Forward

Gen 48:1-49:33, Matt 15:29-16:12Psalm 20:1-9, Prov 4:20-27

Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.
 Keep straight the path of your feet,
    and all your ways will be sure. (Prov 4:25-26)

How often do we find looking back, trying to hold on to the comforts of what we know?  Forward can be scary because it is unknown.  Yet this is the path we are called to walk.  New is also exciting and full of promise.  Together, we strengthen existing relationships and form new.  Forward, we also will make mistakes and experience failure.  But this is where we grow and are strengthened.

This was much of what Jesus was warning with the yeast of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were comfortable with the way it was and liked holding on.  Our way is different.  May we keep straight the path of our feet and follow the sure way.

Peace my friends,

Pastor Rob

Humanity

Gen 46:1-47:31Matt 15:1-28, Psalm 19:1-14, Prov 4:14-19 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus stands corrected, and from whom?  Not only a woman, but a Canaanite.  Now, many commentaries, scholars, and pastors make many excuses for what they really want this text to say.  You read things like he intentionally is using this as a teaching moment for the disciples.  Can we not accept that this is a learning moment for Jesus?  In one breath we try to hold together that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, and in another we have trouble accepting that fully human means that sometimes we are wrong.  Perhaps, Jesus was wrong and stands corrected.  I think our story is much richer if Jesus’ humanity actually shows human moments. Moments that lead from “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”  to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19)

And Jesus responds,  “Woman, great is your faith!”  Another beautiful example of the outsider, the most unexpected, who is the example of great faith.

What do you think?  Let’s keep on walking.

Shalom,

Pastor Rob

 

 

 

Stepping Out of the Boat

Gen 44:1-45:28, Matt 14:13-36Psalm 18:37-50Prov. 4:11-13

Our Proverb today is encouraging. “When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.”  When we keep hold of instruction, we can run free.  We know from experience that this does not mean there will not be challenges or obstacles in our way.  But we can walk unhampered and run without stumbling because of inner-peace.

It’s the kind of peace that can withstand the darkness of night and waves battering the boat in the storms that life can bring.  But to walk in the way of wisdom requires the first step–that we have to step out of the boat.  Stepping out of the boat requires risk.  The reality is going to be that we are going to take our eyes of Jesus.  We will stumble and sometimes fall.  But there is someone there to catch us when we do. Reminded once again, when we hold on to this wisdom and hold on to instruction, we can begin to run again.

Consider Joseph in today’s reading.  Think of all the motivations for getting even with his brothers.  But what does he do instead?  Consider how this has freed Joseph to run rather than holding on to avenging his brothers wrongs.  If we want to walk on water, we have to get out of the boat.

Shalom,

Pastor Rob

Treasure New and Old

Today’s blog is from my dear friend and mentor, Kip Murphy. (Bio below)

 

Today’s Readings: Gen 42:18-43:34Matt 13:47-14:12, Psalm 18:16-36, Prov 4:7-10

Wonderful Gift

“Jesus said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52)

 Prior to becoming a pastor, I spent twelve years as a Biochemistry Professor doing research and teaching classes. I loved teaching, watching young minds come to grips with challenging concepts and helping them to see new things. I was always learning new things in the lab, but the material in textbooks is always at least several years old.

Even though the material can be complex, I could actually understand everything that was written in the textbook we used in class. Sure, I might have to brush up on some things, or read some background material on topics that were far from my area of expertise, but with a little work there was nothing in a Biochemistry textbook that I couldn’t understand.

Not so with the Bible! I’ve been reading the Bible for many years. I’ve been through the Year of the Bible three times in various churches or on my own. I’ve read every verse multiple times. I’ve learned Greek and Hebrew (although I didn’t learn Hebrew very well). I’ve taken courses on Biblical Interpretation. And yet… every time I read God’s Word I hear something new and fresh. Sometimes it’s something I’ve read before that I see in a new light and sometimes it’s something that I’ve managed to overlook even though I’ve seen it multiple times. The reality is that there are things in the Bible that I don’t completely grasp no matter how often I read it or how much I study.

What a wonderful gift that is! Jesus reminds us that every “teacher of the law” (from the Greek word for Scribe or ‘scripture teacher’) brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. Scripture is a storeroom filled with treasures, verses that comfort and verses that confront. Some are old and well-loved, but others will be brand new to us. Our understanding of familiar stories can undergo change as we learn new things and read them with fresh eyes.

My prayer for everyone who is participating in the Year of the Bible is that they will find both old and new things in God’s Word this year!

Kip Murphy

Biographical Information for Kenneth P. (Kip) Murphy

My wife, Lee, and I have been married for thirty-one years. We have three children. Our eldest, Kevin, lives in Des Moines, Iowa and works for Principal Financial Group there. Our second child, Katie, is a high-school English teacher in Tama, Iowa. Our youngest, Ellen, is a junior at Central College in Pella, Iowa. She is majoring in Religion and is discerning whether or not to go to seminary upon graduation.

Lee and I both grew up in Colorado and graduated together from Columbine High School. I completed a Ph.D. in Chemistry at CU, Boulder in 1990 and we moved to Baltimore, Maryland with our two older children where I had a post-doctoral position (similar to a residency) in the Biology department of Johns Hopkins University. In 1993 we moved to Iowa City, Iowa where I had obtained an Assistant Professor position in the Biochemistry department of the University of Iowa and later received tenure.

After many years of praying together with Lee, I resigned my faculty position in 2005 and began seminary at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS). Upon graduation in 2008 I accepted a call to First Presbyterian Church of Williamsburg, Iowa where I currently serve. In 2012 I began a Doctor of Ministry program at UDTS under the direction of Professor Gary Hansen, author of Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, and Dr. Joe Small, former head of the Office of Theology and Worship for the PC(USA). My final project is focused on enhancing the ministry of Teaching Elders through the revitalization of the ministry of Ruling Elders.

Outside of work, my wife and I both enjoy reading, hiking, cooking together, and just being in one another’s company.

Dreams and Preparation

Today’s Readings: Gen 41:17-42:17, Matt 13:24-46, Psalm 18:1-15, Prov 4:1-6

Joseph shared many gifts.  Of all his talents of intelligence, interpersonal skills, hard work, and determination, I admire most the character of his integrity.  When all around him are cheating, cutting corners, seeking self gain, Joseph is able to see the bigger picture.  I believe this contributes to his ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.

We all go through seasons of abundance and seasons of drought.  Joseph is able to see a vision of what things can be and has earned the respect of even Pharaoh to have a voice.  Knowing that we too journey through peaks and valleys, how do we as a community live into the vision God has for us?  How do we prepare so that the gifts we store are generously shared?

Day 20 and still going.  Let’s keep walking.

Shalom,

Pastor Rob

*Don’t miss tomorrow’s reflection prepared by my friend and mentor, Kip Murphy.

A Street Fit for A King

Today’s guest sharing on our blog is Derrick Weston.  Derrick is a father of two. He  co-hosts God Complex Radio, a show highlighting progressive voices in the faith community. (godcomplexradio.com) Derrick is  an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA.  Derrick shares,  “I like lots of stuff. Sometimes I write about that stuff.” For more from Derrick, here is his blog, DerrickLWeston.

A Street Fit for a King

On this day where we honor Martin Luther King, I am thankful for Derrick’s contribution for our community.

Today’s YOTB readings: Gen 39:1-41:16, Matt 12:46-13:23, Psalm 17:1-15, Prov 3:33-35

Have you been to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd? Or Court? Or Place? Or Street? Or Avenue? Most cities have one. Have you been there?

Probably not. There’s a good chance that it is the worst street in your city. It is more likely than not the epicenter of drug activity and violence. It is probably run down. Maybe it’s abandoned. Maybe you can no longer read the sign that says “MLK Way”. Maybe it has boarded up buildings from when idealistic entrepreneurs attempted to revitalize the street with a small business but soon ran out of capital or customers who were willing to make the perilous jaunt. Revitalization takes time and patience.

I have joked many times about the MLK streets in communities around the city. Once I was going to a convention in Cincinnati. It was my first time in the city. I got lost on my way to my destination and felt fine until I saw a sign that said Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. That’s when I panicked! I’ve said facetiously “what a tribute it is to a great man that we have named all of the worst streets in our country after him?”

Indeed… there could be no better tribute.

What better tribute could there be for a man who called us to repave the Jericho roads so that people were no longer beaten and left on the side of the road there? What better tribute could there be for a man who said that faith was taking the first step even when you cannot see the entire staircase? What better tribute could there be for a man who reminded us that the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice? My guess is that Dr. King would be thrilled to see his name associated with the aspirational, the hopeful… the faithful.

I compare Dr. King to Jesus a lot. Not so much because he was a saintly, virtuous man. We know enough about him to know that he had some serious warts. No, it’s the fact that we worry so much about their identities that we miss their messages. In some ways their messages were very much the same; compassion, equality, uplift for those who need it, challenge to those who would wield power in oppressive ways. I don’t think either man is best celebrated through pageantry or parade. I think both are remembered best by remembering the substance of their message, a world moving, sometimes at a snails pace, but in the direction of the justice.

If you want to celebrate Dr. King this year, visit the street in your city that bears his name. Or streets like it. Meet the people. Learn the history. Ask questions and listen to the answers. You’ll hear hurt and abandonment. You may hear resignation. But you may also hear hope. You may hear hope that that street can begin to live into its name, that it can become a place of reconciliation and peace. That it can be the epicenter of the beloved community that was, in fact, the heart of Dr. King’s message. Walk down the street. And ask what your role is in making Dr. King’s dream a reality. Not in the safe confines of your home, but on the street that bears the martyr’s name.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

*Originally posted on Derrick’s blog found here: https://derricklweston.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/a-street-fit-for-a-king/

Transformed

Today’s guest blogger is Shannon Skelly.  Shannon is a member of Spirit of Life Presbyterian, a Campus Minister at College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, a Jr. at St. John’s majoring in Theology and Peace Studies, and a beloved child of God.  Shannon will provide a monthly entry on the 17th of each month.  Thanks for your beautiful reflection.

Today’s Readings: Gen 35:1-36:43, Matt 12:1-21, Psalm 15:1-5, Prov 3:21-26

Proverbs spoke to me profoundly in today’s reading, even with such few words! Proverbs 3:25-26 says: Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

It prompted me to consider my fears and worries. I’m the kind of person that naturally considers all of the things that may be going wrong if I don’t get a text/call from a loved one when I expected it— were they in a car accident? Did something horrific happen? And my heart races with anxiety and concern over circumstances I cannot control. Even on beautiful, inspiring days filled with celebration of love and community I can catch myself wondering when the other shoe will drop.

For some reason I find myself having  something to worry about at all times, and in today’s world with fearful, suspicious, and apocalyptic headlines every day, I don’t think I’m alone. It’s so easy to forget that our God is bigger than any disaster or tragedy we can imagine; chaos could overtake the world and it wouldn’t overtake God. Don’t we have proof of this all throughout history? After every tragedy, natural disaster, war, or innocent life lost, goodness returns. We’re so blessed that in the midst of life’s horrors, God’s comforting embrace is most tangible, and He recycles the broken and warped situation to produce new life and healing.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an episcopal priest, wrote about the Resurrection: “The stink of death is contradicted by the fresh smell of a new morning, as Jesus’ friends stumble upon a kind of life they have not known before— so boundless, so wholly unexpected— that it permanently rearranges their previous understanding of reality. In the presence of the risen Christ, they understand that there is no wreckage so total that God cannot redeem it. There is no cause so lost that God cannot breathe life into it.”

It’s time that we let our lives be transformed as the disciples’ lives were by the inconceivable truth that “there is no cause so lost that God cannot breathe life into it,” no heart so tormented that it cannot be healed, no past so afflicted that the future is without love.

Shannon Skelly
Theology & Peace Studies ’16
CSB Campus Minister: Spirituality & Social Justice

Where Might We Find God’s Face?

Gen 32:13-34:31, Matt 11:7-30, Psalm 14:1-7, Prov 3:19-20

“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

What parallel story comes to mind when you read how Esau greets Jacob?

Consider who steals the birthright, who connives the blessing, and who continues to deceive wives and family?  And then fears for his life when having to face all he has done with his twin?

The prior evening, he wrestles all night with God opening his eyes to see the face of God.  Then confronted with the inner wrestling of having to face all he has done wrong, and the fear of what he has coming to him, imagine the surprise of his brother running to meet him, embracing him, falling on his neck, and kissing him.

Imagine, this holy moment of forgiveness and transformation that leads Jacob to proclaim to Esau, “truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”

The face of God, the sacrifice, the forgiveness, and the restoration of relationship–through Esau.

Think about the parallel with the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32).

How does this help us to see Esau in a new way?  How does this help us to open vast God’s love can be for someone outside of our circles–of other faith traditions, different cultures and backgrounds?

Can we see our story, our acceptance, and God’s redemption through a new lens?  It’s truly a beautiful story.  Consider, whatever you are holding on to, your disappointments and hurts, may you keep your eyes open to the possibilities of where you might see the face of God.

Let’s keep on walking.

Happy Friday,

Pastor Rob

(Join us tomorrow for our first guest entry from our own, Shannon Skelly)

Perspective?

Gen 31:17-32:12, Matt 10:24-11:6, Psalm 13:1-6, Prov 3: 16-18

 

For our session meeting tonight, we reflected on these words from Matthew:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10: 34-39)

What does the Prince of Peace mean by  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”?  This goes against so much of how we know Jesus throughout Scripture. One who oft quotes form the profit Isaiah who speaks of turning swords into plowshares, and one who in yesterday’s reading spoke of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  What do you think?

To consider the greater context, Jesus is speaking to the disciples and preparing on what it means to follow him.  He was specifically talking about persecution, bearing a cross, and finding life by losing it.  In Jesus betrayal, when a disciple draws a sword to defend Jesus, Jesus responds “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (26:52)  

There is much in our faith that is a paradox, like finding life is by losing it. A sword is the image in Revelations that is used metaphorically to speak of the power of the Word of God. In a text that speaks of God’s sovereignty, he is teaching that following is not an easy path.  But a path that leads to finding life.  And in finding life, we are alive.

In all the demands that the world places on us, and the desires that we are seeking, where do we place the importance of God in our life?  As a parent, I can speak of the love I have for my children.  One of our elders shared a story of a counselor advising her and her husband to not love her son so much.  This was bothersome and they immediately changed counselors.  It wasn’t until years later that they understood that loving their son was by letting go and letting him stumble. Letting him figure it out.

If we work on having our own house in order, isn’t this the same?  In order, we love God, then family.  And by sharing the perspective, we trust that God has everything in control.

Peace,

Pastor Rob

Calling Dr. Phil

Gen 30:1-31:16, Matt 10:1-23, Psalm 12:1-8, Prov 3:13-15

Envy, jealousy, and deception, sounds fitting for the son of Isaac who stole the birthright and blessing.  Rachel is jealous of Leah, offers her maid servant, and Leah connives her way back into seeking Jacob’s favor.  Meanwhile, Laban continues his cheating and dishonesty for his own self-gain against the master who stays one step ahead.   I think a call in to Dr. Phil is is order.

It’s messed up and it’s our story.  This is family.  How many families out there are perfect?  Ours is the same.  Try finding any of the characters in our story that have it all together.  Even our heroes doubt, betray, stumble, and have selfish ambitions.  This is also why our story is beautiful.  It is real.  And at the center of our story is a God whose purpose of reconciliation is being worked out despite ourselves.  

And God continues this work by entering our lives in human flesh.  Jesus is out healing, feeding, including, and loving when we hear yesterday the harvest is great and the laborers are few.  There is a lot of work to do, so today Jesus begins to delegate sending out the twelve.  And sending them out, there are messages of judgment.  As we come across judgment–consider who is the recipient?  I continue to be amazed how much this judgment is addressed to the insider, the churched, the us in the continual struggle of ‘us versus them.’  And this goes back to our family systems that struggle like Jacob’s, with envy, jealousy, and strife.  And yet our call is to become less so that others can be more with a sacrificial love that is concerned about the other and our common good.

God identifies with and champions the poor.  Our Psalm today includes,“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”  As the twelve were sent out, this soon becomes seventy-two, and continues to grow from there.  We are called to go out and to stand on the margins.

Let’s keep on walking.

Shalom,

Pastor Rob