Wednesday, October 28, 2009
All Saint's Day, even in Protestant churches, can be a celebration of remembrance. We can remember those in our families, and in the world, who have died during the past year. We can remember the 'saints' in the history of the Church, and in our own church. We can also take the opportunity to give thanks for those who have been saints along the way in our own faith journeys.
The texts for Nov. 1 lend themselves to this, but they also speak of God's desire to be remembered by God's people.
The Old Testament lesson, Deuteronomy 6:1-9, contains the Shema -- considered by some to be the most important prayer in Judaism -- "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Some translations conclude with "...the Lord alone". (In Hebrew: Shema Yisrael YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad.) The passage continues with "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," and with instructions to keep these commandments by passing them on to generations, talking about them in private and public life, and using external rituals of binding them on their head and hands, and placing them on the doorposts of their home and gates. This passage is the source of the Jewish practice of wearing the scripture as phylacteries, or teffilin, and of the mezuzah on the doorposts of homes.
In the Gospel text, Mark 12:28-34, Jesus, when asked by a teacher of the law what the most important commandment is, recites the Shema, adding a second commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus' act of remembrance comes out of his own Jewish faith. Yet, in adding this second commandment, it becomes cruciform. Love of the creator, but also love of fellow humankind -- if you visualize this, it takes the shape of a cross.
Christians don't pray the Shema or wear the teffilin or place a mezuzah on our doorposts. So is there anything we have, or do, that helps us remember these two commandments that Jesus said were the most important?
Many of us wear crosses ourselves. I have several, but one that I am particularly fond of was given to me by a dear cousin. It's a simple silver design by Atlanta jeweler James Avery, given to me around the time I started seminary. I wear it almost every day. Like many necklaces, the clasp always seems to make its way around to the front, so I find myself checking it and adjusting the clasp. To do this, I have to grasp the cross with one hand while I turn the chain with the other. I do it almost unconsciously -- but I suppose, if I thought about it, I could use this as an opportunity to remember: Love God, love your neighbor.
Even if we don't wear a cross -- we may have some other emblem, item or practice that helps us to remember. Some may have a tattoo, some have a bumper sticker, some may have a special prayer they say each day.
But regardless of how we remember, the important thing is that we remember. And as Disciples, we have the table, of course. Each week, as we gather there, we remember the one whose love of God and neighbor was so strong that he laid down his life for it.
Photo: laura.wilkerson1333 (Creative Commons license)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
What to choose? What to choose? So much is going on in this piece of the lectionary that I think one would have to narrow it down to a portion of the passage. If there is a theme that might draw it all together, it could be the theme of "community."
In the opening text, we have the disciples reportedly coming to Jesus to tattle on some other folks who are healing in his name. Boring, in The People's New Testament Commentary, argues that this is a clearly post-Easter reference. The disciples' claim that this exorcist "was not following us" (rather than using "you" referring to Jesus) suggests a description of Mark's historical context and the struggle in the early Church over who has authority -- who is "in" and who is "out." The renegade exorcist likely then refers to other Christian groups who were acting independently. Interestingly, Jesus' reply seems to suggest that as long as they are doing his work, they are just as much a part of the community.
In fact, note how inclusive Mark is when he has Jesus say "Whoever is not against us is for us." There is a world of difference between this version of the saying and the one we find in Matthew which reads "Whoever is not for us is against us." They sound similar, but the meaning couldn't be more different when it comes to seeing those who don't practice/live/believe the way we do as either enemy or neighbor.
The next part of the text deals with care for the "little ones" and a string of unconnected sayings about getting rid of body parts that might cause one to stumble. The reference here to "little ones" is not likely about children but rather people who are new to the faith or who have little authority. It's clear that these vulnerable ones are to be cared for by the community. This theme is carried over in the reference to cutting off body parts, the "body" here likely a metaphor for the community of faith. We have a responsibility to care for each other (and to do away with those practices that harm or cause division). And if the community extends beyond our congregation and includes even those we consider outside our boundaries (e.g. the exorcist mentioned previously) then do we not also have a responsibility to the community of our neighborhood, our city, our country, and the world?
Finally, the reference to salt also connects with the theme of community. We are to have salt (a distinctiveness about ourselves) and yet still live in peace as community. A reminder, perhaps, that faith is not ultimately a personal and inward practice but a communal effort in which we add to the flavor of those gathered around us as we strive to live in peace with all God's children.
(Note: The James passage for this Sunday deals with many of these same themes of community and caring for one another.)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
But, of course, the Gospel goes on to deal with issues of what is unclean and clean. The decisions about what is clean and unclean are human decisions, and Christ emphasizes that it isn't external things, or things we take into ourselves that make us unclean or unclean, but more what comes out of us that can be unclean or make us unclean. How interesting that we are so good at deciding what is clean and unclean, or what is good or bad. We are especially good at determining that for OTHERS more than for ourselves. The 'log in our eye, splinter in others' syndrome. But how do we determine that? And how often do the things we look at as being 'bad' turn out to be 'good' in the long run? 25 years ago I went through a horrendously painful time that I thought everything that was happening was bad. I even prayed for God to turn things around and make them 'good' again. But it didn't. For awhile I wondered if God had turned away, but I know now that God was just helping me get through because something really good would come of all the bad. In our adult study class at the Parish, we were talking about death and someone said, "Why do we always look at death in negative terms? I think God looks at death in a loving, positive light." We are very quick to put labels on things, situations, rituals, and people...especially labels of good and bad or clean and unclean... based only on our own experiences and thoughts. But if God created us and all around us and saw that it was good... why are we so quick to deem it bad or unclean?
There are many folks in this small town I live in who are unchurched, living below the poverty level, not related to anyone else in town, not involved in anything in the town, spend time at the local bar... and a myriad of other things that the 'regulars' in town use to deem them 'bad' and not worthy of their time, friendship, or care. And yet these 'misfits' are the ones that are reaching out to others, especially other 'misfits', sharing what they have, and the first to respond when help is needed. I know some of the 'church' folks question when I help them, sit with them at the park, or am in any way a part of their lives. But I think that it is exactly what Jesus calls us to do... to stop determining what WE deem to be good, bad, clean, unclean, worthy, unworthy, and see people and situations as God might see them... as basically good, worthy of our care.... and if we want to put a watchguard out for the negative, put it out in front of ourselves to make sure that, before we are so quick to judge others, that what comes from us is not bad, unclean or unworthy of God's glory and what comes from us is essentially good and that we are a conduit for the light of God.
So... in the midst of this prestigious group of folks with whom I have a high respect for... there's my 2 cents worth. Oh yea... and go out and be a rebel for Christ!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Going with the Roman Catholic passage...
21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
I've chosen this Ephesians passage because I think it all too often gets used inappropriately. I once attended a wedding in which the bride was told that according to the law of God, she would be sinful if she did not submit fully to the desires of the groom. Of course nothing was mentioned to the groom about loving the bride as he would love himself.
That, and interpretations like it are dangerous, to say the least.
This section might be better understood in the larger understanding of how first century households were to be ordered. Among that, Paul describes the nature of the relationship of Christ to the church, as if to use the example of the household to teach his first readers about how they should look on the purpose of the early church, and the relation of the believers to the teaching of Jesus.
So what about the misuse of v. 22-24? This reading really should focus on v. 21,"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (NRSV). This verse is the foundation for what comes next, and gives meaning to the discussion of how women and men should relate to their spouses. Without this verse being included in the reading (as often is the case in some weddings I've attended), the language about women submitting to their husbands clearly can be misdirected.
But focusing on how we can be subject (servants) to one another out of respect for Christ brings back the language of Jesus about the last being first and the greatest among us being the servants. So what does this look like in a selfish and individualized western capitalist culture?
And the idea of the husband being the head of the household simply was the legal understanding of the time. Women, children and slaves could not own property, and therefore the Ephesians writer uses this understanding to set up Jesus as the "head" of the church, meaning it is Christ who is to be the one who has established the 'house'.
Do we still set up Jesus as the head of the church? Have we replaced his teachings with self-help programs and a generic faith, based on common morality but ignores justice, healing and community connection?
How do we encourage healthy households which might not be of the standard described here? Single parent homes, same-sex homes, extended family households? How does this passage apply to other forms of modern households?
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
2 Samuel 12:1-13
But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him. “One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”
David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!” “You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!”
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against God.” Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that’s not the last word. God forgives your sin. You won’t die for it.
As we pick up the story, David, the apple of God’s eye, God’s chosen and anointed King, is in the process of screwing up big time. You just have to love David. Whatever he chose to do, he went at it full force. So when David decided to commit adultery he did it in grand style. He managed to get the wife of the commander of his troops pregnant while her husband was out of town on a business trip – a trip David has sent him on. Since the trip involved warfare, David decided to plot with the guy’s troops to expose him in battle and get him killed. And it worked. David was off the hook, scot free. Or so he though.
Somehow in the heat of things (pardon the pun) David lost sight of God. That should not surprise us since that is exactly what we do when we give ourselves over to sin. We turn away from God. Sometimes when we do that we compensate and rationalize by developing a god that approves of what we are doing or at least a god who understands why we need to do what we are doing and is willing to turn a blind eye to it. We decide that the god we follow is a loving god and that means our god wants us to be happy so he/she not only allows us to do whatever we wish, he/she approves of what we are doing. With that approach to theology so prevalent, morality and holiness have pretty much disappeared off of the church’s radar screen. Right or wrong is measured by what makes us happy.
Fortunately, when David found himself in this self induced na-na land of “I am living like hell but that is okay”, God did not abandon him there. Enter Nathan. Nathan was sent by God to jerk a knot in David because God really did love David and God loved him too much to leave him in that mess. Just like us, when David gave himself over to sin he broke his relationship with God. Just like us, David pretended that everything was just fine, but it wasn’t. God loved David too much to lose him. So he sent in the rescue team; a team of one named Nathan. I truly admire Nathan. He had more courage in one finger that most of us exhibit in an entire lifetime. He took on the task of telling the KING that he (the KING) was full of crap. Not a job I would want to sign up for.
Now, Nathan is a pretty sharp cookie. Instead of showing up with Bible in hand and boney finger pointed at King David, Nathan just told David a story. Everyone loves stories. The story Nathan told was a morality tale of an unjust, rich, powerful, stingy man who took advantage of a situation and some people and abused them. It was just about a pet sheep that he took to feed a guest but David was incensed. He went off and demanded that justice be served and the wrong be righted immediately. At that point Nathan turned to David and said, “You are the man.” I wasn’t there but I envision Nathan bathed in sweat, shaking like he was freezing; his voice cracking as he strained to deliver what could be a life ending message for him. There was an excellent chance David would kill him on the spot. Don’t forget that at this point in his life, David was behaving rather badly. What’s another dead guy if it helps cover his behind? As frightened as he must have been, Nathan looked the KING in the eye and called him a sinner.
Fortunately for Nathan and more fortunately for David, David repented. Repenting repaired David’s relationship with God but it did not get him off the hook of bearing responsibility for and results of his sinful behavior. Bad stuff happened anyway. But the most important thing was, not that David’s live was problem free and everything happening was making him “happy”, but that he was returned to a right relationship with God.
The most profound and powerful lesson in all of this is the obedience of Nathan. Because God had called him and empowered him, Nathan spoke the truth about sin to the most powerful man in the country. It could have literally cost Nathan his life. He had no guarantee that David would respond well and repent. Nathan’s obedience saved the King and probably saved the country.
I wonder what would happen if we, you and me, started telling the truth? What would happen if we started calling a sin a sin? We don’t because: it is not politically correct; it is none of our business; who are we to judge; where do we come off deciding what is right and what is wrong: it would make us uncomfortable; somebody might get angry. And the list of excuses goes on and on. Blah, blah. What it comes down to, we have all moved to the na-na land that David had moved to and when, or if, God sent us our Nathans, we failed to listen. We need to repent. My prayer is that God loves us enough to send us another Nathan or two and we have the good sense to repent.
Just a thought.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A couple of Scriptural connections can be made. The RCL pairs Psalm 14 this week with the story of David and Bathsheba. That is instructive, because King David was by no modern definition an atheist. Yet his behavior here is certainly foolish--tragically so--and perhaps demonstrates the true intent of the psalmist.
Another connection is with Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). This fellow, having been blessed with abundant harvests, decides to build gigantic barns to store his crops, and to devote himself to his own pleasure. "I... I... my..." reads the man's soliloquy. And God calls him, "You fool!"
The problem the psalmist sees is not intellectual--someone ruling out God's existence through reason and logic--it's behavioral and theological. Wicked actions, including mistreatment of the poor, indicate, in the psalmist's view, what a person believes about God: not so much whether or not God exists, but whether or not God matters. This practical atheism is a problem not just outside communities of faith, but within them.
The challenging question for us is, "How do our actions demonstrate our theology?"
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The long arc of David’s story — from shepherd to giant-conqueror to warrior to fugitive to king — is told through 1 and 2 Samuel, and again in 1 and 2 Chronicles. This week’s Old Testament text portrays a triumphant moment for David. He’s leading a group of men, and they’re bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David, playing musical instruments, shouting, and dancing with all their might.
And mentioned in the middle of the passage is Michal, daughter of Saul, who looked out the window and saw David “leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.” (v. 16 )
Who is Michal, other than Saul’s daughter? Why does she despise the sight of David dancing? It’s tempting to skip over this single verse, because it doesn’t seem to fit.
Michal was Saul’s youngest daughter, and years ago, she fell in love with David. Her father found out, and used her as a pawn to lure David into a dangerous wager that Saul hoped would result in David’s death. David delivered on his end of the bargain, so Michal became his wife.
Not long after that, Michal defied her father and helped David escape, saving his life. And then he went on the run.
With David gone, Michal’s father gave her to another man in marriage. This man loved her — when David returned years later, triumphant, and sent men to bring Michal to him, her second husband followed, begging not to lose her. He was told to go back home. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Michal felt about this turn of events, but perhaps this week's text gives us a clue.
Michal is a minor character compared to others in the story — David, Saul, her brother Jonathan. But she still has a story. If given the chance, how would she tell it?
In our own lives, we often look at others as minor characters. Even if we understand our lives as part of God’s story, we still run the risk of putting ourselves, our family, our church, our friends, our workplace, our nation, and our culture, at the center. We almost can’t help it. It’s the “view from the ground.” It’s how we make sense of the world.
The danger is that in relegating others to a minor role, we may forget that with God, there are no minor characters. When we forget that, we lose our capacity for compassion outside of our small circle. We also lose our ability to be blessed by learning what God is doing in others' lives.
God, in the person of Jesus Christ, demonstrated quite often that in God’s story, there are no minor characters. He specialized in turning upside-down every conventional notion of "major" and "minor." He conversed with an outcast Samaritan woman at a well. He noticed a blind man calling out for mercy, and healed him. He called out Zaccheus, up in the tree, and invited himself to dinner. He saw a widow putting small change in the offering, and lifted her up to the disciples as an example of great generosity.
Who are the "minor characters" in our world today? Who are the "minor characters" in our own lives? How can seeing them differently help us to be more compassionate? How can seeing them differently allow us to receive the blessings they bring?
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sometimes I wonder with the length of the reading. This one seems to include two stories that seem to not have much connection. The first one is about Jesus visiting his home town and the other has him sending out his disciples.
I guess you could split them apart and preach on one or the other but I want to see what happens when the two are kept together.
The return visit for Jesus is after he has had some time away and has been successful in attracting some followers and getting a crowd to form wherever he goes. Certainly the trip across the lade had some down side as the gentiles there were not interested in him staying in spite of the fact he helped the demonic. But he did do some power healing to Jairus's daughter and the suffering woman. So things are going well for Jesus. You'd think that he would be welcomed home with loving arms. Given ticker tape parade and everyone would say, " I remember him when he was this tall and now look at him." And another would say "Hey, Jesus, remember when we all snuck out that night and turned over old lady Roenkranz's outhouse?"
But no real welcome. There is a general put down of him and an attempt to 'put him in his place'. Why? In sports there is supposed to be a home field advantage. The team that plays on its home field is supposed to have the support of the home crowd, be more comfortable eating in your own bed and eating mom's cooking. But not here.
Jesus is rejected because he comes not to bask in the glory of old friends and neighbors reminiscing with him. He comes to preach his message and to show God's power and love. That is not what the home town people wanted to hear from him. They didn't want to be challenged they wanted to be seen as the reason for his success. He didn't act like they wanted so they rejected him.
Rejection is also the key concern that Jesus has he sends out the disciples. He wants them to travel light and not be burdened with too much expectation. When rejection happens don't let it stick to you, shake it off and move on.
I wonder if Jesus didn't give that advice to himself after Nazareth. Not everyone is going to get it. Don't let it stop you and keep you from God's purpose.
I think there is more here to ponder. Fortunately Sunday is still several days off. I invite your comments and reaction.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I know it's been a while since we've posted here on a regular basis. But we've added some new contributors and revamped the schedule. Here's the new schedule:
Updated Lectionary Blog Schedule
Try your best to post by the Tuesday prior to your assigned Sunday text.
June 28 Anyone who feels like it
July 5 Tom Felts
July 12 Rebecca Bowman Woods
July 19 Dave Clark
July 26 Sharla Hulsey
August 2 Danny Bradfield
August 9 Bill Spangler-Dunning
August 16 Bert Berns
August 23 Andy Beck
August 30 Suzie Moore
September 6 Richard Guentert
September 13 Dennis Sanders
September 20 Dan Mayes
September 27 Brian Kirk
October 4 Bill McConnell
October 11 John Claussen
Sunday, May 24, 2009
This is the Sunday of the Church Year we celebrate Pentecost. The Gospel selection is John 15:26-27, and 16:4b to 15. For the purposes of this blog I want to focus on 16:7, 12-13.
I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. . . . “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; . . . and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
In short, I think this Scripture text points out how Jesus understood the necessity of Aabsenting@ himself from them; but not before he promised them the coming of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit ... the very Apresence@ that would sustain them into an unknown future . . . the very Apresence@ that would help them discern and discover additional truths for their mission that neither he nor God had yet completely revealed to them.
As most of us think back over our faith journey, we can identify family, friends, church folk and pastors who, early-on, taught and mentored us about life. But then they went their way and we went ours. Life’s pathway took them down different avenues and turns in the road – so they no longer walked beside us as we journeyed on! But along the way, we still valued some of those significant life lessons – those “truths” they gave us, and we built upon them; we added to them; we expanded upon them; we used them as foundational footings – but not as hindrances that would restrict us from the exploration and discovery of new truths God had in store for us. As a result we lived our way into some future directions and pathways they could never have imagined.
In other words, we experienced their presence, even in their absence. And while we relished the truths that improved us, we did not allow them to totally impede us!. (And that is what this text is about today). Indeed, the absence of the Teacher was necessary, before those first disciples could begin to put the pieces together most meaningfully for themselves. Jesus had to create in them a sense of His AAbsence,@ before it would fully occur to them, just how fully “present” he continued to be in their lives . . . a presence that was always reassuring, though never suffocatingly stifling.
When I went away to College, I really thought I was getting out from under the watchful eye and the controlling presence of my parents. What I was surprised to discover was how really present they were in my dorm room and classroom with me each day. Their counsel continued to be ever present when I encountered a situation that demanded it. The values they fashioned in me kept cropping up whenever I would try to transgress them. The attitudes they had formed in me would surreptitiously sneak to the fore, just when I least expected them to do so. And the conscience they had created within me was a real Apain in the butt@ ... but in the long-run it safeguarded me from a lot of heartaches. (So, you see, I experienced their presence, even in their absence.)
Years ago I remember hearing Keith Miller talk about all those deceased folk in his life to whom he turned for insight and discernment whenever he faced life=s greatest difficulties. He said he would go to church and sit on the main floor of the sanctuary. But he could re-collect in his mind the image of all his forbearers up in the balcony behind him ... giving him the very advice and encouragement and support he needed all along the way.
And I guess that is just another way of understanding what the writer of Hebrews was calling AThe great cloud of witnesses@ who have gone before. Their Spirit is so absorbed and so incorporated into us that they continue to fuel our identity and our ideals; they continue to impact our personality and our practice; they continue to determine our propensities and our peculiarities. And that=s just the way Jesus said it would be with the work of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit. Instead of pointing them to the old hopes, he patiently directed them to the hope that was on the horizon .... the coming of his own Spirit-like presence that would abide with them forever – the one John called “The Advocate.”
Because there is APresence in the midst of Absence@ Jesus was not misleading us as he said, AWhen the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth!@ With Pentecost, God has provided a means for his continuing revelation – through the work of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit. The activity of the Spirit (the Advocate’s coming) on Pentecost was only the beginning. Throughout the centuries the Christian community has again and again re-experienced the truth of Jesus’ promise: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [But] when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will declare to you the things that are to come.”
So it seems to me that perhaps Jesus’ truth wasn’t yet ALL the truth – since we couldn’t handle it then, he says. And neither are our truths ALL the truth there is. So, as my friend Dr. Jan Linn (pastor at Spirit of Joy Christian Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota) says, “We should speak all the truth we know, without claiming it is all the truth there is.”
The Spirit journeys alongside us and within us – forming and reforming us, shaping and re-shaping us, creating and re-creating us. And God’s revelation continues well into the 21st century.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Here is what I'm going to do. I will share with you some of my thinking at this stage of the game. It is Monday and early in the process of building a sermon and for me that begins with looking at the scripture and letting it speak to me. So I will "think out loud" with you listening in.
The passage I will be looking at is John 20:19-31 and ,wow, I see a lot of things that peek my interest and stir my thinking. Here are some of the those things:
It is the fist day of the week, Easter evening and the disciples are hidden because of fear.Fear of the Jews we are told. but not all Jews, they were Jews. No, they were filled with fear because the authorities might do to them what they did to Jesus. So they are locked away behind closed doors. The Serendipity Bible asks the question, "Have you ever gone to your room and locked the door? Why?"
There seems to be a lot of matched statements and events. The disciples are afraid and Jesus comes to them and gives them peace. Jesus is sending the disciples as he was sent by God. They are warned that they have the power of offering forgiveness or withholding forgiveness. They see and believe and blessed are they who believe and have not seen. This might be an interesting track to pursue.
Another issue that jumps out to me and was mentioned by the New Interpreter's Bible is that while Thomas doubted the report of the disciples of Jesus resurrection, the disciples doubted the report of the women.Lots of doubters. Besides Thomas was only asking for the same evidence that others received. Jesus appears to him when he was with the other disciples a week later. Is this a lesion on missing out when you break fellowship? Jesus appears to him only when he is with the others not alone. Yet there is not criticism of Thomas by Jesus. Just the presentation of the proof asked for. Notice too, that Jesus shows both the disciples and Thomas the scars. The crucified Jesus is also the resurrected Jesus. The commentaries mention that Luke 24:41 tells the reason was to prove that Jesus was not a ghost. It is interesting to note that the disciples rejoice after seeing the scars not when they first see Jesus.
I want to go back to the greeting of "Peace be with you". That seems like a common greeting but it is repeated later. Is it like the toss off phrase we use, "How are you?". It can be asked in a way that dose not expect an answer or when you really want to know, "How are you?" Jesus is not just saying "Hi" He really wants to respond to our fear with the gift of peace.
The concept that keeps drawing me back is the promise that those that have not seen and yet believe will be blessed. That even ties to the way this passage ends. These stories we are told are not everything that happened but these are written that you may believe and by believing you may have life.
Is this the way to faith without seeing? Believing the stories of those who have seen?
These are some of my first thoughts. Sorry they are not more pulled together. Hopefully, and with the Lord's spirit, they will be pulled into a message by Sunday.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
If I were going to write the story of the resurrection, I just don’t think this is how I’d do it. I mean, the story—and most scholars think this is the earliest Easter story we have—ends with a bunch of women, having been told to go tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised, running off terrified and not saying anything to anyone. No one goes and tells anyone anything, and there’s no appearance of the risen Jesus in the story. (It’s almost like someone tore the last page out of the book of Mark—as a matter of fact, in the Greek the text ends in mid-sentence. Did Mark mean it that way, or have we lost the real ending?)
No, I think if I were going to write the story I’d do it more like what’s in the Gospel of Peter, which is one of the many Gospels that were floating around the early church, all but four of which didn’t make the cut when they finally put the Bible together as we have it today:
“…in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; and they saw that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from the sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens” (Gospel of Peter, translated by Raymond Brown).
Yeah, I think that’s how I’d write it, only I think maybe I’d want that giant Jesus to go up to the Romans and the Jewish elders who were there and say, “Hah!”
But this Gospel didn’t make it in. Instead we have Mark’s version, which goes by so suddenly we don’t even have time to ask, “What just happened?” I wasn’t there, and so I don’t know the discussions that might have gone on, but somehow the people who finalized the canon determined that Mark’s Gospel is in and the Gospel of Peter is out. And the whole issue of how they decided what books got in is very interesting, but not really germane on Easter morning, except to say that the fact that Mark’s Resurrection story is in the Bible and the one from the Gospel of Peter isn’t says something important to us.
Now, of course, as we have it today there’s quite a little bit of stuff at the end of Mark after verse 8, where our reading for today ends. There are resurrection appearances in Mark, and a sending out of the disciples. And there’s that troublesome verse that says certain signs will follow those who believe, including the ability to pick up snakes without being harmed. But this longer ending seems to most scholars to have been pieced together from stories in the other three Gospels, and the style of writing isn’t a thing like the rest of the book of Mark. It may have been added much later by Christians who knew the other Gospel stories, and knew that there were eyewitnesses who said they’d seen Jesus after the resurrection (see Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 15, for instance). I think this ending was added by folks who may not have trusted that those who read the Gospel of Mark would get the point he was trying to make by having the story end in mid-sentence, and before anyone had actually seen the risen Christ.
Remember that each one of the Gospels is written for a different place and time and purpose; each of the four Evangelists had a slightly different point to make. Mark’s Gospel, many think, is a training manual of a sort. It conveys the basic outlines of the Gospel story, with a tremendous sense of urgency. Everything in Mark happens “suddenly” or “immediately.” When the story begins, Mark doesn’t devote any time or ink to telling stories of Jesus’ birth—there are no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, no Mary and Joseph, no manger, no star.
First John the Baptist appears in the wilderness (that’s the exact word Mark uses: appeared), and then Jesus comes and gets baptized, and by the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of the Gospel, Jesus is preaching. He calls his first disciples in verses 16-20, and then they’re off and running.
The point of this Gospel might be to get new believers to understand the basic story in a hurry, so they could et to work and be able to make disciples and teach and heal in whatever short time they had before the end-times, or they got arrested, whichever came first. Mark’s resurrection story is equally brief: Jesus died, he was buried, and then on Sunday morning some women came and found the tomb empty.
But the women told no one, and at least in the earliest form of the story, Jesus never appears. So how does it happen that we’re here today, if the story ends with three scared women saying nothing?
Well, it seems that Jesus did appear, because the rest of the Gospels talk about appearances and people who see Jesus—and Paul, as I mentioned, talks about eyewitnesses, and he wrote 1 Corinthians before any of the Gospels, even Mark, were written. But I think even if there hadn’t been resurrection appearances—and I am certain that there were—the story would have spread.
Easter just isn’t something you can keep to yourself—at least, it shouldn’t be. Look: if Christ is really raised from the dead, and churches would be empty on Easter Sunday if those who are there didn’t believe that on some level, then the back of death and sin and evil is broken. And if that’s the case, then what on earth do we have to be afraid of?
Do we have to fear being kept alive by machines or tubes—or do we have to fear those machines and tubes being turned off or disconnected? Do we have to fear the loss of our jobs, our prestige in the community, or even our money? Do we have to fear that if we don’t do something ourselves, our churches or our regions will not be here in 50 years?
If Christ is really raised from the dead, then death is swallowed up in victory, in whatever form that death might take—death of our churches, death of our social status, death of our bodies or our ability to control what happens to our bodies. So let us live as people who have nothing to fear!
This brings us back to the reason Mark’s Gospel, with its abrupt mid-sentence ending, makes it into the Bible where the Gospel of Peter with its mile-high Jesus and walking, talking cross doesn’t: By leaving the story unfinished, Mark is telling us something very important.
Mark begins his Gospel with an introduction: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I suppose he could be saying, “I’m going to start telling you about Jesus now,” but I don’t think that’s what he’s doing. I think he’s introducing the whole book as “the beginning of the good news.” And by ending so abruptly, he’s saying to all who read his Gospel: “Now it’s up to you to be the rest of the story.”
The story began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You’ve been introduced, and you know Jesus came out of the tomb, even though the women initially were afraid to say so. Now keep your eyes open, because the risen Christ will appear to you; you will know his presence in your church and in your life. And when you do, then you get to add your witness to the story that continues from where I left off.
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! He is alive among us here, and as we go out into the world, as people of the Resurrection, we are part of the rest of the story.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I am not preaching this week; however, I do have a few illustrations to offer up in regards to this scripture passage. A few weeks ago, I preached on Matthew's version of this statement. In that sermon I said:
Keeping the church alive is not our mission. That’s not our primary focus. If we put all our efforts into keeping the doors open, the lights on, and keeping enough people in the pews to keep the bills paid, then we’ve become like a sports team that has all but forgotten about the game it is supposed to be playing. If all our efforts go into saving our church’s life, then we will surely lose it, because we’ve already lost our focus. But those who lose their life, those who are willing to give their life away, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of the gospel, will find that their life has been restored.(The full sermon is here.)
Likewise I remember hearing a chaplain at a boy scout camp use an apple to illustrate this scripture: He took the apple and cut it in half. I believe he cut it in half sideways, so that the hidden star was revealed. Then he took out the seeds and asked, "how many seeds are there?" The scouts counted the seeds. Then he said, "If you plant these seeds in the ground, how many apples will they produce?" Of course there is no way of knowing, although it is likely that many, many apples will come from these few seeds. It was a simple, yet effective, object lesson.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
On the way to understanding this text, I think it helps to remember the situation of John’s community, living in the aftermath of the Roman-Jewish war. As Jewish life in this time begins being reconstructed around the synagogue rather than the Temple, John’s community finds itself outside the newly-drawn Jewish social boundaries. Rejected by their fellow Jews as well as the Romans, they begin to see the world as hostile and alien. In their understanding, the world persecutes them just as it persecuted Jesus.
The writer of the gospel senses the angst of his community and fears they are falling apart and that some, if not all, may be tempted to return to their old ways. He illustrates this crisis in the gospel as a crisis of faith: “Do you believe Jesus is the way? Do you trust the things that he taught?” The “I am” statements in John (I am the way, the truth, the life, the gate, the vine, etc) are likely responses to those members of John’s community who are asking “Did we make the right choice? Was Jesus really the one?” John preaches a “realized eschatology” which urges the listener to make a decision for Christ now -- not in the future. Judgement day is an existential experience -- it occurs the moment you meet Christ. Those who step into the light of this moment and choose to ignore it or reject it are already, then, living under the consequences of that decision.
And yet, notice that the real focus of the text is God's love, not God's judgement. Maybe it is our own guilt or knowledge of ourselves that makes us see the words "judgement" and "condemn" and "evil" in big bold letters when what we really need to see is the words "love," "live," and "saved" in this passage. Those are the words that lead to transformation, that lead us out of the darkness, that open our beings to be able to meet and receive Christ in our midst.
Some questions I would consider when reflecting on this text:
1) What do you make of John’s Jesus and his view of the world in this text?
2) How do you react to the counterbalance between judgment and mercy in the text?
3) Think of biblical stories where God’s judgment ultimately resolves into God’s love for the world. What are the theological implications for this motif which repeats itself throughout the biblical texts?
4) The verb pisteuo meaning"to believe/trust" repeats seven times in the text. Five times are present tense (vv. 12, 15, 16, 18, 18). The present tense suggests continual action: "don't stop trusting," "keep on believing." How do you understand the difference between belief and trust? Does such a distinction change the way we read this passage? What do you see as the implications, for John’s community and ours, of belief/trust not as a one time event but as a process leading into the future?
Monday, February 23, 2009
Two of our four lectionary passages this week spotlight the story of Noah and the flood: Genesis 9:8-17 and 1 Peter 3:18-22.
I can seldom approach this ancient story without being reminded of the cartoon which pictures Noah’s Ark beached on the ice of Antarctica. Stranded on the frosty lip of the continent! Marooned aground on this expanse of white ice! Noah’s wife is standing beside him complaining stridently: “I told you that you should have sent forth the dove instead of that stupid penguin!!!” Much humor and wisdom have found their source in this rich story from the Hebrew tradition.
As we approach the text this week, our homiletical consideration needs to move beyond the question of “Did it really happen?” to an affirmation about the “multiple meaty meanings” that are encapsulated in this remarkable tale.
I would quickly acknowledge that some of its wording demonstrates a deficiency of scale. The covenant, according to verse 13 is “between me and the earth.” This raises an intriguing issue. What does it mean to hear this passage in light of a God of the whole universe? Since people of earth will eventually move to populate the planets, does the covenant extend to the reaches of interplanetary space? In order to make application to a people who will ultimately be living in a larger frame of reference, if not actually pioneering new realms beyond planet earth, we 21st century Christians (who know little of existence beyond terra firma ) stand on the verge of having to re-articulate much of our “earth centered” testimony about the nature of faith and the message of Scripture for a new time.
As we re-read this oft-told narrative many other thoughts, questions and concerns come to mind (each of which will shape the way we deal with this foundational text).
>> Is the flood story an abrogation of “the good” of the original creation? Or is the flood story God’s “new strategy” for re-creating a people who are willing to live in an obedient faith relationship with their Creator? Or is it a story that encompasses both of these truths?
>> In the Noah epic God’s creative work appears to have moved from populating the earth afresh, to re-populating the earth all over again. And is there a sense in which the new circumstances of each generation re-present us with this task of re-populating the planet (so to speak) with a fresh incarnation/embodiment of new life and innovative experiences of reconciliation?
>> Whatever the real dimensions of the flood, it covered the whole known world, of its story-teller. The author’s intent was obviously to connote both the dimension of the catastrophe, and the breadth of God’s act of ultimate salvation in the 15th verse of today’s text: “and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
>> This week’s lectionary segment, only part of the larger story, emphasizes the Compassion of God for both the human and the non-human creation.
>> The quality of what occurred in the concluding promise of Noah’s epic is, in many ways, a foretaste of John 3:16 … a portrayal of the kind of God who “so loved the [entire] world.”
>> This passage is ultimately about “covenant.” And covenants, by their very nature, require fresh signs and repetitive affirmations of them.
>> It is not insignificant that this covenant is God-initiated. Verses 9 and 11 both say, “I am establishing my Covenant.”
>> Verse 13 says that it is when the bow is in the clouds that we will be reminded of this covenant promise. In other words, it is in the “stormy” times that remembrance re-occurs. (Parenthetically, I just purchased a new Blackberry Storm …. with a GPS navigator function. My Blackberry, along with this passage, remind me that it is in the midst of the “storm” that I most need navigational assistance.)
>> In this story God seems to be shaping God’s own divine identity around being “a God who remembers covenant.” This engenders the insight that “being created in the image of God carries with it the obligation to be a people who keep on rehearsing/remembering the Covenant Relationship.”
The second lectionary text (I Peter 3:18-22) also depends on knowing the Noah flood epic. It tells us that following Jesus’ crucifixion his resurrected spirit visited those sinful scoffers of Noah’s flood-time warnings. The resurrected Spirit of Jesus “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (verses 19-20).
Many centuries after the flood story, we have again in First Peter the portrayal of a pursuing God’s compassion. Noah’s God is unwilling to let the drowned-deny-ers and the ark-scoffers soak in their sinful consequences. No! With the resurrection of Jesus, our Christ’s Spirit reaches back to rescue and redeem them, each one.
In what seems to be a stretch of “comparative effort gone amuck,” the I Peter text then notes how “eight persons were saved through water” [verse 20], (i.e. riding out the flood in a vessel of salvation, populated by 8 humans and a passel of animals.) And this, says our author, is a “prefiguring” of the Baptism “which saves us” (verse 21).
The waters of Baptism put our minds at ease (i.e. "a good conscience" in verse 21) . . . even as Noah and kin had some peace of mind in riding out the storm and being rewarded by the covenant promises of God. And if such a good outcome came to Noah, how much more can we, who believe in the resurrected Christ, trust in the covenant relationship and look forward to composed minds – tranquil and serene – calm with shalom and benefiting from the serenity of the Spirit?
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I’m drawn to the Elijah/Elisha story because of the chariot of fire. (All the gear-heads will appreciate it if you point out that God is their kindred spirit because God invented such a spectacular vehicle). But the story isn’t really about the chariot or even Elijah’s mystical departure that allows him to be an eschatological figure who returns as John the Baptist and on the mount of Transfiguration.
The story is about transition. Folks kept saying to Elisha, “Don’t you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” I hear echoes in the church halls. “Soon all the ladies who cook the funeral dinners will be gone, then what?” “Don’t you know that the financial resources to the region have nearly dried up?” “Don’t you know that we are we are in dire need of theologically educated younger clergy?
I love Elisha’s response. “Yes, I know; keep silent.” That is “shut up” about the losses we will experience. Turns out that God is still on the job. Be silent and trust that God will provide.
Before Elijah mounts his sweet ride home, Elisha asks him for a double share of his spirit. A bold request! The spirit of Elijah carries on in his successor—God provides! During the ordination service in the United Methodist Church, candidates about to be ordained ask the retiring pastors for a double share of their spirit. At that point the retirees present the new pastors with a clergy stole—just like Elijah handing off the mantle. It’s a powerful service.
I’m wondering if there might be a way to incorporate something of that service into a Transfiguration service where an older generation will give a symbol of blessing to the younger folks. Before you object and say that the older folks still have a ministry too, I say, “Yes I know; be silent.” All who remain on this side of glory have ministry to do—that is our inheritance from Christ.
Ankeny Christian Church
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I've chosen the Hebrew Bible reading this week because it deals with some things we all struggle with from time to time, things that may be of particular importance to our congregations during our current societal struggles.
In this story, Na'aman, a military commander of the Aramean army, has had great success; success which is credited to the God of Israel interestingly enough. But Na'aman also develops a skin disease which bothers him terribly. He has at his disposal an Israelite slave girl who seeks the best of her master and her master's husband. The slave girl hints that the prophet in Samaria could heal him.
Na'aman seeks out this prophet. Thinking that he's a royal court prophet, Na'aman sends lavish gifts (which we find are later rejected). And he sends a letter to the (here) unnamed king of Israel. The king misunderstands the letter as provocation for war, and so the prophet Elisha has to step in and clear up the matter.
Na'aman goes to Elisha, who tells him simply to wash seven times in the Jordan river. Na'aman is insulted by such a simplistic prescription. (He also doesn't understand that Elisha's direction comes from Yahweh, not from himself.) And so he storms away. But his servants wisely calm him down, get him to follow Elisha's instructions, and he is healed.
Now there are a few different possible hermeneutical possibilities with this text. Let's explore two of them here:
The Power of the Word of Yahweh vs. The Established Human Power
It's important to note that the king of Israel is unnamed. (See note below) Further, he lacks wisdom and insight into critical problem-solving. When Elisha goes and presents a solution, it's almost done in an in-your-face way to the king..."Let him...learn that there is a prophet..." The writer of Kings is setting up a conflict between the Word of Yahweh and the established, but inneffective king. In preaching, this could be explored under our current national/global context. Many people are now looking to their government(s) for help and rescue. But just like the unnamed king, our government(s) are often inneffective and unhelpful. The direction and provision of Yahweh is what should be trusted.
Note: It is likely the king of Israel is either Jehoram or Jehosephat...or possibly even both as they reigned together as father and son for five years before Jehoram completely took the reigns. But it is certainly intentional that he is here only referred to as "the king of Israel."
The Human Desire For Dramatic Actions
Na'aman was desperate for healing. And his actions speak of his desperation. Although his military victories are attributed to Yahweh, he doesn't really know Yahweh's character or expectations. When he goes to Elisha he's expecting some kind of big, showy, dramatic miracle. He's expecting pyrotechnics and chants and all sorts of business. But Elisha's prescription is simple and uncomplicated. We often look to God for great miracles. Whether we've lost our job, broken up our marriage, or like Na'aman acquired a disease or illness, we often expect a big showy miracle, an all-at-once solution, fire and smoke and lights. But often our healing, our restoration, our transformation, our solution, comes in following God's word faithfully, even in the things that seem simple, ordinary, and uncomplicated.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Sometimes with texts like these this week I have to first note the things that bother me or get in the way of hearing the gospel in between the words. So I like Marks story that seems to continue the previous stories attempting to prove that Jesus really is of authority and worth listening to by all. He both wants to be known by the hearers but seemingly wants to keep the Demons quiet about who he really is in this world. I guess that is what bothers me in this text... both the mix message and the whole link to "these demons." What or who are the demons? Are they just metaphores for the evil in our world or do they refer to those people we know are negative and hate all good in this world. Whatever it is that is meant it seems in this story its just a forshadow for things to come. Almost to let us know that there is something else coming in the story that we should keep watching for or in this case keep reading.
However, if we allow this to be a forshadow of things to come, then the basic story is that of another tale in which Jesus touches someone and they are healed. Sounds like a simple message and hardly worth a sermon but perhaps there is more. One could see this as a Jesus healing story and that would be true but it seems that it is also about the fact that as Jesus connects, touches or just meets someone they want to touch, connect or serve others. I think this is the message worth preaching on this week.
However, I saw this sermon in a movie a few weeks back. The movie was WALLe. It was about a robot whose whole job was to clean up after the mess we human beings created on earth. You will have to see the movie but in the end Walle is Jesus. He is the savior for all humanity! However, the way the story and Walle weave in an out of other robot's and people's lives you can see those individuals change. As Walle touches them, talks to them, or sometimes just as they watch Walle interact with others around them these people/robots are changed. They are changed in that they see things and people/robots that they never saw! They are changed because now they want to help others as Walle does for them.
Sure this text from Mark may well be just a little story to prove that Jesus has authority and power but I think it is more. It is about the way he will be our savior and in turn I believe how we should help heal others as well through our connections and relationships with them.
As far as the 1 Cor passage I think there is a link here as well. Paul sometimes seems to like to hear himself talk in nice flowery confusing spiritual language. Im not even sure I would like Paul if I met him and in truth I have met some people like him who seem to be all spiritual in the way they talk to others about everyday things. You know the kind who when you ask them to pass the butter they spend 5 minutes telling you how butter is like God in that it... well you know. However, Paul reveals to the reader that he sees himself as one who has been changed and therefore can do nothing else but pass the change on to others. He expresses this in that he is willing to be anything and go anywhere just to bring the goodnews he experienced to others. He is simply passing on what he has learned to the next generation. Paul was one of those people touched by (even if it was not directly) by Christ and he is now changed to the point that whoever he comes in contact with he changes them for the better. Its a big game of dominoes or like the movie WALLe -- when we experience love and acceptance we simply and wholistically want to pass it on to the next person.
Those are my thoughts on two of our texts for Sunday I hope it helps in your reflections this week.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”(Emphasis mine)
So this week, like every other week, we prepare to preach, to speak God's word to God's people. We are called to be prophets and it is a high and holy calling. We are not called to speak my word to God's people. We are not called to speak about the latest idea that has come rolling down the road. We have not been called to drag out and ride our hobby horses in front of the congregation. We have not been called to share our amazing wisdom or our profound opinions. We have been called to do much more than that.
Our greatest challenge as pastors and as church leaders is to discover what God is saying and where God is leading. Unfortunately most of us are smart enough to do an adequate job at preaching and running a church without God's direction. Just as unfortunately, we would be doing just that, an adequate job. Instead we are charged with spending time in prayer, meditation and study to connect with God and find what He has to say about and to the church. Frankly (Or Billy) I would find it much easier to just do it myself.
Doing it myself would be easier. But it would not be better. Sad to say, I find doing things like prayer and meditation are difficult for me. Listening for and hearing God is a huge challenge. But it is what I am called to do. And I find the Scripture in Deuteronomy to be VERY MOTIVATING.
So, as you and I prepare to speak to God's people this week, let's get the message right. How about making this Sunday's sermon a sermon NOT to die for.
Copyright (c) 2009, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved