9-30-13 - More Faith

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Interesting exchange – the disciples ask for bigger faith; and Jesus seems to rebuke them for how little they have. We'll have to look at that more closely. But first, I was wondering what prompted them to ask for more faith. What happens just before this passage in Luke 17? Here’s what I found:

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Ah – I think I would ask for more faith too! Who wants to forgive again and again? The disciples are right in thinking that, if that’s what Jesus is asking for, they need more faith.

How about you? Is there anyone in your life who’s hard to forgive – or who gives you waaaay more “opportunities” to forgive than you’d like? Where does faith come into it?

Well, faith allows us to see the bigger picture – maybe to not get so hooked by the people who sin against us. Faith allows us to let God be the judge, instead of taking that role ourselves. Faith gives us the eyes to see that person with compassion, even as we hold them to the standards we ourselves want to be held to. (Yeah, that was a tricky one…)

We’ll talk about mulberry trees tomorrow. Today, let’s join the disciples in their prayer, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Tell Jesus what areas of your life you feel your faith is the weakest; where you feel most challenged. And name the parts of your life where you feel faithful. Some of us feel faithful about finances but not about our children; or we trust God fully with health, but not work. Give thanks for the places where your faith is strong, and ask Jesus for more in the places you feel your faith goes out from under you, like a trick knee.

Ask the Spirit to fill you with the power and presence and peace of Christ.

Some of us have been taught it’s not polite to ask for stuff, or to ask for “more.” 

Well, that’s not true in the Life of God – there are some “more” prayers that God delights to answer. 
I’m betting “more faith” is one of them…

9-27-13 - Mind the Gap

We’ve been heavy on “social justice” this week. With readings that deal so explicitly with poverty and wealth, it’s hard to just be “spiritual.” In addition to Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, Sunday gives us Amos’ prophetic judgment on those who “lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches… who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils…” and Paul writing about the pitfalls of wealth: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Actually, more than pains, I worry about the numbness that can accompany having wealth – and in global terms, I’m a 1-percenter. The disjoint between having so much when many others have so little can tempt one to look away, to not see. Numbness and blindness, not seeing the beggars at our gates, might be the biggest issue we face. And the consequences of not seeing can be heartbreaking.

This week I saw a notice for a program on the politics of food, and read: According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, enough food is produced globally to feed 12 billion people. Global population now stands at 6.3 billion. So why is it that 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1.8 billion from obesity, and diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise worldwide?

That’s a lot of “not seeing” the hungry. That's a lot of hanging on to way more than we need. That's a lot of wasteful policy and discarding food someone else could eat. How long will we tolerate that kind of disparity? What can we do? Here are some practical ideas, from the personal to the communal:
  • We can become more mindful about the ways we plan, shop, cook and eat - especially when we eat out.
  • We can take action in feeding the hungry, from providing meals to collecting food to volunteering for a “food rescue” operation, which picks up food leftover from big events and delivers it to food kitchens and shelters. (Community Plates is such an organization in my area...)
  • We can advocate for better food policies that cut down on waste and wasteful subsidies. (For a somewhat humorous look at the unfunny Big Business of patenting seeds and harassing farmers, here’s a clip from The Daily Show)
And here’s a more spiritual strategy: How about we interject prayer into our consumption every day – not only our consumption of food, but gas, entertainment, purchases, everything. Praying before we shop, while we cook, as we eat might make us more mindful and ultimately change our choices. Praying before we make a casual purchase – both in thanksgiving and for discernment – might lead us to change our priorities. Cultivating a greater awareness of people around us who are in need of resources might open up new avenues of relationship and ministry. I would love to hear what practices you dream up and adopt.

Paul’s advice to those who are rich in this world is to be generous, and to “take hold of the life that really is life.” That’s a place we can find ourselves, not mistaking our wealth for life. Our wealth is a means to life, not an end.

When we take hold of the life that really is life, we want others to know that life – those whom we already love, and those whom we pass coming in and going out of our gates. Sharing our wealth with them, we might find ourselves coming to love them too.

9-26-13 – The Road to–

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Where are we going? And why are we in this hand-basket?” My guess is we’re bumping along that road paved with good intentions… and we all know where that leads. It ain’t the yellow-brick road.

Why do we have trouble acting on what we know, even when the consequences of not doing so are obvious? If we could figure that out as a human race, we’d make a lot more headway on obesity, environmental repair, violence, you name it. Neither benefits nor warnings seem to affect us much.

Jesus knew that – it's where he takes his story next. Once the rich man in the flames of hell realizes there’s no way he can get to heaven or benefit from even a drop of heavenly water, he tries to negotiate for his next-of-kin: “He said, `Then, I beg you to send him to my father's house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'"

Oh, is that what it’s going to take? Some people have nearly died themselves, and it hasn’t caused them to become any healthier or less self-oriented.

“Abraham said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" This is a poignant statement in Jesus’ mouth, as though he wonders if his mission is futile. But he knew human nature. God gave a litany of laws, a religious rulebook, and yet God’s people rarely remained faithful for long. St. Paul was one who gave himself to living by the Law, and ultimately came to believe that it was not God’s fullest revelation of truth. It was more a tutor or a governess, until the people of God came to maturity. He proclaimed that Christ was the most complete revelation of God – human, divine, living, crucified, risen.

And so he is. And he is risen from the dead. And he is still saying, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”

Today, let’s do some assessment. Name some areas in which you have been able to adjust your thinking or behavior. What was it that enabled you to make that change, that shift?

Name some areas in which you feel stuck, ungenerous. Can you say why change is hard in those areas? What are you still getting out of that behavior, or pattern, or response, or relationship? Can you ask Jesus to help you make some space, some movement?

Good intentions are great, but they don’t get us very far. Our wills lack the power to change our hearts. Heart change is usually a response to being loved. That’s what happened to Paul – he encountered the undeserved love of the Christ he’d been persecuting. That’s what happens to people in addiction recovery – the love they encounter in the rooms creates a space in which new life can be born. Change that seemed impossible becomes real. New life breaks out.

By ourselves, we can’t do much. With the power of God at work within us? 

There is nothing we can’t do – including feeding every hungry person on the planet. Really. 
Dream it, on the road of God-Intentions.

9-25-13 - Heaven and Hell

What a story: Jesus introduces his main characters, the rich man who feasted sumptuously; and the poor man who begged at his gate, covered with sores, beset by dogs; and then promptly whisks them offstage: “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.” No angels for the rich man – and no burial for the poor one, just a one-way ticket to paradise.

The rich man goes south to warmer climes. Way warmer: “In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'"

Does it surprise you that Jesus talks about hell? Many Christians jettisoned “that kind of thinking” long ago. But if we’re going to take Jesus at his Word, we need to wrestle with the way he spoke about the afterlife. In stories and teachings, He speaks of eternal punishment – a place of torment and fire, of “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Sure, he might have been employing folk superstitions of his day in his story-telling… or maybe he was saying there are eternal consequences to our choices, just as there is grace to meet our short-comings.

I am more troubled by the idea that these consequences might be eternally fixed: “But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’”

My hope in God’s mercy is that we can choose after death if we haven’t managed it before. (…and for a great allegorical tale about that, I recommend C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce) So I will continue in that hope – AND pay attention to the invitation to make adjustments in this life.

It's also interesting that Jesus tells a story in which God allows someone to suffer so in this lifetime only to make them comfortable in the next. Many would ask, "Why didn’t God take care of him in this world?" To which God might answer, “I put you there. There were people with resources and hearts and free will all around him - and around all who suffer. They had choices...as do you.”

So as we pray today, let’s offer thanks for the rewards we enjoy in this life and our hope for the next. Let’s invite the Spirit to give us a holy intolerance for the hell in which many of God’s children live in this world. Let’s pray our way into seeing the choices before us, and ask God to empower us into action.

Yesterday it was U2. Today I’ll give the last word to the aptly named Eddie Money: “I’ve got two tickets to paradise… pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight…”

God has made available unlimited tickets to paradise, and a few instructions on how to pick them up with our Travel Agent, Jesus. We can take them or leave them…

9-24-13 - Crumbs From Your Table

Many a lyric in a U2 song alludes to a verse of Scripture or a theological idea. Their 2004 song, Crumbs from Your Table, references the parable we’re exploring this week, especially the second sentence: “And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

Bono has said that the song was in part a reaction to his attempts to get American evangelicals to take action on the AIDS crisis in Africa – an effort he likened to "getting blood from a stone.” As residents of one of the wealthiest countries on earth, and especially as representatives of Jesus Christ, our churches might be expected to be at the forefront of efforts to address poverty. Many church budgets, though, allocate less than 1 percent to such efforts. Maybe if our giving were less grudging we would find more people interested in our churches and our faith. As that song’s chorus goes,

"You speak of signs and wonders /I need something other / 

I would believe if I was able / But I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table." (lyrics here)

What about us? Do we tolerate a culture of wealth that leaves many of the world’s poor begging for survival? We know that some efforts yield results. In a New York Times editorial about the progress made against preventable poverty by the Millennium Development Goals, Bono wrote: "Tens of millions more kids are in school thanks to debt cancellation. Millions of lives have been saved through the battle against preventable disease…Poverty declined by 1 percent a year from 1999 to 2005."

He urged us to keep at the ambitious goals which the MDGs set for 2015, to secure clean water, food, education, and health for all people in the world. That can happen if all people in the world share the responsibility. And our “response-ability” increases when we feel more connected.

Lazarus is depicted as sick, hungry, homeless, forgotten, having no power over his circumstances whatsoever. People who suffer often need not only our resources – they need us to share power and control, a transfusion of life and hope – and yes, food. The rich man in Jesus’ parable didn’t see the beggar at his gate. Who are we missing?

Here’s a prayer experiment for today: “God, I invite you to show me someone I’m not seeing.” And just hold your imagination open for a few minutes – see what words or images take shape. If you get a response, you might ask the next question: “What shall I do with that person?” Not “for,” “with.” The Lazarus’s of our world are not “beggars.” That’s not their identity. They are people with gifts and hopes and dreams and families and histories – and futures. Sometimes we can help shape what kind.

A line from Crumbs From Your Table goes, 

Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.”  
As winners in the birth lottery, and beloved of God, how are we being invited to spread the grace around?

9-23-13 - Praying our Food Chains

We begin where we ended last week: “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” Jesus said. 
And promptly told another story to illustrate his point. This one was about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus, who sat outside his gates every day. Both die and Lazarus goes to heaven, where he hangs out with Abraham. The rich man, whom Jesus doesn’t give a name, ends up in the eternal flames of Hades. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water just to cool his tongue. Abraham says, in so many words, “So sorry - we can’t get to you, and you can’t get to us.”

“Okay, then,” says the man, “Please send him to my five brothers and warn them. If someone comes back from the dead, they’ll listen…” Abraham replies, “They already know from the Law how they are to treat the poor. Do you really think they’re going to pay any more attention if somebody rises from the dead…?” Dun-dun-dun-dah…. 

(I hope that sounds vaguely like the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth)

How we feel about this parable depends mightily on where we’re sitting – at the rich man’s sumptuous table; on the ground with Lazarus, hoping for a crumb or two; at Abraham’s side in heaven; with the rich man in hell – or at home with the rich man’s five heedless brothers. Or are we even further on the sidelines, listening to Jesus, not sure where we fit, counting on his grace?

Let’s start at that food-laden table. Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Nothing wrong with getting enough to eat. His sin is overlooking the beggar outside his gate. In this week’s reading from the Hebrew bible the prophet Amos inveighs against those who take their ease on “ivory couches,” oblivious to the needs around them.

It’s going to be hard to avoid dealing with poverty this week – so let’s meet it head on.

Today, in prayer, let’s give thanks for our food – all our food. And let’s pray that food-chain back to its source. Think about your most recent meal – where did it come from? Who grew it, raised it, tended it, harvested it, sold it, packaged it, shipped it, stocked it, sold it again, prepared it, served it? Where did your morning coffee come from, and how many hands brought it to your cup this morning?

Along that chain there are plenty of people at the bottom of our economic ladder. As we give thanks for their contribution to our meals, we might also pray for more awareness of their needs and our response.

Is there someone in need whom God has brought to your attention? Pray today how you are being called to respond? It might be in direct service, it might be in a simple conversation, or networking, or… maybe simply asking the question, "What would you like me to do for you?” That’s what Jesus asked more than one person he met.

That’s a question I believe he asks us every day. What would you like him to do for you? Be honest. “Bless me, and make me a blessing,” is always a good answer…

9-20-13 - Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan sang it: “You gotta serve somebody.” He was partly quoting Jesus: “No servant can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Now, I’ve been saying that the realm of God is a “both/and” kind of place, not “either/or.” So is this true? I know an awful lot of people who are trying like crazy to serve both – including me and the institutional church structure of which I am a part. Where’s the Good News for us?

Jesus tells this story about a dishonest employee who gets caught, lands on his feet and earns commendation instead of condemnation. He suggests that the “children of light” are to look for eternal returns, not play the world’s games. And then we get the wrap-up: "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

Is he talking to the temple leadership, raking in fees from the bloody business of animal sacrifice? Is he talking to the Pharisees, focused on minutia of the Law instead of its heart? Is he talking to religious leaders who turn a blind eye on dishonest business practices, such as the prophet Amos decried: “…you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land…,” who “make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances?

Is he talking to us? Can we enjoy our wealth without serving it? Share it without letting it run us? See it as God’s gift entrusted to us to nurture and grow, not as ours to keep and horde? The tradition of the tithe suggests we enjoy 90 percent of what comes our way, and return 10 percent to support the mission of God in the world and in our communities. 90 percent – that’s a pretty good return!

In what gifts and areas do you feel you are being faithful with what God has entrusted to you? 

Give thanks for that freedom! Would you like God to give you more of any of that to nurture? Ask!

What things in your life are you maybe holding too tightly, too anxious to be faithful with? 

Ask God to show you how those are God-given gifts, not yours to keep. 
Offer God your clenched hands, ask God to help you open them.

You might even visualize holding those things/people/assets in your open palm, and putting them in a beautiful box without a lid, and handing them to Jesus. He's not going to take them away from you. He’s going to join you in the tending and nurturing of what you hold precious, as you allow him -just as He tends and nurtures you, precious to Him.

We worship a God who wants to fill our lives with blessings. We need open hands to receive those gifts. 

We need open minds to imagine the grace that commends us, even when our performance isn’t so good. 
We need open hearts to love even a fraction as much as we are loved. 
That’s the wealth that is God – we can serve that whole-heartedly.

9-19-13 - Two Ways

Yesterday, I made a distinction between relying on God and relying on our own wits and resources. Is that legitimate? Didn’t God give us our wits and our resources? Yes – and perhaps in part this parable highlights the difference between using all that giftedness in God’s game, and taking what God has given us to fuel our own games.

Jesus certainly contrasted the “children of light” with the “children of this age.” 

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."

Jesus’ commentary on this parable is profoundly perplexing. The dishonest manager is not condemned by the boss, but praised (we don’t know whether or not he kept his job…). So is Jesus also commending his loose ethics? And what on earth does he mean by: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

I frankly believe that Jesus was being sarcastic – it’s the only interpretation that holds up. I think Jesus was telling his followers, “Look, if you’re worried about what’s going to become of you, cozy up to people who can help you… but if you want to follow me to the eternal home I can prepare for you, it’s a different strategy.”

The ways of God and the ways of the world are different and sometimes incompatible. We hear it in God’s voice in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord…” (55:8) and in Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God....” (I Cor 2:12) We see it in the way Jesus instructs his followers to behave in ways that are not “natural” – to turn the other cheek on attackers, to give up one’s possessions if asked, to risk one’s life in service to others. These are not the ways of the world, nor of those who would succeed on the world’s terms.

Those who follow Christ are called to be in the world, to love this life we’ve been given and all its gifts – and to hold it lightly, not to confuse it with the realm of God. We have dual citizenship in both realms, and we need to be clear about which ‘reality’ is the most lasting.

We’ve been doing a lot of mapping and inventory this week – look back at some of your “life categories”… in which realm are you living each of those parts of your life? (i.e., your family life may be firmly rooted in God-life, but your work life completely worldly, or other combinations…)

Who are the “children of light” in your life, for whom you can give thanks today?
Who are the “children of this age” around you? Do they influence you? How might you gracefully influence them?

Jesus didn’t withdraw from the world or from “worldly” people. He fully engaged them, building relationships in which many found themselves transformed. This is the world for which he lived and died and rose again. This is the world for which we are called to give ourselves, in love. We do that best when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, allowing God to love the world through us.

9-18-13 - Too Proud to Beg

When we left off, a rich man’s manager stood accused of squandering the property he was entrusted to tend, and he was summoned to a smack-down with his master. It does not appear he was falsely accused – here is his reaction: "'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'”

Lazy and
incompetent and proud – now there’s a trifecta. He acknowledges there are honorable ways of getting out of his jam, but he chooses rather to run a scheme: "So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.'"

Not a bad plan. The boss gets some of what’s owed him, if at wholesale rather than retail prices. The customers get a deal. The manager has bought himself some influence with people who could do him a favor… which he’s soon going to need. His plan is strategically sound. Does that make it good?

Jesus tells this story right after the one about the son who squandered his inheritance. Two characters who have misused resources entrusted to them, in deep trouble. The son in the earlier story decides to come clean and entrust himself to his father’s mercy. The guy in this story decides he will keep trying to play the situation, relying on his own strategies – which is pretty much what got him into this pickle in the first place. A friend of mine called these “self-saving strategies,” the things we do and say to justify ourselves, to stay self-sufficient instead of God-sufficient.

I just saw Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine, which depicts the ruinous consequences for several characters who build their lives on layers and layers of lies and manipulation and self-saving strategies, which crash and collapse under them. It’s an exhausting way to live. Most of us have a few, though. One of mine is trying to juggle more than I can manage well. But I keep doing it – and will, as long as I value those rewards of affirmation and accomplishment and being productive more than I trust God for my sense of well-being.

What are some of your self-saving strategies? What in your life or work or relationships or self-image do you keep trying to “manage?” What patterns do you have that actually lead to more anxiety than peace?

Whether or not something comes to mind, we can all reaffirm our desire to trust God for what we need. We can say whether we feel God is close or far away, substantial or flimsy – and ask Jesus to show us how to trust more. That’s my prayer – “Show me your way, Lord. I’m tired of mine.”

Jesus could have taken all kinds of outs – he had people to run to. He had power. Instead, He put his trust, all his trust, in God’s plan, though it looked like a way scary and painful plan. He really had to trust that the ending God had for this story was a whole lot better than it looked… And it was.

9-17-13 - Performance Review

“I want to talk to you.” Six words guaranteed to strike fear into my heart. My immediate assumption is that I’m in trouble. Dread pervades me as I wrack my brain to think what I’ve done wrong. I regret to say I can usually think of a few things.

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’”

Imagine the dread this manager felt when he was called to the boss’ office. No need to wonder what’s wrong – he is told straight out that the jig is up. The only thing left to do is settle accounts in as favorable a way as possible. We’ll talk tomorrow about how this guy responds to that challenge. For today, let’s stay with the discomfort the prospect of such an interview can cause.

“Give me an accounting.” I preferred the God-figure in last week’s parables, who seeks and finds and welcomes and forgives and restores and loves. The God of grace, not the God of justice. But guess what? There’s only one God. The grace and mercy are necessary because the justice is true. And Jesus suggests more than once that we will be called to account for how we’ve managed the gifts and resources God has given us. So let’s take a little inventory today for a mid-life performance review:

Make a list of all the gifts and resources you feel you’ve been given (family, skills, money, networks, location, genes, education, opportunities, relationships… what else?)

What areas do you feel good about – where you’re using or nurturing what you’ve been given, and it’s healthy.

Are there any areas where you feel you’re squandering the resources entrusted to you – wasting, or not using, or mis-using, or avoiding? It’s worth naming those too.

Invite Jesus to look at your lists with you. How might you relate differently to the less fruitful parts of your life? What obstacles can you identify that keep you from thriving? Can you invite the Heavenly Trainer to work with you?

Good News: we don’t undergo our performance reviews alone. We have an advocate sitting right with us, the Spirit of truth, to keep our inner accuser in check. And our heavenly boss loves us so much, s/he wants to hear from us how we’re doing – and to work with us in the areas where we feel we could do better.

AND in this company, every employee’s performance is evaluated as part of the performance of the best.
And the best One in our company was pretty much perfect. So relax. You’re good. This isn’t gonna hurt.

9-16-13 - Jesus the Accountant

Jesus didn’t name his parables – he just told them. Later, people who put bibles together added headings and titles – which often obscure as much as they highlight. Why name the story about the man and his two sons “The Prodigal Son,” and not, “The Merciful Father” or “The Resentful Brother?” Any of those names limit our view of the parable.

Parables are multi-faceted – you look at one head on, it appears to say one thing; you turn it just slightly, or look from the perspective of another character and, “Whoa, I never noticed that before…” And then there are some that, no matter how many ways you turn, it’s hard to grasp just what Jesus was saying.

Long intro to an odd reading. I was tempted to retrieve another of my “Top Ten Bible Passages” this week – but that would be wimping out. If we spend some time on this one, it will reveal more of itself.

This parable is sometimes called “The Shrewd Manager,” and sometimes “The Dishonest Steward.” Both? Yeah. So let’s forget titles and look at the story: A rich man finds out his caretaker is squandering his estate. He calls him in, tells him he’s onto him, and demands an accounting. The manager realizes he’s about to be fired. He doesn’t want to do manual work or beg – so he cooks up a scheme. He calls in the man’s debtors and lowers each one’s bill if he’ll pay up. Now he has some income to show the boss; the debtors get a deal; and the manager buys himself some friends. Oh – and, Jesus says, the boss commends him for his savvy. What??? And why is Jesus telling a story of ledgers and balances and profit & loss statements? Isn’t accounting a little out of his wheelhouse as a rabbi?

By some measures, Jesus talked about finance and how we use and get used by our money more than any other subject. Way more than he spoke about sexuality or peace or justice. Because he knew that our relationship with money speaks volumes about our level of faith and trust and openness to the grace of God. And because money and managers are great metaphors for understanding our relationship to the gifts God gives us to enjoy and nurture and invest.

How would you describe your relationship with money?
(easy / trusting / anxious / clinging / generous / organized / playful / indifferent / attached /                     ? )

Are there areas in your life in which you don’t feel you are a good steward of God’s gifts to you?
(time / relationships / vocation / health / place / nature / education /                 ? ) 

How about some areas where you use the gifts wisely and well?

Today, in prayer, invite Jesus into all those parts of your life. If your relationship with money is not as easy as you’d like, pray about that. Tell God your anxieties. We’re called to be un-anxious – and sometimes we have to name our worries so we can let go of them.

Do you fear judgment about your use or misuse of any gifts in your life? This is a good day to name those fears, and repent for anything in particular that weighs you down. God wants us to be real and to trust in God’s loving grace.

Jesus told his followers they were no longer servants but friends. We can afford to look at our records as stewards without fear of being “fired” – and in the security of an awesome, eternal retirement plan.

9-13-13 - I Love You the Most

How do you feel when people get away with stuff? What if they say they’re sorry?

All week, we’ve looked at stories of the lost being found, and Jesus says, “So there is rejoicing over one sinner who repents.” In the story of the son who left home with his inheritance and slunk back, broke and broken, the father who greets him with open arms says, “…let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

But do we rejoice when someone is forgiven for something awful? Not always. And Jesus knew that – so his story doesn’t end with the celebration. There’s another part. The elder son, who has stayed and tended the estate he will one day inherit, hears music and dancing. “What’s going on?” he asks. “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.

And does he run in with relief to greet his baby brother, whom they all feared dead? Not so much. He is furious. He refuses to join the party. So, for a second time, the father goes outside to meet a son. But he is met with a barrage of bitterness and resentment. Turns out the “good son” wasn’t so happy being helpful and compliant all the time. Or maybe he was – until he sees his ne’er-do-well brother seemingly rewarded after breaking their father’s heart and squandering their resources. NOW he wants to know why he was never given so much as a goat to roast, when this “son of yours” gets the calf they’ve been fattening up for a feast?

This is the cry of all the “good girls” and “good boys” and responsible ones: “I did what you wanted. Why don’t you love me more than the one who screwed up?”

The father in Jesus’ story doesn’t distinguish “more” or “less.” He says, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” In “all that is mine is yours” he is saying that he can’t possibly love him MORE – he already loves him the most. And he can’t love his brother LESS – his great love compels him to rejoice over this restoration to the family.

So, how do you feel when someone does wrong and gets away with it? Think of someone. Can you see him or her with the Father’s eyes? That can move us to compassion.

I don’t know if the Pharisees got the point of Jesus’ story. It has tremendous power to open people’s hearts to considering how vast God’s love is. I’ve often told it to people in recovery, and they get it. Is there someone in your life who needs to hear it? Polish it up and tell it to them.

Some years ago, in prayer. I sensed God say to me: “I already love you the most. There is nothing you have to do, or can do, to make me love you more – I already love you the most, with the love that fills the universe and beyond.”

It’s taking me some time to live into that love, and to extend it to others. Thankfully, I have a lifetime to learn to absorb it, trust it, let it make me whole. A lifetime, and eternity beyond that. You too.

For a rich and wonderful book on this story, I recommend Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son.

9-12-13 - Lost Boys

The gospel passage assigned for Sunday ends with the lost coin – but in response to the grumbling about his dinner companions, Jesus tells one more “lost and found” tale – this one set in the more complex realm of human relationships. We can only scratch the surface here, but let’s take a look.

The story may be familiar – a man had two sons. The younger, unlikely to inherit the property, decides it’s time to take off and make his fortune elsewhere. He needs some capital, and doesn’t want to wait for the old man to kick the bucket before he gets his nest egg, so he asks his father for his share now. Put another way, “If the timing were better, you’d already be dead, but you’re not – so give me my money; I’m out of here.” We might say to the young man, “Get lost!” Not this father. He loves him so much, he agrees, reducing his own resources considerably.

The younger son leaves, goes to a far country, squanders his inheritance living “high off the hog,” until that region is visited by famine. Once he’s out of cash, his party buddies abandon him, and he ends up living “low with the pigs,” as a swineherd, without so much as a corn cob that the pigs eat. In a beautiful phrase, Jesus says, “He came to himself,” and remembers where he came from, how even the servants in his father’s house have plenty to eat. He resolves to go home and ask for a job – he knows he has sinned, and forfeited his son-ship, but maybe he can become a servant.

Before he arrives home, his father sees him coming, and rushes out to meet him on the road. The son cannot even get out his carefully rehearsed speech. The father kisses and embraces him, puts a robe around his shoulders, a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet – symbols of his restored status as a son and heir. He already received and lost his inheritance – now he’s an heir again. The father commands the servants to make a feast to celebrate his son’s return and soon music and the smell of roasting veal fill the air. That’s where the older brother comes into the story – we’ll get to him tomorrow.

Today, let’s find ourselves in the story of the younger son and the father. Have you ever had a time when you “wandered far in a land that is waste?” (Another translation) What brought you back? (Are you back?)

Have you experienced the need for forgiveness, and found it? In a person? In God? Both? Some of us are still waiting to experience the forgiveness we know by faith is given us.

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally, especially if we're used to a system of blaming and judging.To forgive means to “give for,” to give to another what they owe us, what they already took. When we forgive, we release the debt owed to us. In a sense, we pay twice. Forgiveness is costly.

Jesus says: Look how lavish with his love God is – that, though we wander off to things we believe will give us pleasure, or security, or power, or control – God greets us when we return, even before we get there. God extends us grace over and over and over again. This father in the story looks like a chump in certain lights – taken advantage of. But no. He gives with his eyes wide open, and will give again.

God gives with a heart wide open, offering us forgiveness, love and grace, unearned and unearnable, unmeasured and immeasurable. Can we say, "Yes" today?

9-11-13 - Hide-n-Seek

People learn better when they hear something more than once – so Jesus told those Pharisees another parable about losing and finding, repenting and rejoicing: “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”

Now, interpreting parables can be like interpreting dreams – you might be any or all of the characters. Who do you relate to today – the coin, or the woman? (Or the lamp, broom or house...) The way I see it at this moment, the woman is God (yep, more than once Jesus assigns God the woman’s role…) and the coins are us. Imagine: God values us so much, she will search high and low for us whenever we roll under the bed or into a dark corner. God turns on the light of truth, gets out the broom of forgiveness, sweeps the dust away from us – and keeps looking till we’re found.

Now, in both Jesus’ stories, the sheep and the coin are pretty passive. They get lost and have to be found. As people made in God’s image, we have a little more choice. And yet, when we fall into self-oriented and self-destructive patterns, our freedom to choose can become compromised. We need to be found. Often, it is realizing we are so precious, that someone bothers to seek and find us, which elicits repentance in us. Guilt doesn’t do the job nearly as well as love does.

Repentance is a choice we can make every day, saying to that heavenly Seeker, “Okay, here I am, under the dresser again…” And then we join all the others who’ve been found, rejoicing when each one comes back. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Okay, so now who are you: the coin, the seeker, a friend or neighbor rejoicing? All of the above?

Let’s spend a little time in repentance today – where are some of the places you’ve rolled that are out of the light? What parts of your life have become a little dusty and cluttered? Here comes the light and the broom…

Imagine being a coin that is found, picked up, turned over in the palm of the finder, smiled at, cherished – and maybe put in a pocket with a bunch of other found coins. What a great jingle-jangle we make when we’re put together, we found coins! How much more valuable we are together than apart.

Is there anyone whom God is inviting you to help search for, lifting up couch cushions, sweeping floors?

Sometimes we think we can hide from God; if we’re not looking for God, God will leave us alone. Jesus says differently: Jesus says God never rests while we are away. God seeks us, finds us, invites us home.

Remember that phrase kids call out in hide-n-seek, indicating it is safe to come out of hiding, “Olly, olly, oxen free.” Some say its root is: “O ye, o ye, in come free.” Do you hear God calling you?

9-10-13 - The Other One Percent

Jesus’ parables are sneaky things. They lead you one way, and then, bam!, swerve somewhere that contradicts common sense and practice. "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety- nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” At first glance, you think, “Yeah! I’d go after that lost little sheep…” On second thought... would you really leave 99 valuable livestock unprotected and search for one? What kind of business is that?

God’s kind, Jesus suggests. Remember, he’s answering the question, “Why do you eat with sinners?” The question hiding under that one is: “Why don’t you hang out with the righteous folks, like us?”

Jesus says that his time in this earthly life is to be spent seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10) The “ninety-nine” can look after each other. Someone has to look for the wanderers, the explorers of steeper roads, the ones who chased greener pastures only to look up and find themselves alone in the deep, dark woods. The "right-living" sheep, presumably, already have heaven pretty happy. The recovery of the lost sheep is cause for special rejoicing.

This week I heard a bishop suggest that churches program for the people who aren’t there, rather than ones who are. A church-goer took issue with that – “What about us? Don’t we count?” This is the cry of the ninety-nine.

In the “both/and” realm of God, it doesn’t have to be a choice – but Jesus does suggest where his followers are to put our energy. Do we have enough “bandwidth” to care for one another AND to follow Jesus out to the ravines and scary places where lost sheep are apt to be found, those who do not know the love of the Good Shepherd, who may even feel pretty unlovable? I think we do – especially if we enhance our capacity with the infinite power and love of the Holy Spirit.

So, here are some prompts for prayer and reflection today: Make a list of everything you do to nurture your own community – activities, funds, prayer. Do you hear the sound of rejoicing in heaven? You’re giving a huge gift.

Now, list the ways you reach out to the people who might be “outliers” – not so much funding and feeding, but how you personally interact with people outside your circle.
Our goal might be to aim for balance, maybe even tipping a little toward the outlier sheep.

Who comes to mind when you think of “lost sheep” in your life or community? God may send you to someone in particular… give it a moment and see who comes up. If you get a name or face, stay with it.

Ask God to bless that person, and to show you where and how you might come close to them. Our goal is not to invite him to church, or to “get her help.” Our goal is to go and be with, offering a relationship that is mutual (we all have “lost” parts in ourselves…) – and invite the Shepherd himself to lead him or her back into wholeness.

If you remember a time when you were lost and someone found you, you know how it works. There was a LOT of rejoicing.

9-9-13 - Low-Lifes and Hypocrites

What is it about religious people that can make us so quick to judge others? This week we begin with the news that, “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” This didn’t sit well with the religious leaders: “And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

Why are “tax collectors” and “sinners” so often grouped together in the Gospels? Well, the tax collectors of Jesus’ time were no mild-mannered IRS accountants. They were Jews who made a living by “collecting” taxes for the Romans from their fellow-Jews. As such, they were collaborators with a hated regime and enforcers of cruel and often capricious extortion. And the Romans didn’t pay them for this – they allowed them to tack on a “fee” or surcharge. The meaner and tougher they were, the higher the “fee” they commanded. Tax collectors were easy to loathe.

Yet Jesus invited one of these, Matthew, to be a disciple. He ate at the home of another, Zaccheus. He seemed to be a magnet for them – and he didn’t just have dinner with them. He invited them to repent and be renewed. Many saw their lives transformed, as did other “sinners” who hung around with Jesus. Who better to hang around with than someone who talks about forgiveness and the love of their heavenly Father? Who better to have dinner with than someone who sees you as a human being despite the despicable way you’ve treated others?

In this 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells three stories about things that are lost: a sheep, a coin, a son (or two…). Today, let’s look at who he was talking to: the Pharisees and scribes. They weren’t bad people either. Pharisees deeply loved the Law of Moses and sought to live lives of great holiness. In the process, they often became self-righteous, judgmental, and tipped into a compassionless legalism that – Jesus felt – caused them to keep minute laws at the expense of God’s greater command to care for the poor and defenseless. The scribes were temple leaders, and regulated the apparatus of worship and sacrifice. They had limited power under Roman authority, and like many such people, did all they could to make others feel even more powerless.

So we have, on the one hand, notorious sinners and low-lifes, and on the other, hypocritical and arrogant “holy” people. If all the lowlifes were in one room, and all the religious people in another, and you HAD to pick one, which room would you go in? Why?
What would you say to those gathered in each room?

What kind of people do you find yourself judging, even condemning (we all do it… let’s just bring it to the surface so we can look at it…). Think of some examples of individuals or groups. Bring them to mind. 

Now bring Jesus into that picture. What does he do? Say? How do you feel?

What kind of people do you feel are hypocritical? How do you suppose they got that way? Think of some examples of individuals or groups. Bring them to mind. 

Now bring Jesus into that picture. What does he do? Say? How do you feel?

You know how to respond when people say, “I don’t go to church – it’s full of hypocrites.” - 

“There’s always room for one more…”

9-6-13 - Which Road?

Years ago, the first time I went on retreat, I immersed myself in prayer, scripture, worship and the writings of Bernard of Clairveaux. His passion for God was so fervent, at one point I remember praying, “Oh Lord, set my heart on fire!” Right away a response came in my mind: “Do you know what you’re asking? My fire burns away everything that is not of me, everything.” I thought of all those references to God as a refiner’s fire, a consuming fire, and I felt I was being offered a choice – the “high road” of full commitment to the way of Jesus, or the lower, slower way of mixed motives and divided devotions. I chose the slow road, the messier way. Do I have some company?

The teachings we’ve been wrestling with this week are about this choice. Jesus is telling those who would follow his way that they need to walk away from the claims of this world, family and money. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” James in his epistle says even more starkly, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Did Jesus really mean we should hate this life we’ve been given? The passage from Deuteronomy appointed for this same Sunday urges us to “Choose life.” “…today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him…

I believe that Jesus invites us to choose the life that is the most real, the most true, the most eternal; the God-life, visible to the eyes of faith, not mere world-life apparent to our physical senses. “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance,” he says. (John 10:10). He invites us to leave behind all that distracts us from receiving the abundance of love, joy, peace, grace, forgiveness, healing – and ministry – that God offers us.

I chose the slow road, the “middle way” – we Episcopalians often walk in the middle of the road. Over the years, as my commitment has sharpened, I believe this is also a kingdom path. The God whom Jesus revealed to us is one who meets us on any road we’re on, whenever we turn away from the emptiness allegiance to the world brings us. This Father in heaven rushes out to greet his children as we come back to ourselves and back to our true home.

What are you afraid God might “take away” if you offered yourself more fully as a disciple of Christ? 

What commitments hold you back from a deeper commitment to the Way of following Jesus? 
Can you offer that list to God and invite the Spirit to loosen your grip?

What friends have you made on the road?
When have you experienced the Father’s greeting?
When have you experienced the Holy Spirit guiding you, protecting you, strengthening you? 

Write down those stories – other people might want to hear them.

The original name for Christ followers was “The People of the Way.” 

If we’re on the road with Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, I believe we'll get home.

9-5-13 - Give it ALL Away?

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." Yikes… 
I had a conversation with a friend this week about the discomfort we feel in opulent surroundings – a very fancy restaurant, a deluxe resort in an impoverished nation. He said, “Well, Jesus didn’t say we couldn’t be rich, did he?”

“We-e-e-l-l-l,” I said, “He kind of did, more than once, talk about giving it all away and following him. But I’m hoping he’ll accept the gradual approach…”

Yes, I’m on the slow road to giving it all away. So are most of the people I know. Do we count as wealthy? You bet. We like to compare ourselves to people with more money; looks like we’re just getting by. But even the poor in America are richer than 85% of people in the world, many of whom try to live on less than $1 a day. Put it that way...you do the math.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus interact with prosperous people. To some he says, “Give it all.” To others, he doesn’t. Zaccheus in the flush of conversion offers to give half his net worth to the poor; Jesus doesn’t say, “What about the other half?” When Jesus talks about how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he may be saying it’s impossible – or simply noting the fact that people of means often put their security in their accumulated wealth rather than in God. If you can walk the fine line of having a lot of resources and not relying on them, then you might have the freedom needed to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

God wants us to trust in God’s provision, not in our own resources or strategies. The expression, “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. It is contrary to the spirit of the Good News Jesus preached of radical openness to the grace of God and radical generosity to the poor in wallet and the poor in spirit. If everyone viewed every child as a precious gift of God, there might not be so many living on garbage heaps. We’re not there yet, most of us...

So, how do we respond?
Today, maybe we begin with gratitude for the resources we have. Name a few, write them down.

If you feel a tug of remorse, offer repentance, not because of your resources, but for clinging to them. Have you felt called to share what you have, and didn’t? Name it.

How about we ask Jesus what he wants us to do with our money? That’d be scary… I don’t think I’ve ever prayed that prayer. But he’s not going to reach into our bank accounts – he just might inspire us to be freer with them.

Jesus’ invitation is to follow him, to start consciously walking the road with Him every day. If we do that, He’s going to start pointing out sights we may not have noticed before. He may introduce us to people who live closer to the edge; might nudge us to give to this organization or that ministry. We might find ourselves wanting to volunteer in parts of town we never saw before, or make new friends.

It starts with “Yes, Jesus. I want to follow you. This is what I can give today.” If you truly walk with Him, the “what I can give today” is going to grow and grow. So will you.

9-4-13 - Assessing Risk

Counting the cost. In his pep talk to would-be disciples, after telling them how radically they need to reorder their priorities if they’re going to follow him, Jesus gives an example: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

This example might puzzle us – many of us, growing up in prosperous, Western societies, in which Christianity is a known quantity, if not closely observed – have faced little cost to following Christ. Giving up a Sunday morning or a portion of our income is not so pricey.

It was much more dangerous for Jesus’ immediate disciples and the crowds who followed him. Already terrorized by the occupying Romans and oppressed by the temple leadership, the average citizen of Jesus’ place and time did well to keep his head low, staying out of trouble. Leaving your livelihood and family to publicly identify with an itinerant teacher who drew a fair amount of attention, much of it suspicious – this was not a recipe for a quiet life. Those who affiliated with Jesus were risking their comfort, work, family relationships – and often their lives.

Some people in the world do engage such risks to claim allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. I once read about an Arab convert to Christianity who was ostracized by his Muslim family for being too “Western,” even suffering a murder attempt by an uncle, and by the Christians he met as being too “Muslim.” Even people in this country can give grave offense to their own families and religious traditions when they convert, or be ridiculed and minimized.

Does it cost you anything to publicly identify as a Christ-follower? Does it cause a problem with your job? Your family? Your social circle? Do people think you’re foolish?
What are the things that pull you away from God-life?
Can you offer those to God and ask the Spirit to help you re-order what counts?
Do you feel a pull to making this relationship more central in your life? What would that look like?

Maybe for us, relationship is a better analogy than architecture. What if we translated Jesus’ example:    

Who of you, intending to commit to a relationship, does not first sit down and assess feelings, chemistry, compatibility, to see whether there’s enough to engage it? Otherwise, when you’ve told all your friends “This is the one!” and then you break up, all who see it will begin to ridicule you, saying, "They started hot, but sure flickered out in a hurry!"

Fact is, few people have a big conversion, start following Christ and keep going. Many of us come on strong, get distracted or disappointed, wander off, wander back, get complacent again, often for years or decades. And at some point we stop wandering off – we keep moving closer, into knowing and being known. Our priorities of how we spend our time, money and love shift, open up. We keep choosing, coming closer. Maybe if we’d sat down and counted the cost, we wouldn’t have done it – but now, whatever cost there is, doesn’t seem like a cost at all. More like a gift.

That’s my prayer for you today.

9-3-13 - What's Your Cross

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” 
Hmmm; this might be right up there with “hate your family” in the how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people canon.

What did people think when they heard Jesus say this? We hear “cross,” and think of The Crucifixion, but this was earlier, when Jesus’ movement seems flushed with success. In fact, the first sentence of this week’s passage reads, “Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them…” Was he trying to reduce the number to those who were really serious? Weed out the faddists and thrill-seekers? Talking about “carrying your cross” to subjects in a Roman colony might do it – the cross was a terrifying and horrific imperial instrument of execution. I can imagine a few people in that crowd slowing, letting themselves fall back to the margins, and slinking off home.

I might have been one of them. When we interpret “carry the cross” as “embrace your suffering,” as some have done for centuries, I don’t rush forward and cry “sign me up!”    I don’t believe God desires suffering for his beloved, even as some passages in the bible suggest it can be part of God’s plan. I believe God shows up in the midst of the suffering that comes our way; that God’s power and love can redeem and transform it into an opportunity for healing and growth.

So how else might we interpret “carry your cross?” How about this: "Take up your ministry, commit yourself to your mission within the whole of God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation." Our mission is a product of our gifts, our passions and our circumstances – and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is not something we undertake alone. We undertake it with the second half of that imperative, “and follow me.” As we become people of purpose following Christ, using our gifts, filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves more focused and peaceful.

The fullness of Jesus’ ministry involved suffering on the cross. Because he did, we don’t have to. We may be asked to sacrifice some of our resources, our prerogatives, our agenda; we might even encounter resistance and suffering, but not because suffering is redemptive – because passionate engagement in God’s mission transforms us and the world.

What do you see as one of your ministries as a Christ-follower? Where do your gifts, passions and life- circumstances intersect?

(If answering that is hard, try making a list of some of your gifts, your passions, and think through your circumstances: where do you live, what do you do, who do you live with, who do you live around? That's important data.)

Do you feel asked to sacrifice, “lay down,” any of your preferences or resources to make space for others? To alleviate suffering for other people?

Today, this week, have a conversation with Jesus about the answers you come up with.
Finding our way into God’s mission is a lifetime vocation.
At different times in our lives we’re called to live out our mission in different ways. Where will you “carry the cross” today?

9-2-13 - Jesus' Family Values

Oh, here we go. “If you want to follow me, hate your family… carry your cross…. get your act together… give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14:25-33) Jesus could have used a good PR rep to massage these messages a little.

On the other hand, it’s 2,016 years and counting (give or take a miscalculation here or there), and Jesus still has more followers than Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter feed, and his book remains an all-time bestseller many centuries after publication – so maybe He’s doing all right. Maybe we can take in these harsh-sounding messages and find our way into the love at the heart of them.

On the surface, they don’t seem so loving. Let’s start with Jesus’ spin on family values: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Did Jesus really say that? This was the man who, when told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him, mortified at the spectacle he was becoming, said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt 12:50) This is the man whose followers left their homes and families to travel with him, checking in now and then, but committing themselves to a bigger, messier family.

Remember, Jesus’ teaching radically undermines how human nature and culture lead us to think and act. Our earthly families can be great blessings – and they are among the “things that are passing away.” In the perspective of eternity, they pale in importance to our membership in the family of God. We are invited to walk a fine line in loving and nurturing our human families and not let our love for them distract us from cultivating our relationship of love with God.

We can do that best as we prize our human family members as gifts from God given in trust to us to nurture and help grow, not to possess or cling to. We don’t have to love our families less – we are invited to love our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers in the household of God more. That will enable us to be even more loving to those in our human families.

Today, let’s give thanks for our families of origin – the gifts, the challenges, the truth.
If your experience of family is painful, can you invite the living water of healing into those wounds?
Now reflect on who you’ve come to know and love in your “God-family” – grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins in the faith. Who comes to mind? What has she or he brought to your life?
And who are your “children” in faith – people whom you’ve mentored and supported in their faith life?
Finally, who do you know who could use a new family, whom you might bring into the household of God?

Jesus has better than a good PR person. He has the best network of promoters on the planet – as we expand our circles of love and healing to include ever more brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.