Welcome for the Outsider

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, March 5, 2018

welcome, Scrabble

Welcome for the Outsider

What a statement. What a concept. For all that the apostle Paul is talked about as being misogynistic, and prejudiced, and this, and that, I come up against a passage like Romans 15:4-6, capped by 15:7.

I started out thinking about what Paul said in verse 4: “Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us.” I was struck by that, and thought about it for a while. Sure, there are lots of verses and passages in the New Testament that are instructive, encouraging, even uplifting to the heart. But, genealogies in the Hebrew Scriptures? Or, population lists of the various tribes? Or, passages in the Mosaic Law Code? How were those written to teach us?

Which led me to think of the many different cultures and nationalities surrounding the church where I work, in Morton Grove (a suburb of Chicago). This suburb is diverse in just about every way. I am certain that the different cultures and ethnic understandings cover a wide spectrum of ways of thinking. Which led me to consider the understanding of the Jewish mindset, in the centuries before the birth of Christ. I know they did consider genealogies and population lists to be important. Who am I to say that they are not important?

(And, what about things our culture says are important? I can’t legislate what others think, regardless of whether it is my culture or ethnicity, or someone else’s. Or, in some other century.)

All of which brings me to what Prof. Williams says in his reflection. “The hard thing, and the thing that Paul cared deeply about and strove to instill in his churches, is to do both at once: to be united as one body but also profoundly welcoming to the outsider.” [1]

What a profound idea. As Paul said, “Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.” Dear Lord, I am convicted anew. Please, dear God, help me to accept people, accept individuals, coming from all over. Just as Paul had to deal with a polyglot society, so do I here is my setting. Help me—help us to reach out and provide “a place where there is a welcome for all and where there is unity. Amen.” [2]


Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 89.

[2] Ibid.

Follow Jesus in Devotion

“Follow Jesus in Devotion”

John 2-16 Jesus-Cleanses-the-Temple

John 2:13-22 (2:17) – March 4, 2018

A few people are really devoted to their house. You know the people I mean. Ones who are extremely meticulous about every little thing, inside and out. And, heaven forbid if someone makes a mess, either in the living room, downstairs in the finished basement, or outside on the patio. Everything has to be “just so,” a real showplace. These folks simply go overboard.

A few people feel like this about their house of worship. Meticulous about the upkeep, they won’t hear a word against the place! And, what goes on inside the building does not mean too much. Everything about the building, the landscaping, and the furnishings is super-important. Talk about going overboard!

This reminds me of the First Commandment, where the Lord tells us not to put anyone or anything first, ahead of God. It seems that some folks might be doing that with their houses or churches or other houses of worship.

Our Scripture reading shows us a situation early on in Jesus’s ministry. where Jesus and several disciples go up to Jerusalem to worship. They make the pilgrimage to worship at the Temple, and—Jesus finds a number of people in and around the Temple who are not focused on God, at all. Instead, some of these people are focused on making money for themselves, and definitely not serving God. Buying and selling of animals for Temple sacrifices, and exchanging regular money for special “Temple money,” the only kind of money suitable for offering to God.

Is it any wonder that Jesus got so upset when He came onto the Temple premises and found this three-ring circus going on in a place that was supposed to be a house of prayer? How could Jesus not get upset? Even, downright angry? Of course He would throw out those people—and their animals and money-changing supplies—who did not belong inside the Temple.

Let’s back up a bit. I want to explain more clearly what the money-changers were doing. Suppose we needed a special kind of money to buy food from the grocery store. Our regular American money—like this—did not work. We all had to go to a special money-changer who was outside of the store to change the regular money for special grocery-store-money. I forgot to tell you. For every ten dollars each of us would give to the money changers, they would keep one dollar, or maybe two, and only give us eight or nine dollars in return. Just imagine how much money they would be making at the end of a single day, not to mention one week, or one month.

Amazing profits! Profits for the money-changers, and I suspect the grocery store would take their cut, too. Except in the case of our Gospel reading today, it was the keepers of the Temple who were taking their cut. And, the money-changers and vendors selling animals and birds would be making a great deal of money, too.

Let’s listen again to what Jesus did: “15 So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; He overturned the tables of the money-changers and scattered their coins; 16 and He ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that the scripture says, “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire.”

I know “cleansing of the temple” is the common title for this Gospel reading; that is not really what is going on here. “’Cleansing’ implies something has been cleaned up or changed or reformed. But, in John’s version of the story, Jesus doesn’t appear interested in cleaning up the market system that operated at the Temple, but in doing away with its idolatrous economic infrastructure altogether.” [1]

I will say it plainly. Graft! Corruption! The whole Temple offering and finance operation was crooked and corrupt. Jesus put a stop to it! He really tried to do away with all the idolatrous economic infrastructure—but, I suspect, all the corrupt buying and selling and economic practices all came back eventually, despite Jesus and His anger and devotion to God.

I would like to stress that Jesus did not just get angry for no reason. No! Jesus did not just “lose it” and act out in way he would later regret.  He knew exactly what He was doing and He knew that it would make powerful people very, very angry with Him. However, Jesus still did it. Can we understand Jesus’ actions not so much as wildly angry and out of control, but brave and courageous? [2]

When I choose hymns for the worship services here, I almost always go for hymns with some relation to the Scripture passages or the topic of the morning service. I chose our opening hymn to illustrate this part of the Gospel reading. When we sing the words “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,” this was exactly what I was thinking of. We can ask God for wisdom, courage and bravery to rise up against systems and structures that are not right, not Godly, and not moral.

We can see that our Lord Jesus was devoted to the house of God. Jesus got angry and threw the offending people and all their stuff out of the Temple. Let us call this perverse attitude what it is. Idolatry. For some few or some group of people to put crass profit before the holiness and worship in God’s house is Idolatry, which is the same thing that the First Commandment explicitly tells us about.  Don’t do it!

Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom, these two weeks are called Fairtrade Fortnight. Some churches, other houses of worship, and other nonprofit agencies highlight Fair Trade. Fair Trade means fair pay and working conditions for farmers and producers. Fair Trade products are made in safe and healthy working conditions, where farmers and producers receive a fair price and have a voice in how their workplace is run.

This is from a suggested script for a children’s message for the third Sunday of Lent in the Church of Scotland. “Ask the young people if anyone recognises this picture (hold up the Fairtrade logo)? This symbol is as a result of anger.

“People were angry when they realised that the tea and coffee that they were drinking had not been bought at a fair price. That means the farmer who grew the tea, or the workers who picked and sold the coffee beans had been short-changed, and had not been paid enough money to send their children to school or to get enough for their familes to have a good life. And this anger made them take action. Christian Aid and Traidcraft, amongst many others, set up the Fairtrade foundation to ensure that the buying and selling of goods could be done in a different and more just way. Even to this day there are supermarkets who are still trying to short-change hard working communities and farmers.” [3]

I think we are doing what Jesus would do when we support Fair Trade practices, and stop graft, corruption and immoral practices. I think Jesus would want us to keep on taking action to make sure that everyone has enough to flourish and to glorify God by being fully alive.

What an important thing for all of us to strive to do: follow Jesus in devotion. Stop graft and corruption, and encourage everyone to flourish and to glorify God. Amen!

[1] http://jubileejusticeeconomics.blogspot.com/2015/03/jesus-and-international-exchange.html

“Jesus and the International Currency Exchange Traders in the Temple,” Stan Duncan, 2015.

[2] https://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-third-sunday-in-lent-march-8-2015_7.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 3B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[3]   http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/47661/4_March_Wendy_Young_3_in_Lent_formatted.pdf  The Mission and Discipleship Council would like to thank Wendy Young, of Christian Aid, for her thoughts on the third Sunday in Lent.


(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Feb 25 Lent 2 Sermon: “Follow, Carry the Cross “ Mark 8:34 @StLukesChurch2 #pastorpreacherprayer  https://wp.me/p5Nfg4-lv


Servant of This Gospel

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 1, 2018

Eph 3 servant of this Gospel, words

Servant of This Gospel

As I have continued with the Lenten scripture readings for this past week set by the book Meeting God in Paul, I also read part of a chapter where Paul is described in detail. Rowan Williams has a remarkable understanding of Paul the man, as well as Paul the theologian.

I had never really thought about it before, but we have more of an actual description and more understanding of the apostle Paul the man than we do of almost anyone else in the ancient world—except for certain rulers and emperors. We know more of the person and description of Paul than we do about the person and description of Jesus, in fact. (We know lots of other things about the man Jesus while He was here on earth, but not so much about His person and physical description.)

Prof. Williams highlights some fascinating details about Paul, including a physical description from only a few years after the beginning of the second century. This was within the lifetime of someone who—as a young person—could have actually seen Paul. Written in Asia Minor, this account mentions that Paul “is a little man, bow-legged, thin-faced, hook-nosed, bald with heavy eyebrows meeting in the middle; and this is how he is invariably depicted in the most ancient Byzantine artistic tradition and in icons of him up to the present day.” [1]

In other words, Paul was not particularly photogenic. (It probably was a good thing that Paul did not live in either the 20th or 21st centuries, with the prevalence of cameras and other forms of media.) However short or near-sighted or bald he may have been, those were just elements of an exterior image of Paul. It was the interior that mattered to God. And, on the inside, Paul was an eloquent ambassador for Jesus. He called himself a servant of the Gospel or of the Lord several times in his New Testament letters. And, he meant it.

I wonder. Am I too caught up in what is on the exterior? Is someone’s image all-important to me? (Is my personal image that important to me? Dear Lord, please, no.) How about considering myself a servant of the Gospel, as Paul described himself to the believers in Ephesus? Lord, I hope so. I pray so. Help me to make it so. Thank You, God, for this wonderful book about Paul, filled with such meaningful words.


Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 19.

Consider Everything Loss

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, February 26, 2018

Phil 3-7 consider things loss, circle

Consider Everything Loss

I am afraid I haven’t been the best at following the Lenten scripture readings for this past week. Yes, I managed to do a couple, but I did not read every day. God knows, I have struggled with Lenten disciplines and spiritual disciplines in general, for years. That is no excuse, I know. But, I don’t want to cover up the problem and just ignore it, either. Dear Lord, what do I do?

What is available to me is to dig in to the readings for today. (Actually, the bible reading for two days ago, Saturday, and the reflections for Sunday.) Some years ago, I used to really dig in to the letter to the Philippians as well as the life of the apostle Paul. Being interested in the subject material is no problem, in other words.

Paul had lots of reasons to boast, and to be such a puffed-up so-and-so. Hebrew of the Hebrews, he knew his Jewish lineage and high position. His pedigree was without a single black or negative mark. As a Pharisee, Saul knew he had beaten everyone (or almost everyone), and demonstrated his religious “super-power,” spiritually speaking.

And yet…from Philippians chapter 3, Paul says “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” After delineating his impressive religious pedigree, he makes a statement like what I just quoted. Wow! I keep shaking my head at words like these. But, wait! There’s more.

Paul uses a crude word in the next verse. He says, in brief: “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” The New International Version translates the word “garbage.” Other translations have “rubbish,” “dung” and “refuse.” The original Greek word is skubala. I don’t know how much Paul was given to humor in his personal interactions, but I can definitely read this as wry humor—while being perfectly serious in his communicating of this deep concept. It is as if all of the worldly and earthly attainments or privileges that Paul—and the rest of us—have painstakingly put together or scratched and clawed for are measured and found wanting before the amazing, glory-producing magnificence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rowan Williams follows this up with a thought-provoking question. “Paul recognized that he followed a King who surrendered his privileges, became a slave and died a shameful death. What privileges do we enjoy? Can we, like Paul, ‘count them as loss?’” [1]

Dear Lord, what a series of statements by Paul. Help me not to get puffed up or too proud of myself or my accomplishments. Keep me right-sized. Help me keep my eyes on the prize of the upward calling. Let me focus on Christ only, remembering His glory on the mountain of Transfiguration. Gracious God, with Your help, I can do all things through Jesus Christ my Lord.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 88.

Dangerous Newness of Jesus

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, February 22, 2018

2 Cor 10-10 Paul in person, words

Dangerous Newness of Jesus

I am striving (and struggling) to do my Lenten devotional, as has happened for years. It is not because of the reading material! No, the book of short reflections called Meeting God in Paul by Rowan Williams is a fascinating read. (Did I mention that I love the clarity of Prof. Williams’ writing?) No, I have struggled to have regular devotions for years. God knows. (And, we have had many conversations about this, over the years.) But, I was fascinated by the readings set for this week.

As I read the assigned chapters from 2 Corinthians, 10 and 11, I was struck again by Paul’s forcefulness in speech. Sure, he might have been a less-than-impressive figure in person. I know—from what he wrote—that he was fully aware of that. However, that did not stop him from being forceful, convincing, and persuasive in his letters. I have no doubt in eloquence in speech (and sermons), too.

I went back to Williams’ introduction, just to refresh my memory. I was struck by what he said: “…we need to have at least some sense also of the social world and the world of ideas Paul inhabits…It helps to have some feeling for this, otherwise we shall miss the moments when he is being most courageous and creative, when the dangerous newness of what has happened because of Jesus most clearly comes through for him.” [1]

What a statement! “Dangerous newness.” Almost two thousand years after the fact, having been raised in an atmosphere where the Biblical figures and the Old and New Testaments were fairly common references in literary culture, it’s difficult for me to separate myself from my “pre-set,” from the ideas and concepts that I learned about the apostle Paul from school-age (1960’s and 70’s) to seminary, shortly after 2000. Yet, reading 2 Corinthians 10 and 11 once again brought this newness starkly to my attention.

How can I tell others about the newness of Jesus? Of His love for me, and of His very Good News? In the 21st century, as modern culture is becoming less and less knowledgeable and welcoming to the Gospel message, the news about Jesus Christ is gaining dangerous newness, again.

How can I communicate this? Dear God, I wonder. Help me learn how to reach out effectively, in this day and age. Help me to understand better how to tell others about You, I pray.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), xi.

Inside, Outside, from All Sides

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, February 19, 2018

St. Paul on Damascus road, medieval

Inside, Outside, from All Sides

As my Lenten devotional, I am reading a book of short reflections called Meeting God in Paul by Rowan Williams. I have such respect for Rowan Williams’ leadership in not only his Anglican Church, but also the wider ecumenical church worldwide.

For years—for decades—I have been fascinated by the Apostle Paul, reading books and articles on his writings and theology. Since becoming a local church pastor almost four years ago, I haven’t had the time to really dig into the life and ministry of Paul. I miss that part of my thought-life, and wish I could revisit more of Paul’s writings, in depth. Since I can’t take the time right now to dive deep into Paul’s thoughts and theology, I felt the least I could do was to read this excellent little devotional on the life of Paul, written by the wonderful theological scholar Rowan Williams.

The reflection for the first Sunday of Lent highlights Saul of Tarsus. He was “staunchly committed to maintaining the boundary between those who were ‘inside’ and those who were ‘outside.’” [1] Of course, this was before his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. It was afterwards, with God’s influence and help, that he became a champion of the Gentile converts to Christianity.

However, I was intrigued and moved by Professor Williams’ expression: maintaining the boundary between those ‘inside’ and those ‘outside.’ How much of the Church Universal today is (rightly or wrongly) committed to maintaining similar boundaries? How much are local churches similarly keeping those boundaries—or walls—or other kinds of barriers firmly in place? I think Williams would agree with my serious questioning of this practice.

I am hesitant to name-call or cast aspersions on other Christians or others of different faith traditions. All the same, two adjectives came to mind when considering those who are ‘inside’ and those who are ‘outside.’ First, shortsighted. Second, divisive. Yes, shortsighted in the sense of missing a goodly portion of what Jesus preached in the Gospels. Yes, downright divisive, because of the innate fear, anxiety and stubbornness inherent in us frail, faulty human beings. Oh, how much humanity has to answer for…over the centuries, over the millenia. (And, I fully admit I am right there, amidst the rest of humanity.)

Dear Lord, are we ever to grow beyond this casting of stones and calling of names? This shunning behavior and distasteful attitude? Lord, have mercy. Help me—help us—to repent of our sins (both inside and outside). Lead us to amend our ways and walk in Your path of truth, righteousness, love, caring and sharing. Amen.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 87.

Straying from God’s Commands

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Psa 119-21 scroll

Straying from God’s Commands

We come to the abbreviated end of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s meditations on Psalm 119. Verse 21 was the last of these short comments into Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible. I wish Bonhoeffer had been able to write more, because I get such insight from him. (both into his heart as well as into the psalm) Bonhoeffer truly loved the Word of God. With this acrostic psalm praising and lifting up God’s Word in every verse, it is little wonder that Bonhoeffer should have been drawn to it.

This verse 21 is a bit of a downer—more than a bit, actually. Let’s take a look at it:

You have rebuked the insolent;

Cursed are they who stray from Your commandments!

God hates the insolent, Bonhoeffer says. The self-satisfied, puffed-up ones. Even more, those “who care nothing for justice and mercy, who despise the Word of God and the faithful.” [1]

I get the feeling that Pastor Bonhoeffer really has distaste for these people. People who despise the God he loves and follows with all his heart, and who despise the Word of God and those who are faithful to that God, too. Bonhoeffer pins these self-satisfied people to the wall with a direct blow: “The cross of Jesus Christ, which shows that God is with the weak and the humble, is God’s rebuke to the insolent.” [2]

What a way to deliver an uppercut to the jaw. (Theoretically and metaphorically, of course.) Bonhoeffer truly believes that the cross of Christ is the remedy and the antidote to the insolent of this earth, humanity puffed up with pride and self-importance.

Of course, you and I know that oftentimes the innocent, the weak, the downtrodden are stepped upon by the powerful. These humble ones are wrongfully accused, oppressed, and abused. We see “the visible judgments of God remain hidden and obscure even for the faithful.” [3]

Yet…and yet…are these words only for others? Or, are the words of this verse for ourselves, too? Are you and I insolent, at times? Do you or I feel self-satisfied or proud? Do we stray from God’s commands—sometimes? I see myself in this mirror. Sometimes. Ah, Pastor Bonhoeffer, you have hit home. I bow my head, humbly asking God for forgiveness.

These words are so appropriate for this Shrove Tuesday, with Ash Wednesday tomorrow. God’s blessings to all as we start our Lenten journey to the cross, alongside of our Savior and Friend the Lord Jesus.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 133.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.