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Showing posts from 2017

Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and give back to God what is God's

"Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give back to God what is God's." 

Ever since the earliest days of the church, I'll bet preachers have been using this Sunday's passage to preach sermons on church - state relationships, or (surprise, surprise), stewardship/annual giving.

Certainly, the issue of church-state relationships is important.
For a book of historical fiction I intend to write, I've long researched martyrs -- people in every age who had to wrestle with the issue of what to do when the values of their government conflicted with the dictates of God and their own conscience. And I can assure you that throughout human history, "church and state" relationships have been impossible to separate.

And obviously stewardship - giving back to God, in thanksgiving, the things that are God's - is important.

Indeed, what we do with our money says as much about our relationship to God, and our trust in God as any other single factor. There'…

How not to be a Hypocrite

This Sunday's Gospel story about two sons saying one thing but doing another invites us to consider the ways our actions speak louder than our words - the ways we say "yes" to God at one level but then behave differently throughout the week in our daily life.

So today I'd like you to think about hypocrisy. But not in the way you're probably used to thinking about it.

"Hypocrisy" is usually thought of as simply "saying one thing and doing another."

But it's about more than that. The word "hypocrisy" comes from the Greek word for "play-acting" - wearing a mask, acting as if you are someone you are not.
I'd like you to consider that hypocrisy is not being your true self.
And what is your "true self"? On Sundays - and, I hope in your daily prayer and Bible reading - you are reminded of it: you were lovingly created by God;you are put on the face of the earth for God's purposes: to love God and love your neighbor…

In order to exhale generosity, we need to inhale gratitude. In order to exhale compassion, we need to inhale forgiveness.

I believe that actions of generosity come from an attitude of gratitude - our own sense of being blessed in life.

Similarly, I believe that actions of mercy and compassion come from appropriating forgiveness - our own feeling of deeply, fully forgiven.

One way I've said this before is "in order to exhale generosity, we need to inhale gratitude. In order to exhale compassion, we need to inhale forgiveness."

But appropriating forgiveness is difficult. In Sunday's Gospel, we hear the story of Peter wanting to know what the limits or outer boundaries of forgiveness are."How often do I need to forgive someone, Jesus? As many as seven times?" he asks."Not seven, but seventy-seven," Jesus answers.(What's interesting is the Greek that's translated "seventy-seven" can also be translated seventy-times-seven. So when Peter says "do I really have to forgive seven times?", Jesus says "no, 77, or 490 times!")

The point -- espec…

The New Colossal Immigration Mistake

The New Colossal Immigration Mistake

with apologies to Emma Lazarus and all previous generations of is the Statute of Liberty poem as modified by Donald Trump: 

"SEND ME, ancient lands, your storied pomp" cries she
with loud lips. "Give me your well-rested, your rich,
Your few skilled labors flying over in business class,
The wealthy privileged of your top 2%.
Send these, the wealthy, the skilled, the secure to me,
Now that my back is turned to those who struggle, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Parable of the Sower -- selfish living vs kingdom living

In Sunday's gospel, Jesus is telling us there are four different human reactions to hearing or reading the "word of the kingdom."

Which begs the question: what is the "word of the kingdom"?

The best explanation I've heard is in the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases part of chapter five of Paul's letter to the Galatians:

He (Paul) starts by reminding us there are two very different kinds of life we can live on earth (or on any given day).

One choice is selfish living, and the other choice is kingdom living.

First the bad news: Here's Peterson's paraphrase of Paul's summary of what kind of life develops out of selfish living, of "trying to get your own way all the time" --

repetitive, loveless, cheap sex;a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage;frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness;trinket gods; magic-show religion;paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants;a brutal temper;an im…

Gone, but Still Present

Today (Thursday, May 25th) is Ascension Day, one of only seven "Principal Feast" days. (Principal feasts are the big ones, the others being Easter Day, The Day of PentecostTrinity Sunday, All Saints Day, Christmas Day, and The Epiphany). 
With Memorial Day being Monday, this weekend is usually recognized as Memorial Day weekend. 
That means this Sunday can pose a bit of a challenge for churches, and preachers. Officially, it's the seventh Sunday of Easter, and is still Easter season/the resurrected Jesus is still with us. Unofficially, it's the Sunday after Ascension Day, and we hear, in our lessons, about Jesus' ascension into/back into heaven, and the disciples' being promised that they'll soon receive the Holy Spirit -- but that doesn't come/is not celebrated until next Sunday, June 4th, Pentecost Sunday. Culturally, it's a major national holiday weekend, a time to not only remember, but to honor and give thanks for those who died while serving …

One of Life's Greatest Questions

During the Wednesday night "ARC" class that we offer at The Falls Church Episcopal,* my colleague Kelly asked me to jump into her presentation on "Prophets and Wisdom" in order to give a brief summary of the book of Job.

The book of Job wrestles with the great question,

"If God is a loving and powerful God, then how do we make sense of evil?"

As I told the class, this question - along with "why does the other line always move faster?, why are hot dogs sold in packs of 10 and buns sold in packs of 8?, and why can't Washington-D.C.-area teams succeed in the playoffs?" -- is one of Life's Greatest Questions.

For years, I wrestled with how best to think through - and then preach and teach on - the topic of evil.

Particularly challenging is finding ways to preach and teach about the "personification" of evil - whether we call that spiritual force "Satan," "the Devil," "the Tempter," the "Evil One,"…

How Jesus wanted to make the faith pretty simple:

Each Sunday in Lent, we begin our worship with a recitation of the Ten Commandments. It's good to recall these ancient pillars of the Judeo-Christian faith, these "ten freedoms" that God, in God's wisdom, knows humanity needs in order to live fully and well.
However, thanks to the wisdom of the authors of the Book of Common Prayer, we always end our recitation of the Ten Commandments by hearing the "Summary of the Law" from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 29 --
"Jesus said, 'The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.'"
Do yourself (and those around you) a favor and don't let those words become rote, or go in and out without soaking in...because...
...when God became a human being and wanted …

Steal the Script this Lent

Ash Wednesday 2017
The Reverend John Ohmer, Rector,  The Falls Church Episcopal
Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent -- and for that matter Christian spirituality in general -- has two general messages.
On the one hand, there is the message or theme of sin, brokenness, and dis-ease…
…on the other hand, there is the message of forgiveness, grace, and healing.
Several years ago, I had an epiphany about people’s relationship with God, and these two themes. And the epiphany came not from a spiritual resource, but from some advice column, some very wise advice for retailers or restaurateurs oranyone who deals with customers or the general public.
The columnist said that whenever there is an aggrieved person, and you – as a retailer or restaurant owner or cashier – are dealing with that person, you need to realize there are two scripts.
One script – call it “script A” -- goes like this:
“I can’t believe this is happening!” “This is OUTRAGEOUS!” “I demand something be done about this!” “Nothing like…