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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

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 ,

Long but Interesting Read in "The Atlantic"

This article by Kurt Andersen-- "How American Lost its Mind" in the September 2017 The Atlantic is long, and contains a lot of unfair generalizations (I'm disappointed that he seems to lump all Christians/Christian belief in the same category), but if you want to understand Trump, and Trumpism, worth your time. To whet your appetite, some excerpts: ... "[In 2005], The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness . “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it ha

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 wa

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  Pentecost ,  Trinity  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 giv

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 &quo

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 bei

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 or   anyone 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

Why Ashes, and Why Give Up things for Lent

Ash Wednesday - this year, falling on March 1st - is later in the calendar year than in many years, so I wanted to take advantage of the extra time to write a couple of "pre-Lent" messages about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.  Two of the most frequently asked questions about Ash Wednesday and Lent are  1) Why do we put ashes on our foreheads?  and  2) Why do we give up things for Lent? More about #2 next week, but a short answer to #1 is that we put ashes on our foreheads because  ashes are a sign of mortality and penitence.  "Mortality" means, bluntly, that at some point or another, we will die. "Penitence" means taking stock of one's misdoings.  Ash Wednesday, it is said, is a kind of Christian  Yom Kippur  - and as Rabbi Alexis Roberts says of that day,  "Many say we're practicing to be dead: looking over our values, accomplishments, and failures as though it was all over and now we have to make an accounting."  "T