explanation and quick resolution. And so we sigh because we do not know what else to do. I have been sighing a great deal for the past few days because I do not easily know what to say between two polarities: hoping the peoples of the world will stand up to the demonic power of violence, and longing for a day of peace when God's children will war no more. Sigh.

It is good to remember in such moments that the Holy Spirit is with us, even when we are confused or confounded. Romans 8:26 gives me comfort when it says, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." What is implied here? When from exhaustion or from lack of inspiration we cannot pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us, interceding for us, praying when we cannot. This scripture has always given me great comfort.

In our men's Bible study on Monday nights, we have been studying the entire book of Genesis this fall. Genesis is a big, brilliant and amazing book of the Bible. It is tempting to focus on the impact of Genesis and make it about just a few of its 50 chapters, narrowing our gaze upon the opening chapters and the creation story. But Genesis is so much bigger than creation alone. It is also about people and our covenants with God. 

Genesis ends with Joseph speaking to his 11 brothers. They are sure that he, Joseph, who is just about the most powerful man in the world, is going to arrest them and hurt them for their betrayals when he was a teenaged boy. They are sure Joseph will exact revenge. And yet what does Joseph say? "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20).

One of my Old Testament teachers, Sib Towner, once wrote about Genesis 50, "How good it is to know that God can weave our deeds, even ones motivated by evil intentions, into an improvisation of salvation!"

Kenya. Beirut. Newtown. Charleston. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Paris. Whenever you read the news and a sigh takes hold, remember that a sigh can be prayer enough, for the Holy Spirit prays with and for us. Remember also that God is not done with the world yet. Our deeds and our time can be woven by God for good and goodness we cannot yet see or imagine. After all, God is the Lord who took the cross and used it as a means to shatter the tomb.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Some Good Things

Some good things....

I write to you from Montreat, NC. Montreat is a 118-year-old Presbyterian retreat and conference center near Black Mountain, just 30 minutes or so east of Asheville.  The leaves have already fallen here, and hillsides which were lush and green in July now have the hue of hibernation. 
During November many different emotions and feelings converge. Days get shorter and instincts tell us winter is coming fast. The approach of Thanksgiving means that the year is quickly nearing its end.
My whole life I have heard the expression, ‘All good things must come to an end.” I see the practical, pragmatic wisdom in that phrase. And I think I assumed that it was always true. Now I am not so sure. I've been rethinking.
Take Montreat, for example. Since 1897 it has endured. Institutionally, it has not come to an end. How many other retreat centers founded in the 19th century by Christians or Christian churches have come to an end? Nearly all of them. The key to Montreat's survival has been its adaptability. Conferences come, and conferences go.  New staff, new guests, new program and mission activities are constantly pitched as an effort to keep the ministry fresh and related to the issues of moment. Across the decades and through the changes, Montreat, as a place and purposeful ministry dedicated to the gospel of grace, endures.
Maybe an improvement on the expression is this: “Some good things must come to an end.” Yes...I think that's better.
Perhaps the greatest temptation in church life is to take few risks, make minimal change and always “try not to upset anyone” by aiming to keep everything the same. This is, of course, impossible. In order for churches, communities, families or schools to remain vibrant for present and future generations, “some things must come to an end” and new things must begin. 
Our congregation will soon be 70 years old. Our history has been a good one, rich with ministries which have honored God as they have nurtured disciples. Part of our success is the ability to let some activities go and risk the time and investment to try new ones. Like Montreat, a key to our endurance has been our adaptability. Know this, though: making adaptations is always difficult. Yet in spite of the difficulty of the process, the creative abrasion produced when new forms of gospel ministry and community outreach are born in our midst becomes the fuel for our efforts in years to come.

As 2015 comes to an end and we look to 2016, we have our annual opportunity to assess where we have been, where we are now and where we might be going. Please pray for your church staff and your leaders on the diaconate and the session as we evaluate what we have done and then design plans and budgets to support our hopes. If you have not pledged or made a gift to the 2016 budget, please do so (current data is to the right). And most importantly, if you have an idea—a creative ministry idea for which you have passion or energy—please share it with us. You might be the conduit of the Holy Spirit which points us toward the faithful end which God intends.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Abundant Percussion

The photo above is from our Confirmation Kick-off Retreat, held just east of Raleigh at Milburnie Fish Camp. It is a lively afternoon of young people just beginning their confirmation journeys. These confirmands are dedicating great amounts of time and activity to maturing in the Spirit and moving towards the articulation of a personal faith in the God we worship and serve. It goes without saying that it is a meaningful year: the confirmands are exposed to the great underpinnings of our faith, are called to formulate their personal expressions of faithfulness and share these expressions with our entire church family.

Part of the day entailed conversation about worship and its importance. Our hearts and minds were designed by God to communicate with God. The soul with no worship, song, study, prayer or meditation is quickly a soul in need of treatment and, sometimes, resuscitation. Worship is where our hearts and minds breathe most easily. We talked about falling asleep in worship (and whether that was a good or bad thing—or both!), we talked about not just listening to the songs and hymns which were sung, but really singing them and learning from the words and the vision of the hymn writers. We talked about the importance of prayer and about the beauty of witnessing a baptism or partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Our confirmands will be in the balcony this Sunday, October 4, at 11:00 a.m. as we celebrate World Communion Sunday. If you are around them, be sure to say hello and welcome them into the broader life of our church.

The photo above is of Karl Zinsmeister, our Director of Music, leading the confirmands in song. The kids are playing instruments called boom-whackers—plastic tube-like melodic percussion instruments. When played in groups and patterns, they form notes and chords and are a great way to get groups to sing together. Now here’s the thing: I took the photograph. My vantage point was one where I was watching the youth smack their boom-whackers, make their melodies and sing their songs. I wish you could have seen the joy on their faces. I wish you could have heard the sound, seen the smiles and laughter as they sang and joyfully worshipped together. It was a good moment. It was a Spirit moment. It was an abundant moment: abundant with percussion—abundant with joy.

When you support the budget of our church, when you make a pledge to our common stewardship, you are a part of this abundance. Young people like these confirmands are learning about the faith of our tradition, sharing and serving within the precepts of the gospel.  They are surrounded by loving adults, and they are able to worship with some appropriate measure of abandon. When we speak about abundance, these are the very moments to which we are referring: the life and work of the church to share the faith and shape our community. It is good work. It is our work. And we need your participation if this work is not only to endure, but thrive.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Abundance Part I


One of the most interesting moments in the gospels occurs in Luke Chapter 12. Sometimes called the parable of the rich fool, this beautiful piece of scripture begins with Jesus telling the story of a man whose crops produced abundantly. As the parable unfolds, this man takes his bumper crop and fails to share it—he refuses to share it. As he hoards it all for himself, the voice of God calls him a fool, not because of his abundance, but because of his response (or lack thereof) to his abundance.
I wonder: how are we, as modern Christians, doing with our abundances?
This past Sunday I looked around White Memorial and I saw evidence of abundance everywhere.
· A trio sang a glorious anthem in worship at all three services.
· There were nurseries beginning to fill with children coming to church.
· I saw one of our pastors offering amazing pastoral care to a young man who is living through a very complex time in his life.
· We saw some faces we had not seen in awhile—faces more able to be present as summer draws to its close.
· We hosted organizational meetings for youth volunteers and youth advisors.
· We saw new staff moving through the day, helping our members find what they needed and learning more about who we are as a church.
· There was an organizational meeting for Presbyterian Women and their annual retreat next winter.
· Dozens of teachers had orientation and planning meetings with our church staff and with the other teachers in the classes—thinking about the year to come in our church school and ministry programs for children. We saw veteran teachers, first-time teachers, and folks who cannot believe they have been called to teach in the first place.
· Our Associate Director of Music for Alternate Worship search team met.
· I saw members of our Director of Middle School Ministry Search Committee mingling with our Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families and our confirmation class leaders. 
In a word, it was abundant. And it was only one day. In our church, and in our church family, we enjoy many days like the one described above.
In the coming weeks we will talk about abundance with increasing regularity.  Nearly every day I am made aware of the “bumper crop” of talent, ability, resources and energy at White Memorial. We are truly a church that makes differences in the lives of our members, in the lives of people in our community and in the lives of people around the world. In thanksgiving we’ll talk about the abundances of our church family, and we’ll talk about how true wisdom is found when we share our resources with each other—our church, our community and the world.
In the parable of the rich fool, the fool is foolish because of his refusal to share. This is a good lesson to take to heart. As we look ahead and give thanks for our many abundances, in what new ways can we share with our church this year and in the year to come? With all that we have to share, surely there are ways each of us can contribute from the abundance in our midst

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


      This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching at the New Hope Presbyterian Church annual homecoming service. New Hope Presbyterian sits along Highway 86 between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. The congregation is 259 years old.
The church, like many colonial churches, owns and manages hundreds of acres. Over the years the acreage has evolved. Along with a camp and a wooded park-like area, the church manages a very large, very old cemetery at the bottom of the hill along the highway. Grave after grave tells a story of family, faith, and trust in God.
In one section of the cemetery there is a succession of graves marked simply “unknown.” In my first look these markers made me sad. Who were these people? Why were their lives and stories unknown?
As I stood there and thought and meditated a little longer, though, I saw the markers in another light. Even though they were unknown people and souls, they were there alongside those who were well known, who were pillars of the community, whose families had tilled and shaped the very soil upon which the church stands. The church was caring for them, even though they were unknowns, in the only way they could be cared for. In this new light I saw that the markers, though they made me sad, said something important about the faith and perseverance of the church itself.
A church is called to be a steward of many things. At White Memorial, we believe we are called to be stewards of multiple levels of abundance. We enjoy an abundance of resources, talents, insights, know-how and abilities in our church. All of this abundance contributes to our stewardship of the future.
Back at the cemetery, I saw for one of the few times in my life that parts of the past could be unknown. While I was in worship, I was reminded that the future is always unknown. Acts of stewardship are acts of faith as the stewards trust God to provide in the days to come. Stewardship is always a future-oriented project. 
Every now and then someone will send me an article from a “churchy” publication.  Most of these articles predict impending doom for the church in North America. Most of these publications draw straight lines between denominational struggles and decline and the diminishing of the centrality of church life in the lives of many Americans. These articles always get my attention.
But then I am reminded that the future is yet to be written. I am reminded that the future is a big unknown. I am reminded that ours is God’s church, and the church endures because God wills it so. It is like that old line from the gospel tradition: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

In the coming days we begin to build that future again as our fall ministry efforts get underway. We begin so many wonderful studies, opportunities to serve and chances to grow in faith together. Won’t you join us? In this way we might be known to each other, and in this knowledge contribute to a future worthy of our faith.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Letter to Members of White Memorial Presbyterian Church - Pastoral Prirority

Reading over my sermons from the past year, I can see a trend: in the wake of challenges around race, politics, violence and social change, we hold it to be true that the church is called to continue her mission. At White Memorial we understand that mission to be worshipping, embracing and serving in the manner of Christ. No matter what has been or what may come, we are resolved as a church family to offer our best to God and neighbors.

Over the past 11 months, our church has been engaged in a slow, methodical, honest and deliberate conversation about marriage because our attitudes, as Americans, about marriage are shifting. Conversations about marriage and our changing understandings of marriage are complex. Marriage has always been a very personal part of our common faith. That couples should offer their best to one another in covenantal promise is evident to anyone who studies God’s Word. That families benefit from the stability that a healthy marriage produces is beyond question. Given these truths, the question before us is this: who should be able to marry—only some, or everyone?

This conversation began last August, when I preached a sermon entitled A Pastor’s Prayer During Days of Division. It continued as a small group of elders from our Session (our governing body) met to discuss and pray about the place of marriage and the possibility of same-gender marriage in the Presbyterian Church and at White Memorial. As outgrowths of that working group, we have held a congregation-wide forum, offered a five-week class on marriage, written newsletter articles, distributed packets of resources about marriage, visited and talked with Church School classes and had hundreds and hundreds of conversations about marriage, same-gender marriage and the pastoral and biblical claims which frame the issue. In all of these efforts, we have tried to employ a pastoral priority— we have listened to all perspectives because White Memorial as a church body has all viewpoints. We have cried tears with those who hope that same-gender marriage will not happen in our church, those who hope it will happen at White Memorial very soon and those who wish the pain surrounding the issue would just go away.

I am committed to placing all of my energy into holding our church family together in light of the dynamic and quickly changing conversations around marriage in our culture, in our homes and in our church. This is my pastoral priority.

Last fall your Session voted to suspend any decisions about same-gender marriage at White Memorial Presbyterian Church until the will of the national church was known and the laws of North Carolina and our nation were fully understood. With the passage of new language in our Presbyterian Church Book of Order allowing for same-gender marriages and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, our Session will once again take up the topic as to whether or not same-gender wedding services will be allowed on White Memorial’s campus. At its stated meeting on August 9, our Session will be engaged in prayer and discussion around the issue. This is to prepare for a decision at its September 13 meeting. Our priority as a church family is pastoral integrity as it fuels an ethos of kindness and compassion. It strikes me that the mark of a healthy family is its ability to love beyond its disagreements and uncertainties. The priority will be pastoral as we care for one another and work side-by-side with one another in our common ministry.

In light of these upcoming Session meetings, I invite you, our church family, to write the Session as you feel called to do so. All signed letters received in our church office by September 1 will be shared with the Session. Letters need to be written and mailed or emailed to me and/or my assistant, Rebecca Turner (our email addresses are available on the website). Should you need to write in pastoral privacy to share your feelings without the Session being copied, simply state that desire in your letter. You know that you may schedule a meeting with any of our pastors to discuss or pray about this very personal and complicated matter. My hope is that this invitation to communicate will be part of our larger conversation—honest, deliberate, methodical conversation—about marriage.

Whether you write or not, please pray for our church. There are many concerned folks in our congregation, on all sides of the question. Families pray for one another in times of stress and confusion. Let us do nothing less, and let us give our best energies to the commitment to embrace one another through patience and compassion.

 May grace abound, Christopher Edmonston

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lavish Grace

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For Men's Bible Study: Sermon Excursus on The Rich Ruler from Luke

“Lessons from Luke: The Rich Ruler” Luke 18: 18 – 30 Christopher H. Edmonston Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church, March 6, 2005 I. Four weeks ago we began a journey into Luke’s gospel to see what he meant by rich and poor. We began on an earnest search for the Lenten lessons that Luke had to teach us; we agreed in these sermons to do our best to give Luke an honest hearing about the pitfalls and pratfalls of wealth, and the easy seduction of money that tells us that it is the elixir of happiness and the antidote to emptiness; we said we would take the plunge as a wealthier congregation and offer ourselves unto the word to discover anew our sinfulness and Christ’s redemption. Thus far our train has stopped in some difficult places, and I am quite sure that there have been at least a few of us who’d rather not have gotten off the places that we have been – places where we have heard Jesus say things like: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation;” and, “One cannot serve two masters – You cannot serve God and money.” Today we arrive at a place where we have already been before, as several months ago, I preached around this text – meaning I read it but took a different direction than where I am going today (I preached it through the looking glass of ‘salvation’ instead of ‘wealth’). A few of you came up to me and wanted to know what Jesus meant by that statement about “a camel getting through a needle’s eye.” I asked those of you who said something to be patient (that I would get to it) and today I make good on that promise. II. Earlier this week I was in Chapel Hill speaking with Bob Dunham (the first summer intern here at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church), the pastor at University Presbyterian Church. We were talking about this text and the writing of this sermon. One of the observations that we shared was that the stakes are so high here in Luke 18. This is not a parable; there is no metaphor or symbolism here. There are no abstractions to be found. One man, a ruler Luke calls him, and Jesus standing face to face – virtually no distance between them, between us (if we dare to put ourselves in the place of the man) and God. Jesus is as close as we can get him here. And this up close and personal Jesus is calling upon him (and us) to make a choice. Bob shared with me that old Jack Benny joke about the robber who approached the rich man with gun in hand. The robber mashes the gun in the ribs of the guy he is robbing and says, “Your money or your life.” Several, if not many, moments pass with the tension mounting with every tick of the watch. Impatient the robber presses the metal harder against his flesh and says, “Well?” The man replies, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!” III. One of the films that gets a lot of play at my house is a movie that came out about 4 years ago called The Family Man. It is an update of It’s a Wonderful Life, and while not as good as the Jimmy Stewart film, it is still a film that powerfully questions modern life and modern assumptions about value, wealth, family, and the deepest meanings of life. Jack, the main character, is wealthy beyond all imagination. He has closets full of suits; a six-figure sports car; he lives in a Manhattan penthouse; dates supermodels; he is wealthy and powerful – a ruler on Wall Street because he is a buyer of main street. We meet Jack as he has just called a meeting for the pawns that do his bidding – a meeting on Christmas morning. As Jack leaves the office, he intercedes in a robbery of sorts – maybe best described as an urban confrontation. In this confrontation, Jack meets an angel. The angel at one point asks him coldly, “Well Jack, what do you need?” Without thinking Jack answers, “I don’t need anything.” Imagine that. Not needing anything? Well that would a lie, I think for anyone living today. It’s a lie for Jack in the movie as the next morning he awakens in suburban New Jersey, managing a tire store, with a wife and two kids and a stack of bills he’ll never pay. He trades his Italian leather for a mini-van and Sears. He changes diapers and argues with his wife. Strangely enough, he learns that this is somehow exactly what he needs: he has always thought that he needed money; but what he has needed all along was life. IV. “What do I need, good teacher, to inherit eternal life?” It is with such a question that this text begins with today. What the rich ruler is really asking is: “What does it take, what is required, how do you get it?” When you look at this text very closely you begin to see its importance and its challenge. To begin with, unlike our texts of the past weeks, this text is all three synoptic gospels –Matthew, Mark, and Luke (whereas the unjust manager and Lazarus and the rich man are only found in Luke). All three thought it was essential to the story of Jesus. All thought we should learn about this person, this man who is very sad because he is very rich. Luke calls him a “ruler,” using the Greek word archon to describe him (Matthew and Mark don’t describe him like this). In the New Testament, archon is a powerful word (wherever we find it, Luke is trying to tell us something) – we get words like archbishop and archangel from the word. In Luke he is not only very rich, but he is powerful (Luke seems to know the connection between power and money). Strangely enough, the ruler’s question is a contradiction of sorts: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” By definition one does nothing to inherit – inheritance comes by the grace of the progenitor; the generosity of one with the power to give. Perhaps that is why Jesus answers his question a little differently than he asks it. For Jesus, in responding to the man’s question, the answer is not eternal life (which is the ruler’s question), but participating in the kingdom. There is a difference here in Luke between kingdom and eternal life (the words are even different in the Greek), and for Christians then and now. What Jesus is doing here is setting up an understanding of faith and life in which both heaven and earth are of crucial concern and divine importance. Notice Jesus’ phrase: “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than one who is rich to enter the kingdom.” Notice that the phrase was not “easier for a camel to pass than for a rich one to have eternal life.” Notice also that in the final verse of our selection, Luke 18:30, Jesus wonderfully joins the two together – “There is no one who sacrificially gives for my sake that will not receive much more in this age, AND in the life to come” – the issue for Jesus is both the earthly kingdom that he has come to construct and the heavenly life that he is assuring for those he calls his own. We want to make it one or the other – Jesus thinks that discipleship is about both. V. The point, Jesus is making is that for those who have much – much comfort, much money, much security, much control – entering the kingdom of grace, the community of loving discipleship is very difficult – almost impossible. To be sure the temptation is to water this down – to say that somehow Jesus means something different here than he really means – but that would be a mistake. It’s really a camel. It’s really a needle. It is meant to be impossible. Preacher and scholar alike have agreed that the hyperbole here is meant to get our attention. We are supposed to be shocked. Jesus’ point is that if we are holding onto anything save the grace and calling of God in our lives, then we are not going to make it into the kingdom – that kingdom, that entity that he has been proclaiming and preaching about for 18 chapters now in Luke’s narrative. What is the kingdom (it’s different than heaven after all)? The kingdom is that place of community where there is sharing; it is an end of loneliness; an end of comparison and ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’; it’s a place where everyone is heard and hears; where there is no weeping or mourning alone; where the hungry eat and the empty are filled; where the Spirit is real and the good gifts of God are abundantly shared; the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is the here and now place of grace; the place that we all long to live and the community that beckons us all. The seduction of money, Jesus says, gets us off track and makes us think that wealth, and not God’s Spirit of Grace and Life, can carve out a kingdom life for us. Jesus is saying that it is not possible for our wealth alone to make for us a kingdom life. I stand before you today as a student of Jesus, and as a man who struggles with this tension. I stand before you as a student of scripture and a disciple of Jesus to say humbly that I am convinced (even though I don’t always live like it) that the grace of Jesus Christ is more beautiful than any bank account, any lifestyle, or any luxury that we can imagine. VI. Where the ruler gets it wrong is that he thinks that this teaching of Jesus is yet another Torah-like demand, another requirement of the law; all the while Jesus is transcending the law itself – not supplanting it or replacing it – but offering grace abundant that goes beyond what the ruler can imagine. Jesus’ word to him is not so much judgment as it is bidding to a new life in this kingdom that he is proclaiming and demonstrating. The only sacrifice the man must make is the life that he has known. Only?!?! That seems like a great deal. It would scare me to great ends. But, one wonders (and here is where this text cuts, and it cuts more than one way), if the life that the man returns to by rejecting the invitation of the Lord, the life that his wealth had provided for him was so wonderful and satisfying in the first place, then why did he seek Jesus out and ask his question? If he was satisfied and justified, just as he was, then why look for something different or something new? When he walks away, the deception of wealth is complete. The sad truth is not that the man is lacking something – we all lack something in our lives – it is that in the very presence of God he cannot hold onto the one thing he lacks because of the grip that he holds upon something else. And, quite truthfully, because of the grip that wealth has upon him. VII. So, one wonders, what have we substituted for God? What have we dared to call the kingdom that is really and fully not the kingdom? Henri Nouwen, who is the writer of the Lenten devotional that you received last month, has taken his place since his death as one of the most important Christian-spiritual writers of our time. He writes in his book (at several places), Here and Now, that modern life instructs us repeatedly that we are our fame; that we are our wealth; that we are our power. Apart from these, he warns, culture convinces us that we have little or no identity and we are terrified to live without one or all of these things. And then he warns: as soon as we buy into this spiritual economy – fame, power, and wealth – the economy turns on us and tells us that we are not famous enough, not wealthy enough, or not powerful enough. And we are never satisfied. I think that is why the ruler seeks out Jesus, and it is why you and I are still seeking Him today. VIII. One final note on the text that we cannot overlook: the disciples’ consternation and Peter’s confusion. “Who then can be saved?,” they demand of Jesus – re-asking the initial question of the ruler. And the answer of Jesus is the answer of Luke, echoing the words of Gabriel to Mary all the way back in Luke chapter 1:37, “Nothing is impossible with God.” As one scholar has pointed out, this settles once and for all the question about salvation and how it happens, “Only God can save, whatever one’s condition.” The question then is not really about salvation – it is about fullness of life in Christ and the joy that only God can and does provide. To get this life, to receive the kingdom in our lives requires a much greater sacrifice than most of us are willing to make. It requires that we give up some control. For as long as we believe that we can control our lives, our worlds, our spheres of influence we are each in some form practicing an idolatry. That is really the sin of the ruler – the wealth he controls, he believes, is evidence of God and has for him become God. When we choose an idol over the God of heaven and earth we errantly believe that we control God. This ruler has not chosen to serve two masters -- he has chosen his master, his wealth, and he has chosen poorly. IX. Most ministers I know, and I am no different, can tell a tragic and terrible story about someone who has realized the error of this choice. Who has assumed that they could think, maneuver, force, or buy their way out of any situation and have years assuring that type of control and power – only to have all they have built slip through their fingers like water when confronted with the pain of life, or the reality of death. They realize too late the deception that has taken them, and they understand painfully that there really is no choice between money and life, between earthly wealth and heavenly grace, between riches and the kingdom of God. The writer Rudyard Kipling addressing a graduating class advised the graduates not to care too much for money, or power, or fame. He said, “Someday you will meet a [person] who cares for none of these things – then you will know how poor you are.” This is what happened to the ruler – he met that someone who cared for none of that stuff in the person of Jesus. One wonders how it will happen to us. Your money or your life? Which will it be?: wealth and idolatry or the infinite joys of the kingdom of grace, which is as close to heaven as we will get on earth? What do we really need? Dare we say we need nothing while falling at the feet of Jesus? Which one will it be – more of the stuff of this world, or more of the life of God in our lives? May God grant us the ability to see the call to kingdom as not just another requirement of the faith but as an opportunity to be freed from the captivity of this world and an invitation to begin living like we belong and are part of the next. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can We Boil it Down?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Calling All Y'all - All are Called

Having had enough of snow, I delved into my library to uncover a very “personal” classic. Though not a book I read all the time, a book I revisit every few years is Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life. It is equal parts wisdom for clerical life and instruction on how (and how not) to preach. Written by one of the most gifted preachers of this or any age, it is Taylor’s humble prose and stunning insight which move and guide me.

As she writes about a young man who longs to be ordained, to be a pastor, but not necessarily serve in a church, she shares this story (page 25): “Then why do you want to be ordained?” I asked him. He thought a while and finally said, “For the identity, I guess. So I could sit down next to someone on a bus who looked troubled and ask them how they were without them thinking I’m trying to hustle them. So I could walk up to someone on the street and do the same thing. So I could be up front about what I believe, in public as well as in private. So I would have the credentials to be the kind of Christian I want to be.” His honesty was both disarming and disheartening. God help the church if clergy are the only Christians with “credentials,” and God help all those troubled people on the bus if they have to wait for an ordained person to come along before anyone speaks to them. 

Each of us is called. That may seem like more work as you read it. But with God, nothing is ever passive. With God, call is ever active. It is not just pastors who are to reach the troubled, the lost, or the sad. Every person who seeks to follow God as a disciple of Jesus is called to help, to share, and to offer gifts of worship and service where they are needed.

This understanding has layers and layers and layers of implication for church life. But what I think it implies most especially is the idea that we be participants. When you are listening to a sermon, praying a prayer, singing a hymn, you are as much a part of that activity of faith as the preacher, the prayer leader or the organist. Listening and worship are active! We are all called to contribute through purposeful thought and song.

In other words, all y’all are called. We are called to be ambassadors of grace in the world. We are called to actively worship and praise. We are called to serve as we seek to impact the community around us. As we respond to Christ’s call, our eyes and souls are refocused upon the world which God has made and the faith we are entrusted to proclaim.

“There is even a chance,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “that the Christian vocation is above all a vocation to imagine – to see what God sees when God looks at the world, and to believe that God’s dreams can come true” (page 37).

Who wouldn’t want to see or imagine as much?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015



The headlines earlier this month stopped me in my tracks. The week before last they said it was a bad week for religion. In fact, CNN called it “religion’s week from hell.” There was controversy at the national prayer breakfast. Coptic Christians were murdered by terrorists claiming to be enacting God’s will and enforcing God’s justice. And in Chapel Hill three young Muslims from Raleigh were murdered at their apartment by a raging neighbor. Usually such headlines are well reserved from us, but   Chapel Hill is far too close.
We can debate, argue, discuss and talk about the causes of all this violence: Extremism? Religious fundamentalism? Both? Anger gone amok? Some in the media blame Islam, blame Christianity, or blame all religions carte blanche. Still others blame the stress of global forces, cultural shifts, and the thinning of the modern nation state as personal privacy becomes ever more endangered and security becomes an end in and of itself. Regardless of the focus of the blame, the “old lines” and reliable parameters of political and economic systems are no longer solid lines. Safe havens, like peaceful  college towns, no longer seem safe.
I am in a national pastors group called the Community of Pastors. The uncertain and violent times in which we live have been much on our minds and in our prayers. We have been exchanging articles and theological insights for several weeks. What should we say about events like police shootings and protests against public law enforcement? Geo-political crises like ISIS? Gun violence run rampant on America’s streets? How do we stand for peace (remember it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”) while being honest about those in our time who would do evil as they kidnap, enslave, and murder the innocents? It is Jesus who calls us to pray for our enemies, yes. But one cannot simply pray monsters away. So how do we pray for those who would harm us while we work to keep ourselves safe?
I have been much in thought about all of these things. I have grieved. I have shuddered. I struggle for words. It is all so tragic. It is all so senseless and unnecessary.
We’ve lived through more than a decade of upheaval. The near future appears   every bit as challenging as the immediate past. The call to people of faith is, “do not to lose hope” (read Romans 5:5). The call is for us to refuse to give in to our fears (read Luke 12:32). The call is to take courage and wait for the Lord even when the enemies seem strong and the odds seem long (read Psalm 27).  

One of my daily disciplines this Lent is that I am praying fervently for peace. Alongside these prayers, I am going to keep reading about and studying the  complexity of our times. And from these disciplines I might discover some words to say. I may even discover some words to share and actions to take. Words which are not complacent. Words and actions which are faithful to our Lord, our Savior, our God and our friend.