Cosmic collisions let us examine our hearts

"Ash Wednesday meets Valentine’s Day February 14"

Columnist Ray Waddle, a former Tennessean religion editor recently wrote in the Tennessean in its February 7th issue:  “to those who savor cosmic collisions on the calendar, check February 14. Besides Valentine’s Day, it is also Ash Wednesday. The annual celebration of romantic love shares a date this year with the first day of Lent.  Candlelight dinner meets liturgies of repentance. Champagne festivity goes face to face with the Book of Ecclesiastes.” (Click here to read his article.)

About this cosmic collision, Waddle uncovers for us a surprising statistic: this embraced (or dreaded) holiday is a commercial colossus now with $18 billion a year spent which breaks down into gift spending averaging nearly $140 a person in cards, jewelry, roses, and champagne.

Ash Wednesday, meanwhile moves in the other direction, acknowledging what Waddle refers to as “the broken heart of the world” -- life’s mistakes and wrong pursuits and the inescapable facts of our mortality.  On Wednesday, I will make the sign of the cross on foreheads as these words are said “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Tough words on a day that acknowledges life’s mistakes and wrong pursuits and the inescapable facts of our mortality.

Yet these desolations don’t get the last word.

Tomorrow, when Valentine’s Day collides with Ash Wednesday I am tempted, when I say “remember that you are dust” to draw a heart instead of the cross to hold in creative tension the desolation (our own limits) and the hope of God’s promises that is at the heart of this strangely life renewing glow of Lent.  A heart - or a cross - reminds us of the promises of God that we are God’s, that there is no sin, and no darkness, and yes no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time. For we come from God and to God we shall go.

There is so much that gets in the way of that simple truth and it is at times like on Ash Wednesday -  when all of the other things that occupy our attention doesn’t matter as much. 

So on this day of cosmic collision, I hope you will stop by when we will be outside in our parking lot from 7:30 am - 9:30 am for the imposition of ashes and for a time of personal prayer for those who desire prayer.

Boy Scouts, Leadership and Values

With school starting up again soon, that means Boy Scout Troop 86 will begin meeting under our roof again soon. We couldn't be happier to have this group of hard-working, dedicated, kind, young men meet under our roof. We are proud of the troop's leadership and of the values they are instilling in these young men that are free from such bullying and divisiveness. We are proud that they promote the values that we believe in and support, and that they recognize that words matter, that values matter - even when those in leadership positions do not. Here is a snippet from my sermon this past Sunday in which I addressed this very point:
God’s kingdom on earth comes, Jesus said, when seeds are dropped onto the ground. It’s a pretty fragile dream, not unlike a tiny single seed, and it must contend among ground where there are seeds of hatred and bigotry and violence, seeds of discord which also take root and grow and bear a terrible poisonous fruit.
Like many of you I was so disheartened by the partisanship and seeds of discord  when our President delivered a totally inappropriate speech to a captive audience of young men who are at the National Scout Jamboree, a pinnacle event for scouting.  As my name is on the Charter for Troop 86, I reached out to local leadership to express my concerns about if there would be a response from the Scouting organization in response to the bullying, partisanship and political pressures expressed in the President’s speech. From the conversations I have had with local leadership, I have every confidence that our Scouts here are growing here in values free from such bullying and divisiveness. And I am proud of their work and our association with Troop 86.
Why I bring up the President’s Speech before the Scouting Jamboree - a speech which the Head of BSA has apologized for the nature of the speech’s content is this: our words, especially around our youth, are like seeds planted. Our values are like seeds planted. Words matter. Values matter. When those in leadership - whatever their leadership position may be - parents need to talk to their children that it matters what we say and what we stand for. Not only parents, but parents, grandparents, young, old, teachers, coaches, all people who seek to follow in the way of Jesus, hear this: our words matter. Our Values matter. It matters what we are saying to our young people and what we are modeling.
To listen to the audio or read the entire text of Sunday's sermon, please click here:

We Are God's Family - The Season of Advent

It is the season of Advent with Christmas only a little more than two weeks from now. It is a time of great expectations. In this frenzied season, I have been thinking about expectations, about family (our theme has been “We Are God’s Family”) and I have been thinking about our attentiveness (or lack of).

These thoughts have been sparked by reading a story the writer Anne Lamott tells in her book about what the Kingdom of God that the birth of Jesus ushers in looks like to her.  In the book Stitches Lamott describes a friend whose son was living on the streets. Lamott writes, “This friend’s grown son, David, more or less lived on the streets for thirty years. He had a small place he could call his own, but he chose to live outdoors. I’d known him since he was a child. He looked like Puck, and he still had an innocence in his face, even surrounded by matted hair. I drove him to his grandmother’s funeral in Oakland a few years ago, with his grocery bags of broken electronics, and he bragged about how well he could dine from dumpsters. He was strong from walking all day. He was sweet, smart, aggravating, courtly, alcoholic and mentally ill.”

Lamott says, Over the years, his mother welcomed him home once a week or so, when he had not been drinking, for coffee, or soup, or whatever happened to be on the stove. People would ask David’s mother how he was doing. “Oh about the same,” she would say, or “Nightmarishly. And yourself?” Sometimes love does not look like what you had in mind. 

Then one day, David had a seizure and was found half dead. He was taken to the ICU and after a long recovery was moved to the general population in the hospital. That was when his mother lost hope. What would become of him next? She despaired. But eventually David learned how to walk again and speak a little gibberish. But what happened among the people in the community who knew David was a bit like the Kingdom of God. They visited him and surrounded his mother with support. Rides, errands, good ideas, just being there and taking an interest. Somehow their love touched David’s mother so profoundly that she came to see her son through the eyes of the people who loved her and loved him. It changed everything.

Eventually he was placed in a long term facility where people with Alzheimer’s and similar dementia twice David’s age were living. Every two weeks, Lamott writes, David’s mother drives to see her son at his facility in San Francisco. They go for short walks, and they talk about whatever comes up. Sometimes he makes very little sense. It’s a beautiful drive to the facility. Flickering screens of color rush by, dappled patches of road, then such brightness that even dark glasses can’t help.  And it’s hard to tell who has been more saved from what, David or David’s mother and the community of love that has transformed them both.

In the Bible passages which are our focus this Sunday, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus from his prison cell, “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” And Jesus said, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

As I move closer to this Sunday and to Christmas, I am being made aware of these important things:

  • What you are looking for often determines what you see
  • We have the opportunity to be the family of God. 
  • The kingdom comes, when it comes, in places that we least expect and in ways that are not what we had imagined.
  •  Love, after all, doesn’t always look like what you had in mind.

I hope in this season of Advent you are discovering richness as well. And I hope to see you this Sunday for worship and our children’s advent workshop that follows the service.

A Help Guide for You this Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving…

 …will you be the one who will be gracious and promise kindness. 

Here at East Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, we have cooked up a little Thanksgiving podcast and blog to be a resource to you as you face the upcoming holiday. Listen to John -the pastor of wise and many words - and Nate - the man of few words but master when it comes to the musical note - as they bring you music to enjoy and some advice to how to approach Thanksgiving whether your Thanksgiving will be a quiet one or a crazy, busy time of preparation. There is even advice on what to do about crazy Uncle Jack who may be sitting around your Thanksgiving table!

As with years past, we have assembled an assortment of table blessings that you might find useful as well as a wonderful poem by John O’Donahue called For Love in a Time of Conflict that we think is especially appropriate at this time. In this season of gratitude and on Thanksgiving Day, it is our prayer that your eyes will be open to the bounty of gifts, unmerited, that are all around us.  We pray that this week will bring peace to our world, our country, and our homes. At Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming season, “may everything good from God be yours!” (1 Peter 1:2, the Message).


For Love In a Time of Conflict

When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.

When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.

When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.

Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.

By John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us(New York: Doubleday, 2008)


If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you it will be enough.

-- Meister Eckhart



Come, Lord Jesus our guest to be

and bless


these gifts

bestowed by Thee.


And bless our loved

    ones everywhere

and keep them in Your

loving care. - Moravian Blessing


A Thanksgiving Psalm (Psalm 100)

On your feet now—applaud God!
    Bring a gift of laughter,
    sing yourselves into his presence.

 Know this: God is God, and God, God.
    He made us; we didn’t make him.
    We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.

 Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
    Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
    Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
    all-generous in love,
    loyal always and ever.

-          Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible


If you are looking for a ritual to consider, here is one we did at our thanksgiving table when our children were young:

Take a loaf of bread and pass it around the table.  Invite the children and adults at the table to tear off a piece and list one thing they are thankful for (e.g. good health, the love of one another, pets, those people who are away from their families on this day doing the hard work to make sure we are safe, etc.) The host may want to have think about what it may be before the bread is passed so you can move through this ritual quickly before the food gets cold.  With wine or drink add a toast and a prayer and Voila!


Here is another prayer:

Thank You, thank You, thank You, generous God!  You have injected life with joy, thus we know laughter.  You have dabbed creation with color, thus we enjoy beauty. You have whistled a divine tune into the rhythm of life, thus we hear music.  You have filled our minds with questions, thus we appreciate mystery.  You have entered our hearts with compassion, thus we experience faith.  Thank You, God, Thank You.  Thank You!

                                 -C. Welton Gaddy

Series: “Empire Recovery: What Do You Need to Recover From?” - Hope Deprivation

Focus for Sunday, October 23: Our Children and Youth and what they need from us

Hope. We remember it as a catchphrase on bumper stickers. I Corinthians 13 proclaims its importance: faith, hope, love. The teenager, uses the word “hope” to state that something desired may happen: “I hope I get an A on this quiz.” “I hope I make the team.” “I hope she shows up at the party.”  In the church, we speak about hope and we see it from time to time as it’s the youth sitting in our churches and the futures we dream for them. Sometimes hope is seen as strong; but often it is seen as flimsy and sloppy and, if anything, as certain. Often, we aren’t sure wherein to place our hope. Less and less do we entrust our hope to institutions from the church to government as church pews become emptier and distrust of government higher. And sometimes, we feel deprived of hope.

Don’t get me wrong. The desire for hope is real and may be deeply felt.  In the case of the teenager who hopes for a good grade on the test, she really wants a good grade to happen, but the wanting or desiring is often not based on certainty that it will happen. Parents may hope and desire that their child will grow up strong and resilient, but they realize that there are forces in this world that are beyond their control that may shape their child.  We are hopeful that things might turn out well for our country and we do our part and will vote.  Most of us are hopeful, but not certain.  And some of us, may be feeling not only less than certain but devoid of hope.

A lot of things are going well for our children and youth. Their hoping they will do well on tests must be paying off as The United States reached a milestone high school graduation rate, the White House announced this past Monday. During the 2014-2015 school year, 83.2 percent of students graduated in four years, up nearly a percentage point from the previous year, when 82.3 percent of students got a diploma. Graduation rates during 2014-2015 grew for every reported student subgroup. That is fantastic news!

But some youth contend that all is not well. Some years ago, Chap Clark wrote a book called Hurt. He contends that abandonment is the defining issue for contemporary adolescents. He argues that external systems and internal systems, particularly healthy, meaningful adult relationships, are no longer experienced by the vast majority of American adolescents. Consequently, they feel a profound sense of abandonment, and of loss, and many believe they are left to suffer alone. If the bleak picture Clark paints is accurate, then there is something that EBPC offers to our children and youth and to parents.  We can stand with them in their hard times, and celebrate with them in their good times.

The Kingdom of God is at hand, as Jesus says. In community with him through his body, the church, we are co-workers for the Kingdom, the reign of God now. According to Jesus, the reign of God is not just God's affair; it is ours as well. Hope dwells not only in God and in God's future. Hope dwells in us, here, now, today. Through Jesus Christ, hope has come so close to us that we don't just wait for it. We can already seek it and its righteousness by enacting it here and now. And, in confidence, then we, as is said in the Book of Hebrews, can run with perseverance the race that is set before us (12:2). We can run with hope -- true hope. True hope sees all the problems, all of the obstacles and pitfalls, and the opportunities for failure. Still, even seeing all that, people with hope gird themselves and envision a path to a better future and then work for it.   What we offer to youth is anything but hope deprivation and anything but a flimsy hope. This hope is what we scaffold around the lives of our children and youth and families here in this place called EBPC. We offer a nurturing space where our children and youth may grow as tall oaks.

This Sunday we are honored to have Mark DeVries as our guest preacher who will be talking about how our work as a church with children and youth can be likened to planting oak trees.  Mark, a long-time pastor of youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church, is legendary when it comes to connecting with children and youth and you will be sure you will want to be here to hear him speak whether you are a teenager, the parent of a child, or you are “young at heart.”

Jesus & the Bro Code

At a recent staff meeting, I was sharing about upcoming themes for worship services here at East Brentwood Presbyterian Church.  For Father’s Day (June 19th), I said I was going to use Father’s Day to talk about “Men’s Issues.”  A fellow staff person replied:  Men’s Issues? Well, that is going to be a long service!” Jokes. My staff is always full of jokes. But there is a grain of truth. We’ve got issues. A recent survey by the Shriver report found that four in nine men said it was harder to be a man today than it was in their father’s generation, with most citing women’s economic rises as the reason.

 “I think American men are confused by what it means to be a man.  No matter our age, we need to be taught to think beyond our own confining stereotypes of what masculinity means.”

For a lot of guys my age masculinity has meant someone who can provide for his family, one who can wrestle the bear and protect his children.

Ask our youth and young men about what is “The Bro Code.” What it means to “Man Up”; in school how it is better to earn your “Man Card” than to succeed in school like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.

The documentary, The Mask You Live In, discusses the masculine psyche and the shame young men experience over feelings of sadness, despair or strong emotions other than anger, let alone expressing it and the resulting alienation. Many young men, compose artful, convincing masks, but deep down they aren’t who they pretend to be.  The question before us today is: What makes healthy men and how are we teaching boys to fill those roles?

In this day and age, we need to have a better understanding of what it means to be a man. It seems that everywhere we turn there is another news story about men in crisis: mental illness, terrorism, abuse, youth violence which is getting out of hand here in Nashville and mass shootings at the nightclub that recently happened in Orlando.

On this Father’s Day, I am going to talk about men -- our relationships, our feelings and the shifting stereotypes grown men and young men have to navigate.  We need to be taught to think beyond our own stereotypes.

So I am going to talk about friendships among men. For fathers, I am going to talk about whatit means to be an imperfect father and about our ability to live well imperfectly in an imperfect world, with imperfect children in an imperfect world that is going to remain imperfect this side of the Kingdom of God.

I knew that I wanted to preach on the shifting, what people would refer to as the confining stereotypes of masculinity on this Father’s Day. Then I looked to see what the lectionary texts were for this day. Oddly, there was this story of the Gerasene demoniac. 

Many people are bound. Some are bound and don’t even know it. Men can feel bound by the stereotypes.  The difference between being free and being bound is at the center of our Gospel text this week.

Jesus goes to the land of the Gerasenes and is met by a man who has demons, so many that the name of the spirit is Legion.  The man has to be bound with chains and shackles - and when he breaks his chains, the demons drive him into the wilderness. It is as if the man were behind actual prison bars: he is isolated from family, community and society.   By the time, this man meets Jesus, he has been suffering a long time with these demons, living in the tombs, away from everyone else, alive, but living in a dead place. Imagine the loneliness. When he encounters Jesus, he is set free.

Many people are bound. Some are bound and don’t even know it. Anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, disappointment, the past -- all these things can affect a person’s perceptions, experiences, and quality of life. 

In our own day, many people - many men - are like the man in this week’s gospel text: they are oppressed or imprisoned by “demons” or “spirits” that keep them from operating to their fullest. (Luke 8:26)

Nowadays on a regular Sunday, going to church is not on the top 5 list of things for many of the men I know. And on Father’s Day, on the day they get to decide what the family will do, “it will unlikely be heard: Honey, kids we are going to church.”  I hope to see you all this Sunday.  But at the very least, thank you for listening to this message and I hope you will share it with those who might find this helpful. 

And if you are looking for a special Father’s Day gift for the dad, step-dad, granddad or special man in your life, skip the tie or the card.  Invite him to go do something with you: it could be a hike, a bike ride, a trip to get ice cream. Tell him something that he does well.  It will mean so much to him.

Hope to see you Sunday.


Resources and More information:

The Mask You Live In Documentary - The documentary explores the masculine psyche - the shame over feeling any sadness, despair or strong emotion other than anger, let alone expressing it and the resulting alienation. Young men are taught from day one to “man up” and  compose artful, convincing masks, but deep down they aren’t who they pretend to be.  East Brentwood Presbyterian Church owns this video if you are interested in viewing it.

A youtube video of a young boy getting a vaccination and being told by his father to “be a man” and not to show fear and pain. Fathers of sons: we have all said something similar to our boys. 

A Blog by Chip Dodd about fatherhood. He artfully writes about what it means to be an imperfect father and about our ability to live well imperfectly in an imperfect world, with imperfect children in an imperfect world that is going to remain imperfect this side of the Kingdom of God.

Chip Dodd’s The Voice of the Heart. An insightful book helping men better understand the eight essential emotions so they are better equipped to live in relationship with others and, ultimately, with God.

A Holy Week Reflection - Thoughts on Maundy Thursday

An act of love given and a gift to be received. Acts of love can be a joy to offer. What can be a problem, even hurt sometimes, is to receive them. Have you ever been stunned by the receiving of an incredible gift? Like the unexpected gift of a beloved heirloom ring passed down from one generation to you or friends rallying around you in a time of need? 
It is a wonderful to receive such a gift. And it is wonderful to be loved. But a curious thing happens. Feeling loved sometimes comes with some interesting company. Like also feeling unworthy. 

Click here to read John's Maundy Thursday reflection. 

Foot Care - A Holy Week Reflection

It’s Holy Week. It’s Tuesday. I have given myself forty-five minutes to write this post. So the words and the thoughts are not going to be all buttoned up and tidy with this time restriction.  As if life is tidy. Certainly our world as we awoke this morning to reports of the Brussels bombing shows that the world is far from neat and tidy. I meet the news of the suicide bombings and the high casualties with anger and with sadness. 

In my work as minister I am a travel guide helping those who choose to follow Jesus to walk the palm strewn streets as well as through the lonesome valleys, shadows of death and Golgotha en route to Easter morning where we re-affirm that the Kingdom of God has come in the resurrection of Jesus.  The Kingdom of God has come! And yet it is not fully here yet. Cells mutate and cancer forms. People act out with vengeance, seeking domination formed in fear. Life is beautiful. Life can be hard and the news that greets us can be mean and untidy. But we walk on with our homely feet: “We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight” as the wonderful hymn goes:  

“Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; and may our faith abound to call on you when you are near and seek where you are found.”

So prayer is so important. I have started using this Centering Prayer app.  It guides you to “choose a sacred word” as a symbol to focus upon during a guided meditation. I settled on the sacred symbol of…the foot. Yep, not the word grace nor forgiveness, but the rather homely foot. Feet are on my mind this week. Thursday is Maundy Thursday where Jesus will celebrate the last supper with his disciples and then center stage is the dramatic moment where Jesus strips off his normal clothing and puts a towel around his waist, pours water in the basin and stoops as a servant would and washes the dust from the disciples’ feet, one by one.  When he finishes Jesus explains he has set an example of humble service not domination –as was thought to be the focus in the Greek notion of the master/ servant relationship.  Jesus tells the disciples that he needs them to imitate his example. Later after the meal he will expand “serve one another” to “love one another as I have loved you.” 

Jesus tells the disciples that he needs them to imitate his example.  That doesn’t mean we set up foot washing stands here or on the streets.  But today I hope you will thank God for your homely and worn feet, attend to your own foot care with prayer as you travel towards Easter, and be mindful of Jesus’ words to his disciples to “serve one another.”

Here are two scripture passages for your contemplation:

Psalm 116: “I love the Lord, who listened to my voice in supplication, who turned an ear to me on the day I called…Return, my soul, to your rest, the Lord has been very good to you. For my soul has been freed from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” (from the Centering Prayer app)
From Romans 12:9-21(from Eugene Peterson’s The Message):
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.  Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Living in the House Named ‘Gratitude’

This week I am thinking about gratitude and about the importance of saying thank you to strangers, particularly to those around we so easily take for granted-- friends and family. I don’t know about you, but the dreary, cold rains of February can put a real damper on feeling “thankful.” But so can a terminal illness. And yet fortunately there are many voices who, out of their personal experience, call to mind what is really important in life. People like writer and neurologist Oliver Sachs who, when faced with his own terminal cancer, chose to spend his remaining days writing a book called Gratitude. Taking note of a beautiful day, he wrote:

 “At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — ‘I’m glad I’m not dead!’ sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect. (This is in contrast to a story I heard from a friend who, walking with Samuel Beckett in Paris on a perfect spring morning, said to him, ‘Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive?’ to which Beckett answered, ‘I wouldn’t go as far as that.’) I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues, and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called ‘an intercourse with the world.’  The years do teach us gratitude, what University of Chicago theologian Langdon Gilkey used to call ‘the exultation of our own being that surfaces in the thought ‘My God, it’s good to be alive.’”

During this season of Lent I am focusing upon five things that matter most in how we live. One of these important matters is gratitude and is reflected in our ability to say ‘Thank You!’ to God and to individuals.

What I find is that the more I pay attention to the people around me and my surroundings, the more thankful I become. By paying attention to the details of the ways in which people give to us and show us care and consideration, we become more mindful of our own lives. We begin to focus on our good fortune rather than our problems. If we practice this consistently, feelings of gratitude can pervade our lives. C. S. Lewis once famously observed that the healthiest people he knew were the grateful ones, the ones always thanking. “Praise,” he said, “is almost inner health made audible” (Reflections on the Psalms).

Poets remind us to pay attention. A favorite poet of mine is Mary Oliver. She named her Cape Cod cottage “Gratitude.” Her poems are about seeing, noticing, awe, wonder and gratitude.

I go out to the dunes and look

and look and look

into the faces of the flowers. . . .

Such gifts, bestowed

can’t be rejected.

If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the

house near the corner, which I have named Gratitude.

(“The Place I Want to Get Back To,” Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 35)

So I hope you will take a moment today to be like Ruth Miller, a woman in our congregation who is so intentional about saying thank you with her notes. Or thank someone you love when he or she smiles at you. The next time you put your child to bed or before you and your spouse retire for the evening, try expressing what he or she did that day that touched you, that acknowledged the connection you share. The words “thank you” are building blocks in the house named Gratitude.

Drive Thru Ashes

Our church is located at one of the busiest street corners in Brentwood, TN (corner of Wilson Pike and Concord Rd. where the construction project from H#!$ is underway).  Our location is one of our main assets.  Many who drive by don’t know we on the corner because our church sits below a land berm, making us hard to see from the road.  Few commuters know the greatest assets we have to offer on that corner: our outstanding care of young children with our preschool; our strong music; our proclamation of God’s grace and love.  So with these assets in mind we are taking to the streets for “Drive Thru Ashes” when Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday.

Church members and I will be on our street corner next Wednesday from 7 am - 9:30 am to offer ashes to drivers in their cars who are commuting to work, running kids to school, or on their way to morning exercise. I’m not lying when I say this whole business of offering ashes on the street is new for me and we will all find it to be a bit awkward. To give ashes to a stranger on the street who was driving by and look into their eyes and say “you are dust and to dust you shall return” will be a bit awkward for all involved. It is awkward because I am talking about theirs and my death. And nobody wants to talk about death. 

We are going to get a lot of quizzical looks.  The Baptists are going to think that this is a “Catholic Thing”, the Spiritual but Not Religious are going to think this is an “irrelevant Church Thing,” and the tradition-minded Church folks will think it is a “Reverent Thing” and we should keep the imposition of ashes inside the church where it belongs. 

We are going to the street corner because we see the significance of Ash Wednesday as a “Need Thing.”  We need to be reminded of the promises of God that we are God’s, that there is no sin, and no darkness, and yesno grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time. For we come from God and to God we shall go. There is so much that gets in the way of that simple truth and it is at times like on Ash Wednesday -  when all of the other things that occupy our attention doesn’t matter as much.  

For those who drive thru and receive ashes, they will be given a CD or connected to our podcast so as they drive to meet the rest of their day they can hear music and reflections on the significance of Ash Wednesday and be reminded that that they aren’t ultimately in charge of their lives, God is, and that’s good news.

If you are reading this I hope you will drive thru (7-9:30 am) or stop in for our Ash Wednesday service at 6 pm.


Ash Wednesday

Saturday morning reflections on a winter day

This winter blanket of snow has brought Middle Tennessee to a halt. I think it is a gift. For most of us. I know for some of you it has interrupted plans; you have had to juggle work schedules or postpone or cancel events you have spent hours planning. On my morning walk, my neighbor who is a photographer is in his driveway wondering how he is going to make it to shoot a big wedding. I feel for the bride and groom.

This blanketed time is a gift as it slows us down. And with the slowing down, a certain peace and a sense of thankfulness percolates upward. Thankfulness for the small things - like nesting at home and food in the cupboard and in the belly. (Kira made two big pots of soup yesterday and I made banana pancakes to fuel my morning walk.)  

There is a peace that comes when we are attentive to nature. On my morning I was struck by the hawk working above me in the cobalt blue sky. There is a certain peace that comes in getting out in winter, looking out at the snow, brilliant under the morning sun; the snow etched with the shadows of trees. When you look out your own windows or get outside yourselves, I hope you will notice the interplay of shadow and light and I hope it will bring a sense of peace and awareness of the everlasting love and peace of God which passes all understanding. Of this peace and presence, I love what the psalmist says in Psalm 18: God brought me out into a broad place; God rescued me, because God delighted in me.

Also, this slowed down time can bring a sense of peace and incline one to be contemplative… a discipline that seems to escape me most times no matter how much I want to be still and “think deep thoughts about life” There is some comfort in what Thomas Merton once said: 

"It seems to me that I have greater peace… when I am not 'trying to be contemplative,' or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this."

So when it comes to you, what may be required of you this morning is to simply to make breakfast, enjoy a good book, or time with a loved one, and enjoy this gift of quiet. The deal is to do whatever is needful and within reach, no matter how ordinary it is or whether you are likely to do it well.

This morning I encourage you to read John 2 -- the story of the wedding at Cana. We will pick it up next week, but for today I ask you:  “where do you feel in your life that the jars are empty, and the wine is running out in your life? Dare we believe that God can fill the emptiness; what would it mean for faith in the power of God to fill us with such abundance?

On this third day since it snowed, notice if this happens to you during the day? The demands that hung over you before this blanket of snow descended on Nashville have lightened or lifted. Since most of us have been able to do little to meet those demands, the lesson seems clear: they were mostly the inventions of an agitated mind.

I hope this is a good day for you. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 

What if there was no EBPC?

With our stewardship campaign before us, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our church and what it means to us and to this community. That got me thinking of a very important question. The question is this: what if there was no East Brentwood Presbyterian Church? What if our church was not occupying this space at the corner of Wilson Pike and Concord Road? If that happened, what would you miss? What would our community miss?


The late Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen once wrote about cities and churches, "A city without carefully protected empty spaces where one can sense the silence from which all words grow, and rest in the stillness from which all actions flow, such a city is in danger of losing its real center."

EBPC is at the center of what l I do, and I hope it is for you too. Of course, this church's reputation and place in our hearts is more than just a building.  It is worship - lively and inspiring - and music that stirs our souls. It is a staging pad for our mission and service in our local community and the world. It is the laughter of children on the playground or in the hallways, and the emerging faith of our youth and the watchful eye and care of our older members.  It is the warm and welcoming conversation that greets us as we gather on Sunday mornings.  It's our wonderful preschool families and staff.

If you think about it, the reach of this church is something, given our size.  It is truly a gift to so many of us and to so many others. And it is worthy of our support.  I know there are a lot of good programs and initiatives in this community also worthy of support.  But here's the thing: unlike all those other organizations, you and me are the only people who can make it possible for this church to fulfill its calling in the coming year. We have only the members of this church to ask for support. There is no broad number of people beyond this congregation to whom we can appeal to for help.  There is just you.  So, every one of us is important and essential to our continuing ability to thrive.  Each one of us is responsible for what we are growing here. We must be as generous as we possibly can to support God's work through our church.

This Sunday, October 25, is Dedication Sunday. By now, you should have received stewardship information and a pledge card.  We need every individual and every household to respond and to do so in a timely manner.  It is that simple, and it is that important.

EBPC is at the center quite literally of the Williamson County, and we believe we have the opportunity, the drive, the focus and most importantly – the faith – that can grow this church into center of the hearts of minds of many others as well. But, we can’t do it without you. Thank you in advance for your generosity in responding to God’s great generosity to us.

What is the Good of That?

This Sunday we again delve into the Book of James.  His simple reminder is that you really don’t believe something until it shapes and forms what you do and how you live. “Faith without works is dead,” he said. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” It calls to mind a Peanuts comic strip where Charles Schultz draws Charlie Brown and Linus trudging through the snow. The wind is blowing; the snow is falling. They are bundled up in their snowsuits with fur hats and scarves and gloves and boots. They encounter Snoopy, shivering, naked — as dogs left out in the cold for too long tend to do.  Snoopy is in front of his doghouse, his dish is empty; he looks cold and hungry, eyes droopy, and just miserable. Charlie Brown says “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” Linus echoes: “Yes, Snoopy, be of good cheer.” And off they go leaving Snoopy with a wonderfully quizzical look on his face.

“What is the good of that?” James asked the church. Often we see faith as an intellectual exercise – faith’s focus is upon an assent to belief. Faith is reflected in our speaking. James reminds us that faith is a behavioral exercise – faith is reflected in our practices.  Faith is reflected in our doing.

Listening to the news this week and thinking about this church’s purpose in light of James’ writings is leading me to affirm that our purpose as a church is to meet human need: needs like food and shelter and clothing, also needs of the human spirit, like encouragement and hope and love. Here in Brentwood, I am aware there is a whole other set of needs, for those of us who are not physically hungry, or cold or naked or alone: needs for meaning and purpose, connection, and authenticity. The need to live and act and have being in a way that honestly reflects the best of who we are and what we believe. The church is here for us to put our faith into practice; to do what we believe: to become what we hope for. It is my hope that this we can be a guide to one another, helping each other live and act in a way that may reflect the best of who we are and what we believe.

On the one hand, hearing James’ exhortation to action and doing may seem out of step with Labor Day weekend and the invitation of Sabbath’s day of rest. (Then again, I know for most, your Labor Day weekend will be crammed full of soccer games, household projects, and generally busy weekends.) But on the other hand, hearing on this Labor Day weekend James’ exhortation that true religion is that which gets into our minds, hearts and hands – our behavior and how we live with authenticity and integrity – is what most of us are looking for these days. On this Labor Day weekend as we transition from summer to a busy fall and the handling of demands that are placed on us from every direction, this word from James comes to us as a needed reminder.

It is enough

This Sunday the EBPC community gathers around three scripture passages that bear witness to a God of abundance in contrast with a cultural message of scarcity that has a remarkably strong grip on us and our world. The texts: Psalm 23 (“thou prepares a table”); Ephesians 2:11-22 (“tearing down the dividing wall of hostility”); Mark 6:30-56 (“the feeding of the five thousand”). The focus for the sermon is upon the disciples and their scarcity mentality in Mark’s telling of this beloved feeding story. Their head space is fed by their physical state --- they are exhausted trying to deal with all of the human need and the “coming and the going” of the people. The constant coming and going of activity spiraling around our lives from time to time can help us relate to what they are feeling. The disciples are looking forward to getting away and having a little R&R boat trip but by the time they get to the far shore everyone else has gotten there first. Que up resentment and dissatisfaction on the part of the disciples. Jesus has “compassion” for the people and then says to the disciples something bemusing and astonishing: “you give them something to eat” to the disciples who are not only exhausted, but feel exhausted and powerless.  You can read how Mark describes how the feeding takes place. 

This is the moment where the mighty act of God takes place: somehow, when the disciples are at their wits’ end and exhausted, Jesus finds a way to provide for them what they cannot provide for themselves. Jesus finds them when they are worn out and tired and hungry and finds a way to feed them and give them rest. 

In this ancient story, Jesus came to address our deep sense of scarcity and not-enoughness by becoming the Bread of Life that was enough to satisfy ancient, deep hungers. Mark’s message to us today is that Jesus is not just present to us when we are at our most faithful, our most optimistic, or our most motivated place, but that when we feel empty and do not know how to fill ourselves up again, Jesus has been there as well, and God feeds us in those places, too. In essence, we can be enough. The Jewish people have a beautiful prayer form that is typically used during Passover; a kind of litany to which the response is always “Dayenu!” which in Hebrew means “It would have been enough!”  It is as if to say “How much is it going to take for us to know that God is with us?!” Such an affirmation builds satisfaction instead of feeding dissatisfaction. If we begin our day with any notion of scarcity, not-enoughness, or “I deserve,” most likely the day will not be good–for you or for those around you. Nor will God be glorified.

I don’t know how to explain many of God’s mighty acts in Mark: the healings, the feeding of thousands, the walking on the water. What I do know is that just as in the stories we read today, we walk through our lives often getting glimpses of God, and often we miss or are not in a place to receive what is before us because we are too tired or stubborn or inattentive. God may find us anyway and challenges us, invites us to rest, feeds us for the journey before us. When we are empty and do not know how to find the food we need, God finds us.

Love wins.

Love wins.

This familiar refrain was heard often last week when the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision overuling states' bans on same-sex marriage. The question many people are asking now is what does the decision mean for us at EBPC? And what does it mean for Brentwood and Tennessee as a whole? In fact, I was asked these questions during an interview with the Tennessean last week for an article headlined "Williamson businesses, churches prep for same-sex marriages." 

The article quotes me as being open to performing the weddings of two people of the same sex – which I am.  It is a decision that I would reach through prayerful discernment of whether the couple has a love of God and of each other and the ingredients in place for a marriage commitment.  And that they undergo premarital counseling.  It is the same process I would use with a man and a woman who wish to exchange marriage vows.

Some of you may remember a recent sermon I gave that discussed this very issue long before the Supreme Court ruling. I want to call to mind one brief example from that sermon that illustrates my belief.

...This is a difficult issue for many of you and I speak with humbleness. I speak of it in humble trust to try to make sense of this complicated gift of the Bible.  Like so many of you I have changed in my understanding over the years. Like the transfiguration – looking at things in a new frame, like what Jesus asked his disciples to do when it came to see the stories of their past and seeing the purpose of Jesus’ mission in a new way. 

My views on homosexuality changed when I became a minister. I was shaped by knowing people and the children in a congregation.   For years, I have stood at the baptismal font.  I have taken children in my arms and I have baptized them. I say: “God knows you, God loves you, and God created you just the way you are and knows you by name.” The congregation would stand and would say “we support you.  Then in the 3rd grade we give the children bibles and would say “this will teach you about the love of God.” Then we take them through confirmation.  Then they grow older and they leave for college and young adulthood and we would say: “go and grow and expand.”  And some of these children may come back, and they want to get married in the church.  And in the case of a few children we have baptized and have grown up and who come back they might say “I want to get married.  But the person I want to marry is like me.  Will you accept that?”  What do we say?  “No, not you, you can’t get married here.” 

Can we say with certainty that these five passages are timeless truth and your church family will prevent you from blessing your vows?  This has made more than one young person – gay or straight – wonder if there is a place for them in their church. Or is there the possibility that we, as the Church, as the people of God, can recognize this force of love when we see it and claim it for what it is—agape, love—and to acknowledge it, honor it, even more—bless it!

Now you know where I stand. But, where does this leave us and EBPC? The article implies that as a church we are “prepping” for same sex marriages (it is even in the headline!). But, I would say our very thoughtful Session “prepped” long before SCOTUS acted. Members of our EBPC Session spent many hours of study and reflection on this issue last fall (and I would like to commend them for doing so) before the PC(USA) General Assembly approved a recommendation that allowed for pastoral discretion in performing same-gender marriage. (This article – Amendment 14F- was ratified by a majority of presbyteries in March of this year.)

At that time of our review and discussion, same-sex marriage was illegal by law in Tennessee and there was no inkling in our discussion that it would become a reality so soon. Moving forward in light of this new decision from SCOTUS, just as our Session approves all weddings that take place on our church grounds, and as the Moderator of our Session, I will encourage our Session members to continue thoughtful and prayerful discussion around how our church engages with all members of our society. 

I've included several links below with more background on this issue, including two articles below recently released by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Please take some time to review, and after doing so, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or the members of the Session if you would like to discuss this more.  I am always happy to hear from you.  

To read the Tennessean article, click here:

The second link is a news article from PCUSA on the Supreme Court decision

The third link may be particularly helpful for some as it answers questions about the recent SCOTUS ruling’s implications for the local congregation.

For my full sermon I mentioned earlier, click here.


I can remember the first time I stood up to preach in front of my own parents.  It’s not the same as with other things people do.  If you’re a musician, chances are your parents heard you practicing when you were little; if you played baseball in college, chances are they first saw you swing the bat in T-ball.  But preaching is something dangerously public that emerges from something intensely private.  I had a year of seminary under my built  - just enough to be dangerous – and I was home for the summer working in parents’ home church in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It was the 80s and liberation theology (“God is on the side of the oppressed”; “Jesus as revolutionary”) was front-and-center in theological institutions but anything but front-and-center in that retirement community in the mountains of North Carolina.  Parents, and others who have known you when you were growing up, are inclined to be embarrassed both at the revelation of something so deeply personal and at its being waved around in front of the neighbors. Everybody is vulnerable at a moment like that. I didn’t share any embarrassing family stories of our picking up our luggage in the interstate median while on a family vocation. Nor did I tell any stories about some of my crazy aunts and uncles. 

Dave and Gladys’ boy preached one summer Sunday…if you can call it preaching.  Mom was proud but I know she thought I brought a little too much politics into the sermon.  I recall Dad saying I turned the sermon too much into a theology lecture and I tried to cover so much of the waterfront that it caused some in attendance to lose their place in line to the Baptists and Methodists at Clifton’s Cafeteria, a favorite among locals.

Turn to Mark 6:1-13 (the scripture passage for this 4th of July weekend) and Jesus has come back home.  He’s been asked to preach in his hometown synagogue.  It is quite an occasion. They handed Jesus the scroll to read, and when he commented on the passage—that is to say, when he preached his first sermon in his hometown synagogue—they asked one another, “Who does he think he is? Where does he get all that? He may be big down in Galilee, but here he is still Jesus, the carpenter, Mary’s boy.” He was saying, apparently on his own authority, that the kingdom was coming, then and there. Where he was, the kingdom was. And if there was any doubt on the matter, he was doing things that demonstrated it.  They –family and neighbors - were offended by him, perhaps by what he said, perhaps by what they thought was his presumptuousness. Whatever the reason, their attitude was effective. “He could do no deed of power there,” Mark tells us. And so far as we know, he never went home again.

In my case I have gone back to that church on a number of occasions.  They were very supportive of me. And every time I am in Hendersonville, I stop at the church and its columbarium where my father’s ashes are to remember him and to remind me of my roots. 

The story from Mark states that the family weren’t very pleased with him. Maybe they missed something very important Jesus was saying because they thought they already knew what they needed to know.  We are good at doing that in our families after all. And we are certainly good at doing that in our religion.  “We have the information. We know what we need to know. We don’t need anything more, thank you very much.” They knew what the Messiah looked like.  It never occurred to them that God would come among them in someone as ordinary as Jesus, the carpenter, Joseph’s son, Mary’s son.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes in Bread of Angels: “God is all around us, speaking to us through the most unlikely people. Sometimes it is a mysterious stranger, but more often, I suspect, it is people so familiar that we simply overlook them—our own children and parents, our own friends and neighbors, all those hometown prophets who challenge us and love us and tell us who we are.” We do well to keep in mind both the big picture of what God is doing in our world and our time, and the many smaller pictures of the individual humans who will become people of faith and prayer. 

That’s worth keeping in mind, especially on this 4th of July weekend when we may be gathering with our families to celebrate and eating potato salad together.


This Sunday The Rev. Dr. Mike Magee will be preaching on the story in the Bible about the hemorrhaging woman who interrupts – and is healed by – Jesus.  He will bring a very unique perspective as an ordained Presbyterian minister who is also an oncologist who specializes in blood issues  to the story of the woman who interrupts Jesus as he is on his way to a very important meeting.  

Our modern day life can be full of interruptions.  The unexpected phone call comes when our hands are full with kids and groceries. The never ending e-mails announce their presence and overwhelm our inbox. But nothing interrupts one’s life more than illness.  The impact of illness: it can isolate and it can overwhelm.  I am confident Mike will bring an inspirational word about how Jesus provided balm then and how we as the church provide balm today in his sermon:  “Compassion Attracts Company.” 

Balm. That is a fitting and needed word for our country in the aftermath of last week’s tragic shooting in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   Balm:  in the form of prayer; in the form of connecting with one another; in the form of talking and doing and not staying silent.  We prepare this communication as Charlestonians gather today for the first of nine funerals as they gather to celebrate the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  Lives have been interrupted.  Sharing with many of you last week, you spoke how the magnitude of the church shooting had interrupted your complacency.  Today, our prayers of balm are with the families of the nine church members who were killed. And tomorrow, through our conversation and action with others provide the balm of God’s kingdom as we address the illness of racism - that can overwhelm and isolates - remains a part of this great nation’s underbelly.  If Mike is right in his sermon title that “Compassion Attracts Company” may the EBPC community model to others through our conversation and actions what is needed to move forward in peace.

Here is last Sunday’s sermon (“Boat People”) in which I spoke about separating out faith and fear in light of the tragic event in Charleston.  Peace.


Folks! We Are in the Boat Together!

As we are in the office preparing to send Thursday’s e-news from East Brentwood Presbyterian Church, we do so in light of the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This morning we awoke to learn that eight individuals died last evening in a terrible shooting that happened at the church’s bible study, shot and killed by a lone gunman.  On Sunday our youth will be going to Charleston, SC for a week long mission trip to work in its neighborhoods. Kelly McConnell – our youth director and mission trip leader – and I exchanged emails before 8 am.  By that time, we knew the shooter was white and the church black.  By 9:36 a.m. the news feed had identified the shooter by name and showed his affinity towards separatist hate groups.  By 10:45 am we learned of the capture of the twenty-one year old who had asked for the pastor, attended the bible study for an hour, before he opened fire.  As this story unfolded, friends on Facebook expressed the need for prayer for our brothers and sisters at Emanuel; in Charleston; across our Nation. A local church in Nashville, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church announced a prayer vigil from 6-7 pm (see below).  The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), shared a prayer that was sent to pastors (see below). These words were part of the statement:

“The chief of police in Charleston has named this a hate crime. We know of no other name for a crime that forces a five-year-old child to play dead in her church in order to live. Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement. Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do as disciples of Jesus Christ. May God never give up on us as we face our own racism and its tragic impact on congregations, their communities, and our very souls.”

I formed a prayer. I tried to write a sermon.  The text? Jesus calming the storm. The early church knew what it meant to be in a little boat in a stormy sea. Small, insignificant, a tiny minority in every city, often tormented, persecuted, hunted down, arrested, tortured, executed by the most powerful entity in the world, the Roman Empire--the early church loved this story of the disciples in the boat and Jesus calming the storm. They heard in that story that they weren't alone in that boat. They had each other and they had Jesus, who was very much in the boat with them and whose commitment to them produced calm and comfort and peace even in the midst of the most violent of storms. The truth for me behind the story of Jesus calming the seas is that there is no storm, no threat, no chaos that can undo us or negate us or destroy us because Jesus is there with us. No matter what is going on, we are ultimately safe; although all hell, literally, is breaking loose, we are safe in his presence and his love.

This morning the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is in a stormy sea.

Fred Craddock once said, “We're all in the boat. Some of us are rowing, some are bailing, some are pulling at the sail, some are praying." We can whistle and sing. We can give pep talks to each other, "We can make it, we can make it," which helps a lot, because we are in the boat together.

Folks! We are all in the boat together. We can make it together.  But we HAVE to do something about arresting hate and racism that is our modern day Leviathans. And while we are all in this boat together can we have a sensible conversation about some level of reasonable gun control? Sandy Hook and Columbine and now Charleston implore us to consider the rights of others who are in the boat to do simple things like go to elementary school, grow up, and study the Bible. How does the right to gun ownership supersede those rights?

A prayer from our Stated Clerk:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, God who has brought us thus far on our way, only you know why someone would enter into your house of worship and open fire on your children. Only you know why hate would run so deep that it would cause one of your creations to kill others you have formed. In our confusion over this senseless act, we appeal to you for understanding and courage to continue to fight for justice. We pray right now for the families of those who lost lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, and ask that you would wrap your loving arms around them and the entire community. Likewise, we pray for an end to the continued racial unrest and violence that permeates the United States and the world, and ask you to guide us to work earnestly for change. Now unto you who is able to keep us from falling, we pray all these things. Amen

A Prayer Vigil in solidarity with Christians across the Nation:

Many of us woke up this morning to news of the tragedy that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday evening when a gunman sat in a Prayer Meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before shooting and killing nine members of that congregation.  In solidarity with the faithful in Charleston and all across the country, the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee will be holding A Prayer Vigil this evening (Thursday, June 18th) from 6:00 – 7:00 PM at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, located at 949 T.S. Jackson Avenue, North, in Nashville (not far from the south side of the main Tennessee State University Campus). 

All who would come with a mind to pray are invited to attend.


Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Middle Tennessee

Kingdom Seeds

Dr. Tom Long, a professor I had during my seminary studies, suggests that church is like a language school for the kingdom of God. In the same way you might go to language school to prepare for a trip to a foreign country, so we come to church to prepare to live in the kingdom of God. Here we learn the language, customs, culture and expectations what life is like in God’s kingdom. It’s not just learning different words; it’s a different way of being. Here we learn things like praise, community, and welcome. This Sunday morning our focus will be on hope: we discover that living in the kingdom of God, it’s a place filled with hope. Focusing upon the parable Jesus tells about the mustard seed, we will explore the Kingdom of God and how it takes hold in us and around us.  So often we think that the Kingdom of God appears in larger than life form like some big-screen epic like some Cecil B. deMille or Stephen Spielberg movie. But I think Jesus was right as he lifted a little seed from the ground and taught his disciples.   The establishment of the Kingdom of God happens in the small choices we make on small days, over and over again. Small things such as opening doors of welcome here.  A compassionate word there. Small things like not giving up on flawed friends. Like praying everyday. Small things like speaking truth to power.  Such as remembering that if God made the universe from a little marble and rested, then we are just created and hard wired to let go of our tiny universes and rest, too.

These were some of the things that came to mind this Tuesday morning during our Bible on the Move  “bible study” that takes place while exercising on the Greenway.  When I returned to the office I got a phone call from a nearby neighbor who said our 80 pound Labrador puppy had gotten out yet again and had yet again shown up at her house. But no worries, she said the dog could stay with them for a couple of hours.  Thinking how much I am grateful for my neighbor’s patience and help, on my way to retrieve my pup in the early afternoon I decided to stop by Las Paletas – the wonderful Mexican popsicle store over in 12South area – and get a gift certificate to show my thanks. Just around the corner from Las Paletas I happened upon a pretty bad fender bender. Standing on the curb beside the damaged curb was the driver – a grandmother with a face full of worry holding her 3 year old wide eyed grandson in the afternoon sun.  Seeing that no one was hurt, I went on to fetch the popsicles. I decided to add a lime popsicle to the order and went back to the site of the accident and said that popsicles are good things for a little kid in the middle of an unfortunate accident.  The popsicle was such a small thing, but with the hug the grandmother gave me you would have thought I was her insurance guy who showed up with a big check. 

I share this story at the risk of coming across as self-congratulatory. But that is not my intent.  Sure, I have been called a nice guy before and I have no qualms about walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation.  But nice guys are a dime a dozen. This past Tuesday as I interacted with the parable of the mustard seed in the morning and going about the tasks of the day, I was put in a position of opportunity to be reminded that  life is lived in the small choices we make.  Jesus says that even the Kingdom of God flourishes from the small things.  I’m sure you have stories to add about seeing what we trust as the Kingdom of God; if not, I hope you will plant such seeds around you.