Thursday, September 15, 2011


IMAGINE: to form a mental image of something not actually present to the senses.
We encourage our children to use their imaginations every day. Every now and then we even dare to imagine such things as a nap, more time to complete tasks, our dream job, our dream spouse...but only sometimes.   As adults we often hold ourselves back from imagining...but I think we do ourselves a disservice by not daring to imagine...especially when it comes to our faith.
What does imagination have to do with our faith, you ask? We understand our imaginations to be limitless, without boundaries, beyond constraints and with no expectations.  Don’t we perceive God in the same way? God is something that we cannot fully grasp and understand with our human minds yet we know that God is there, that God is limitless, without boundaries, beyond constraints and expectations.  We understand God to be fully surprising and all-encompassing!
Our ideas of God and our faith, while firmly grounded in scripture, take flight when we dare to IMAGINE how things could be - how things WILL be.  When we dare to IMAGINE how God would have things, our faith blossoms.
Scripture certainly leaves certain things up to our imagination - it does not spell everything out word-for-word.  It tells us to love one another.  By the power of our imagination we see what that looks like for us. Scripture encourages us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc... and those things take shape in our communities when we use our imagination, together, to make a difference. And scripture prompts us to learn more and our imagination is sparked when we study and grow into the stories and prophecies we find there.
Our imagination is key to our faith. Our faith grows when we IMAGINE how God wants our life to be; when we IMAGINE how God can change our life; when we IMAGINE how being a disciple can effect our life.  It is a powerful thing; it’s the fuel we need for us to keep moving, the material we need to make a difference in the lives of the people around us and it supplies the gifts we need to live into our vocations.
BUT sometimes it’s hard to allow our imagination to guide us.  When a situation calls for practicality, it seems frivolous to imagine the solution.  Or when the outcome is uncertain, it feels ‘dreamy’ to dare to imagine how it might be.  
We must be careful not to restrain our imagination or refrain from using it.  We must be bold enough to  allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right direction by our imagination.  God is consistently seeking out ways to communicate with us, to move us and to call us into action.  God desires for us to move, to make a difference, and to change the world. It is by the power of our imagination that this happens.
Our human nature causes us, however, to wonder just how far we can truly reach with our imaginations. Paul tells us in Ephesians  that God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.  That is how far we can reach with our imaginations - further than we can ask, further than we can imagine or dream. Don’t limit yourself - don’t hold yourself back. DARE to imagine!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do I have to forgive THAT!?!?

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? - Matthew 18:21a
This text is a text that makes us nervous or uncomfortable.  This verse is just the beginning of  quite a story that Jesus tells (go ahead, I’ll wait while you look it up and read it) - it contrasts beautifully the  the Christian life we know we SHOULD lead and the human life that often takes over. It’s a text that makes us squirm when we think about how many times we have asked ourselves this question that Peter asks.
The events of this day 10 years ago, September 11, 2001 certainly provide the background for us to think about this text and they should urge us to imagine this concept of forgiveness.
There always seems to be a need for forgiveness. A new offense occurs, a new fault is found, or an old wound is opened up...there is never a lack of opportunities to practice forgiveness.  Peter understands this and asks Jesus the question we have all asked a million times - just how many times do I have to forgive?
Peter knows he has to forgive but he’s looking for an out here.  He’s looking for a limit to what he has to do. He wants Jesus to tell him that at some point it’s ok to put your foot down and say NO! Enough is enough - I can’t - I won’t forgive THAT! 
Why is it so hard for us to forgive? Why do we hold on to grudges? We certainly don’t want to admit fault and it’s in our nature to want revenge, to make someone pay when we are hurt or frustrated or upset. We run out of pity for people who hurt us, people who are different from us, think different, act different...we would rather fight for self-protection or vindication than love someone in forgiveness.  In Christ, grace abounds FOR us.  Why does it not abound OUT of us??
We are faced every day with the torture of needing to forgive but being unable to. This parable forces us to examine our human nature and expose ourselves for what we are - humans.  Sinful humans in need of God’s grace.
It also forces us to imagine: to imagine how God’s unending grace breaks through the bleakest of circumstances, to imagine how even when we are out of forgiveness for one another, God is there forgiving us, to imagine how God desires to reconcile us with one another thru the power of God forgiving us first and we begin to imagine new hearts - full of mercy - that create the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation; with God and with one another.
When we consider the lengths Jesus went to to forgive us - the underserved suffering, persecution and execution - forgiveness between one another doesn’t seem so hard.
Imagine a world where there is no limit to forgiveness...where we just do it...because it’s the right thing to do. Where we forgive the little things such as a refusal to share a toy or someone cutting us off on the freeway. Imagine a world where we forgive the big things such as abuse, untruths or injustice.  And dare to imagine a world where we forgive the unspeakable things such as the events of 9/11, hate or war.
Jesus imagined such a world and he lived every day of his life trying to make it happen.  And he died so that it would...
Let us dare to imagine such a world...Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I wanna join....

15  "If another member of the church  sins against you,  go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.   16  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  17  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  18  Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  19  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  - Matthew 18:15-20
This text is one that generates a lot of questions for me...
  • Who exactly is a "member" of my church?  
  • Who decides what constitutes sinning? 
  • Isn't it racist to use the designation of "gentile" in such a derogatory manner?  
  • Why does Jesus pick on tax collectors? 
  • Where is the unconditional love of Jesus if people are being excluded and shunned?  
  • What precisely does it mean for Jesus to be among those gathered? 
And for the record. I don’t like this Jesus...all judgement and exclusive and stuff...not the kind of guy that I can get behind, if you know what I mean.
This text has never sat well with me, so I tried researching, digging back into my memories of what I know about Jesus and the text started making a bit more sense....This text is about community - who’s in and who’s out . It’s about trying to become part of something and then STAYING. it’s about going to a place where everyone accepts you for who you are and you are never alone. Because, really, sometimes you wanna go “where everybody knows your name....and they’re always glad you came....”
We all desire to be part of a community. I've heard it said that Jesus was the first community organizer. He desired to pull ALL people into community with him - he didn’t exclude or cut out. He didn’t draw lines or boundaries. So why do we??
We do it all the risk life and limb cheering for the ‘wrong’ sports team.  The parents of the ‘A-team’ students wouldn’t be caught dead talking to the parents of the ‘B-team’ students...or, even worse, the parents of those that didn’t even make the team.  We draw lines based on skin color, language, tradition, culture, name it, there is a boundary around it.
The early Christians craved community, too. They had been kicked out of their old Jewish ones, they weren’t part of the Roman elite and the pagans wanted nothing to do with them. So they ‘got brave’, followed their leader, and started  a new community. One whose boundaries were broadened; one where holes could be found in the walls so that everyone could get in; one where the one thing that made you worthy was God’s love. This new community was INCLUSIVE, it was hungry for new members and they reached out - not to benefit themselves, but to share the good news of a place, finally, where ALL were welcomed unconditionally!  
In this community, they found love, friendship and accountability. They found a place where people strived to live up to a higher standard of conduct. A place where love meant calling each other out when things weren’t quite right.  The Message translation of this text says that if someone offends you, sins or is not holding up their end of Jesus’ teachings and they won’t listen to one-on-one reasoning, to a group of friends or to the congregation then you need to “start over from scratch, confront them with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
That’s what Jesus did over and over in his ministry. That’s how he treated Zacchaeus, the tax collector...and Matthew, the tax collector. Both men we know and love as devoted followers of Jesus were welcomed into Jesus’ community with love and acceptance.
Our communities are built upon unity in God’s love, grace and forgiveness, not upon exclusion based on someone’s sin....or what we perceive as their sin.  We have enough sin of our own to worry about, don’t you think?
The teachings of Jesus were summed up as Love God - Love One Another. Sometimes we are called to hold our brothers & sisters accountable to the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes WE need to be held accountable to the teachings of Jesus.  But it is in community where we find support - in a community of believers we find the unconditional love of God and of one another. Welcome to the community.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Dog Days of Life

Hello. It's been a while since my last post. I've been going thru what my friend, Pr. Darrel coined 'the dog days of life'.  I received his church's newsletter a couple weeks back and this was his letter. It hit me like a ton of bricks - like a homerun hitter's bat hits a ball - like a ... hit. Hard. Take a read. Enjoy. Drink.


From the Pastor’s Desk

The dog days of summer are truly upon us. Records are being broken around the country as a high pressure system has been sitting right over most of Mid-America. Coupled with high humidity, it s dangerous to be outside doing even modest activity for any length of time. Meteorologists caution against excessive heat reminding us to wear light clothing, drink plenty of liquid, and take frequent rest breaks when we are going to be outside.

This summer’s heat is a good metaphor for the dry hot spells that can occur in our spiritual lives also. Receiving devastating news, dealing with broken relationships or long term resentments can be as hard on our spiritual wellbeing as the hot sun is on our physical well-being. Like the dog days of summer, the effects of spiritual neglect can drain us of the spirit of life that God so desires for us.

What the meteorologists reminds us are helpful hints as we deal with the dreaded heat of this summer. They can also provide us with needed relief as we face life’s issues that would otherwise stifle our spiritual joy:

1) Wear Light Clothing. Don’t let yourself get weighted down with the stresses of life, what we shall eat and what we shall wear. Our heavenly Father knows what we need and He, who clothes the grasses of the earth and feeds the birds of the air, will provide for His children.

2) Drink plenty of liquid. Take in the nourishment your spiritual body needs as well. Reading, study and meditation on God’s word will richly supply your body with what it needs to replenish your spirit and renew your faith and life in Christ.

3) Take frequent rest breaks. Take time to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ around Word and Sacrament each Sunday morning. Hymns of praise, words of encouragement, reconciliation with God and one another and feasting at the table on the life giving body and blood of our Lord and Savior is ‘good food for the soul’

I hope you are carefully managing yourself as we work our way through the ‘dog days of summer’ and equally important, carefully managing yourself as you work through the emotional and spiritual ‘dog days of life.’

May God, who is able, richly bless you and refresh you in body, mind, and spirit.

Pastor Darrel

Pr. Darrel is the pastor at United Lutheran Church in Bella Vista, AR