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lost in wonder . . .


Though the final phrase of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t in the oldest manuscripts, and when it is the words only show up in Matthew’s version, it has been part of the prayer that gets repeated so often for centuries, even millennia, which makes it worth considering. Here’s the sermon from this week.


We have been together long enough that we have begun to form patterns, ways of being. One of those is that Aren and I try to work at least a week ahead on shaping the order of service so that he doesn’t feel rushed with his limited time in the office. One of the implications of that is I choose scripture well ahead of preparing my sermon. Whey we are following the lectionary, it is not as big a deal, but with our series this summer I have tried to pick companion passages and sometimes they don’t match up quite the way I had imagined when I get to my sermon.

That is the long way of saying the scripture printed for this morning is not the one I am going to read, though the verses from Jude are good words. Instead, I want to read from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The verses—chapter 2:5-11—were not original to Paul. He was quoting a hymn that everyone knew; he might have even sung it had he been there in person—and assuming he could sing. As we contemplate the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer (For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever), listen first to these words:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and by becoming human. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.

May God grant us wisdom and understanding of this passage.

Ginger and I had occasion to drive to Rhode Island last week and as we returned, we passed the sign that welcomed us back to Connecticut. Across the bottom of the sign was written “Ned Lamont, Governor.” Governor Lamont is following a long-standing tradition that happens in most every state, I suppose, of putting your name on every sign you can so that people don’t forget who holds the highest office in the state.

I have often wondered how much money it takes to change the names on all the signs when a new governor is elected. I also imagine that on some back road somewhere is a sign that still has Lowell Weiker or John Rowland’s name across the bottom even though they are long gone from office.

It feels like a lot of work just to make sure we don’t forget who holds the highest office in the state. It’s a small example of the reality that most people in power generally do what they need to do to stay in power. That reality makes it difficult for us to get to the heart of the closing line of the prayer because it contains the words kingdom, power, and glory and most of the images that come to mind when we hear those words aren’t necessarily what we are praying for, or they skew our image of who God is.

Jesus was born on the edge of the Roman Empire. Palestine was an occupied land with layers of power an oppression. The God of the Jews was a threat to the emperor, who saw himself as a deity. Jesus’ gospel took it even further. The gospel writers underline his ability to disquiet those around him by saying “he spoke with authority” in contrast to the brazen political power that was doing so much damage. The emperor and his henchmen put their name on everything, even stuff that didn’t belong to them.

To say, “Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” was doing more than ending the prayer with compliments for God. It was turning the world upside down. If you look in your worship guide at the version of the prayer we are praying this morning that is written by Manny Santiago, you will see a different phrasing that offers a different image of God’s realm. Look with me.

For ours are the eternal blessings that you pour upon the earth.

How can kingdoms and power be about blessings?

I’m glad I asked. Let’s tske a look at each of the words.

Thanks to everything from Game of Thrones to the Chronicles of Narnia to several centuries of European history, we tend to think, of kingdoms in terms of military power and conquest, but the oldest roots of the word are connected to kin, which carries a sense of family, of connectedness.

The Aramaic roots of the word carry a planting image: a field fertile and abundant, one sufficient to produce everything. A kingdom was about more than conquest; it was about providing a place to nurture those who lived in community.

The Greek word for power is the root of our word dynamic, which implies movement, energy, and change. The Aramaic word refers to the life force or energy that produces and sustains. It is relational power—the energy, the Spirit that holds everything together—rather than unilateral domination. Though we may not always name it as power, we know it in our lives.

When I try to picture this kind of power, the first person who comes to mind is Rosa Parks, who demonstrated relational power when she sat down on the bus, not just because of her courage but because she did not act on her own. She held her seat empowered by those who had planned with her and who were ready to implement the Montgomery Bus Boycott that changed not just that city but our country.

It’s also the kind of power we demonstrate when we show up for each other in times of difficulty and tragedy. It doesn’t mean everything always turns out the way we want, but it means we stick together. We hold each other up.

In the passage we read from Philippians, Paul said that Jesus sense of power was such that “he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.” Instead, he poured himself into others, into relationships. He lived the power of love.

As we talk about glory, I wish I had a big screen that could show pictures from the James Webb Telescope, because it is a cosmic word and, according to theologian Neil Douglas-Klotz, a musical one. The Aramaic word, he says, “may be translated as ‘glory’ but calls for more exactly the image of a “song”—a glorious harmony returning divine light and sound to matter in equilibrium. The roots of the word also present the picture of a ‘generative fire that leads to astonishment.’”

I love that phrase: the generative fire that leads to astonishment. God is the Source that feeds our sense of wonder, amazement, and imagination.

I read earlier in the summer that scientists have found that the universe as an “ambient hum.” The universe is humming. The writer of “This Is My Father’s World” had it right:

all nature sings
and round me rings
the music of the spheres.

We are invited to join in with the whole universe in a cosmic song of praise that sums up the whole prayer we have been talking about.

We have prayed that we would be reminded that God is the Center, the Source, the Priority of the Universe; that God’s dream for all of creation would be our dream; that in the economy of God all would be fed and nurtured; that forgiveness would flow freely among us; that we would be defined by our togetherness rather than by tragedy or temptation; and then these closing words sum it all up: God is the source of our growth, the heart of our relationships, and the melody of our imaginations.

Jesus’ instructions about prayer fell in the middle of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. In his words that follow, he talked about how to live in a way that demonstrated trust in God’s power and love. As we noted, he was speaking to people living under an occupation of power and oppression. They had mostly experienced power as a closed fist; Jesus described God’s power as an outgrowth of God’s love.

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet God feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of small faith?”

Perhaps that last question might be read as, “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it is alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown in the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of limited imagination?”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but God’s love endures forever. How long is that? When those in Palestine heard the word we translate as “forever,” they heard it as “from age to age,” or as one commentator put it, “from gathering to gathering.” Forever is kind of an abstraction, whereas “from age to age” says God’s presence and power travel with us from one place to the next, from one time to the next, putting God’s Spirit right smack in the middle of our daily existence.

This is not theoretical; this is real: God imagined all of creation into existence and has lit in our hearts the generative fire that ignites astonishment, if we are willing to let the wind of the Spirit bring us to life so that our words and actions can embody our trust that nothing can separate us from the love of God because God’s realm, God’s melody, and God’s imaginative Spirit are with us from age to age, from gathering to gathering, from day to day. Amen.





it doesn’t have to be a
sudden death shoot out for
the little things to matter

horse shoe nails go missing long
before kingdoms start falling
we miss most of the might have beens

and play on unaware of
all the almosts that roll by
disguised as incidentals

to see them all might be more
awareness than we could take
when ‘it all comes down to this’

it’s hard to remember that
life is a contagion of
circumstance and choices

you win some and you lose more
it would be nice if there were
more comfort in ‘we came close’

the best we can do is let
the world end for a moment
I mean world’s end every day

let’s take that seriously
and remember that almost
all of us will live through it


beyond ourselves


We are down to the next to last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, which is the one about temptation and evil, so easy stuff to describe. Here’s what I had to say.


When you watch a series on television, whether on a network or one of the streaming services, the episode often begins with a recap—“Previously on . . . whatever the show is—and then it goes on to the new stuff. Even though you have seen all of the other episodes, it is helpful to get a quick review to get your back in the rhythm of the story.

In that spirit, I will begin this morning with, “Previously in our series on the Lord’s Prayer,” mostly because I have learned as I have worked on these sermons that the phrases build on each other and are best understood in that relationship.

The whole prayer begins with the word “our,” which means we are praying together, that the whole thing rolls out in the context of relationships. Jesus told us to pray that we would grasp that God was the Center of Everything, and that God’s will—God’s intent that all of creation would flourish in relationship with one another—would be a reality in our world just as God dreamed it, which implies that we are willing to live our lives in such a way to help that happen—and that takes us to the next phrases about bread and forgiveness, as well as our phrases for today—”lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”—which are all how we live together.

The words are familiar and roll off our tongues, but what do we mean by temptation? What do we mean by evil? I’m not sure we would find standard definitions for either word if we had time to go around the room this morning and hear from everybody. Though I am the one doing the talking for the next several minutes, I hope the definitions I offer will lead to further discussion.

One of the things that struck me this week is that this phrase of the prayer is stated as a negative: lead us not into temptation. We are asking God not to do something. It reminded me of a sermon Ginger once preached on the Ten Commandments where she rephrased them as positive charges rather than negative ones. Instead of “You shall not kill,” for instance, she talked about how we foster life; “Don’t steal” might be better grasped if we said, “Be content with what you have,” or even, “Be generous.”

The version of the prayer from The Message that we used today says, “Keep us safe from ourselves.” That’s pretty good, for a couple of reasons. One is that God is not the one who tempts us. When we pray “lead us not” it can sound like we think God would intentionally do so and we are asking for God to change course. That’s not it. Theologian Neil Douglas-Klotz describes temptation as “a failure to look deeper when the situation calls for it.” Taking not so much the easy way out, but perhaps the less examined way. Temptation, in the context of relationships, means choosing what feels good for me without seriously considering the relational repercussions. A positive rendering of the prayer might be, “Help us to see beyond ourselves.”

We read the account of Jesus’ temptations this morning as a companion to our study. His choices revolved around food, control, and security. None of those is bad in and of themselves. In each case, the temptation was to make choices that made the world better for him regardless of what his choices meant to anyone else. I don’t think there is a way around that kind of temptation. Even though the gospel writers talk about Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted, he had to stare down those same temptations almost every day of his life. He never allowed himself the luxury of not looking deeper into the lives of those around him.

I spent several years working as a youth minister, and in that role one of my least favorite things was a lock-in. If you don’t know what that is, the name pretty much describes it: you lock everybody in one room—usually a gym or the like—for the night. I’m not sure who invented the idea, but I can tell you it sounds better than it is; it is exhausting. I was committed to not doing them.

One day a group of high school seniors came to me and asked me to plan a lock-in for New Year’s Eve. One of them summed it up: “Our options are to go to parties where everyone is drinking or to stay home. Give us another option,” which was her own way of asking to not be led into temptation and asking me to do more than take care of myself.

Our New Year’s Eve Lock-In became an annual event because I was asked to see beyond my own inconvenience and help others stay true to themselves and who they wanted to be. It also led me to be more creative. Instead of staying in one room all night, I rented a city bus that took us around town, and we spent a couple hours each at a bowling alley and a mini golf place, and then came back to the church to watch a movie and eat Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. I learned to love that night because it called me beyond myself and my temptation to choose rest over relationship. We had a New Year’s Lock-In every year I was there.

If temptation is a difficult word to define, it looks easy when compared to evil. It is cliché to point out that evil is live spelled backwards, but that does feed into what we have already said about the centrality of relationships. We might say evil is anything that fosters something other than life, other than relationships. At the same time, we must remember that evil and difficult are not synonyms. The circumstances of our lives can be brutal, but that doesn’t mean we are being besieged by evil. To ask to be kept at a distance from evil is asking for more than a pain-free existence.

Life is difficult. Life is painful. Life is often unpredictable. None of those things is necessarily evil. The pain caused by the gall stone that led to my emergency surgery a few months back, and even the dead gall bladder they found inside me when they operated were not evil. Nothing sinister was at work. Sometimes our bodies fail us, or they succumb to disease, but illness is not evil in and of itself.

Evil actions destroy our humanity, both for those on whom it is inflicted and those who inflict it. The Greek word translated as deliver carries the idea of being dragged out of trouble. The image I have is of being carried from a burning building by a firefighter. A rescue. That image takes me back to the stories around the Marathon Bombing in Boston where people noticed those who ran toward the blast when they heard it rather than away from the chaos so they could help others get to safety. In both examples, we need to see ourselves not only as those in need of rescue but also as those capable of carrying others out of the fray.

I like the way Neil Douglas-Klotz rephrases the lines about temptation and evil: “Don’t let us be deluded by the surface of life, but neither let us become so inward and self-absorbed that we cannot act simply and humanly at the right time.” Those words also make me think of another theologian, Mr. Rogers who told people to “look for the helpers” in times of crisis.

As I have said before, life and faith are team sports, not individual events. The temptation to get what I deserve and to do all I can to make my life easier is one we have to stare down daily. Our prayer is to be reminded that we are integral to one another, that we cannot survive without each other. Love is stronger than temptation and evil, if we are willing to look beyond the surface of life and dig down into the connections that God created from the beginning.

It is that connection that takes us to the Communion Table. When Jesus shared the bread and wine with his disciples, it was not so he could make all the tough stuff go away. He knew those who wanted him executed were going to be able to kill him. He knew that most of those around the table with him had no idea what was about to happen. Instead of running away he served his followers and talked about how much he loved them. That love—Jesus’ refusal to give in to the temptation and the evil around him—is what we celebrate as we gather today with all that wears us down in our lives alongside of all that is good.

May we be people who are not deluded by the surface of life but are committed to digging deeper in our relationships with God and with one another so those around us can find their way to love. Amen.


I think it’s about . . .


On the way to church Sunday I listened to Don Henley singing “Heart of the Matter” because I was preaching on forgiveness—the line in the Lord’s Prayer about sins or debts or trespasses. I ended up adding the lyrics to the end of my sermon. I also listened to the Lyle Lovett song I had already planned to mention, “God Will,” which has a different take on the idea. Ultimately, I think Henley is spot on: it’s about forgiveness.


One of the challenges of preaching is deciding how much of the story to tell, or perhaps I should say how much of it to read. Wherever we start in the Bible, we are starting in the middle of the story. The context is larger than the passage we read. This morning, for example, we split one long reading into two rather than read two different passages because I wanted you to get a fuller picture, and even then, we are still picking up the story in the middle of the action.

The translators divided the Bible into chapters and verses, which helps when we need to find something in particular, but it gives a false sense of order. Sometimes verses begin in the middle of a sentence or a thought, and much of the time a new chapter begins in the middle of a story, leaving us to think things are less connected than they are.

Matthew 18 begins with a question I think is worth noting, even though we didn’t read it this morning. Verse one says,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

It was a question the disciples asked more than once even though they walked with Jesus everyday as he talked about loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. They watched the way he listened and loved people, they heard him talk about living with compassion and humility—and still, when they had a chance to ask a question they wanted to know who was going to be first in line.

It makes me think of a t-shirt I saw one time that said, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”

Jesus answered by calling a child to come to him and then he said,

“I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Then he told the parable about the shepherd leaving all of his flock in their pen so he could go and look for the one sheep who had gotten lost, which led into the section we read about being intentional to keep our relationships with each other current and constructive and forgiving one another four hundred and ninety times, and then to the parable about the ruler who forgave a huge debt only to see the forgiven one show no mercy at all to another who owed him pocket change.

Like I said, it’s hard to know how much of the story to tell.

This morning, let’s start with what someone called to First Rule of Theology: “There is a God and it’s not me.” It’s a statement of appropriate insignificance: I’m not the center of the universe. But there’s more than one way to think about it. Lyle Lovett sings:

who keeps on trusting you when you’ve been cheating
and spending your nights on the town
who keeps on saying that he still wants you
when you’re through running around
and who keeps on loving you when you’ve been lying
saying things ain’t what they seem

God does but I don’t
God will but I won’t
and that’s the difference between God and me

“There is a God and it’s not me” is drawing a different distinction. It’s a good paraphrase of the first line of the Lord’s Prayer actually—another way of hallowing God’s name. It even ties in with the next line—our request that the love of God would be as pervasive and visible on earth as it is in heaven. When we start by affirming that God is the Ultimate Priority of all creation—our Creator, our Center, the One to whom we owe our very existence, the One who calls us into relationship—then the reality that all of us—and by us, I mean every living thing—have small parts to play in the grand scheme of things. It matters that we are here, but we don’t matter more than anyone else.

Yes, Jesus said God knows every hair on our heads (which is a bit more of a challenge for some than others), and Jesus also said that God knows when a sparrow falls from its nest. God counts both feathers and hairs as appropriately insignificant. We are all wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved and so is every living thing. We are vital participants in creation, but God is the center, the source.

There is a God and it is not us—which brings us to forgiveness.

“Forgive us our sins (or debts or trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (or trespass) against us (our debtors).”

This sentence is the one with the most options, when it comes to church traditions. In my church life, I have been in churches that used all three words, mostly because that is the way the prayer had been handed down to them.

The word trespass entered the prayer thanks to William Tyndale’s translation in 1525. In his day, the word carried a sense of transgression or wrongdoing that is not a part of the way we use the word today, other than in the Lord’s Prayer. Debt came into English around the same time as trespass and has continued to carry the idea of both a financial obligation and a wrongdoing. Sin is the oldest of the three words and it has always meant pretty much the same thing.

Without wearing you out with language stories, it’s worth noting that Matthew and Luke use different Greek words for sin in their versions of the prayer. Maybe the takeaway should be in the course of human history we have figured out lots of ways to do damage to one another. Whether it is a sin, a debt, or a trespass—how do we forgive?

So, for a minute, let’s leave those words out and listen to the sentence: “Forgive us as we forgive others,” and as we do, I want you to notice the preposition: as. We can take that little word in several directions:

forgive us in the same way we forgive others;
forgive us while we are forgiving others;
forgive us provided that we forgive others;
forgive us because we forgive others.

When we look at the parable, it seems the ruler forgave the debt of the servant without any preconditions, but when he heard that the servant had not shown the same compassion to the one who owed him money, the ruler reconsidered.

It’s important to remember that a parable is not an allegory where every character lines up with someone in real life. The story is not as simple as God is the ruler and we are the one who had his debt forgiven. The meaning runs deeper than that. Sometimes, we may be the ruler; we may be the one who has the chance to show gratuitous grace to someone else, to forgive a debt to one who feels overwhelmed by what they owe. It doesn’t happen every day, but we all have the power to forgive.

Sometimes, we are the one who had their debt forgiven. We get a fresh start, but not because we earned it. Again, it doesn’t happen every day, but those “resurrection stories” can be life changing.

Then, as hard as it is to admit, sometimes we are that same person who holds on to what we feel is due to us so tightly that we can’t see beyond ourselves. We make our satisfaction our priority. We choose to turn a relationship into a transaction that puts us as the center of it all, that makes us the priority: you owe me and you have to pay now.

But we can’t live like that. We can survive—maybe—but we can’t flourish. Again, by we, I mean every last one of us. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”

The only way we truly understand forgiveness is by passing it along, by doing unto others as God as done for us, so we pray, “Forgive us our sins, debts, and trespasses so that we can show our gratitude and our grasp of our place in the world by forgiving others.”

Forgive us when we decide we are the center, when forget there is a God and it is not us.

As I have said before, if you or someone you know is in an abusive or damaging relationship, Jesus was not saying you have to stay there. Forgiveness does not mean agreeing to be victimized or traumatized by someone else. Forgiveness from afar is not the same as trust.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting. We all live with scars. Healing does not always mean there is no trace of the injury. What it does mean is to keep things in perspective, to remember we are not the center of the universe. We are significant specks in a universe that is a wondrous web of relationships. When we forgive one another of our sins and debts and trespasses, we create life, we create possibilities because we foster our relationships with one another. When we receive forgiveness, we foster our connectedness as well.

So, let me ask this question: what has been unforgiveable in your life? What are you holding that needs to be released, that needs to be forgiven in the same way that God forgives you?

As we hold those hurts, perhaps we can begin by reminding ourselves that violence is never a solution for violence. Nothing is solved by striking back. Our woundedness will not be healed by inflicting other wounds. There is no such thing as redemptive violence or compassionate revenge. Forgiveness breaks the vicious circle that destroys relationships. Forgiveness creates possibilities of living beyond things that feel insurmountable. Forgiveness is a tangible way of choosing relationship, of choosing one another, of saying, “You are more important to me than my feeling like I got even.” Forgiveness is how we stay alive in this world, how we remember we are all in this together.

As one of my favorite hymn writers, Don Henley, sings,

I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter
but I think it’s about forgiveness . . . Amen.


PS—I might as well let you sing along . . .

give us this day . . .


We made it to the daily bread this week in my series on the Lord’s Prayer. To aid our thinking, we read the story of the manna God provided for the Hebrew people (Exodus 16:9-21) and the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17). In putting the sermon together, my mental travels took me to Morocco, Dallas, and back to Hamden. No matter where we are, we hunger.


Several years ago, Ginger, our friend Jay, and I had the chance to go to Morocco. It was an amazing trip. One of the places we visited was the city of Fes, which sits at the base of the Atlas Mountains in the center of the country. It is an ancient city; it was founded in 789 and the university there, which is still educating students, began in the late 800s.

As we walked through the narrow streets of the old city, we came upon a neighborhood oven. It was wood burning, like some of our favorite pizza places (I mean apizza places), and one man was there baking bread. Next to him was a huge wooden rack where he placed the loaves, but they were not his loaves to sell. The people in the neighborhood brought their unbaked loaves each morning and then came back in the afternoon and picked them up. Their houses were too small and the general temperature too hot for them to bake at home, so the neighborhood baker did it for them. Our guide told us stories about bringing his mother’s bread to that very baker on his way to school. The historical marker on the wall of the bakery said that oven had been working since the 1200s.

As I watched him work, I imagined the women rising early in their kitchens to prepare the dough, which meant being up early enough to knead the dough and let it rise, and then sending it to the oven with their children, where it proofed on the shelf until it was time to go in the oven. Then it went back on the shelf until the kids picked it up and took it home for the family meal. It truly was daily bread—and it took a lot of time and effort.

When we pray, “Give us our daily bread,” I think of those who shaped the loaves and that man who pulled the fresh bread from that hot oven and I am mindful that the roots of those words are sunk deep in the awareness that it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare food every day. We live in a time and place where meals are much more convenient than has been true for most of human history. Even today, most of the world lives more like the folks in Fes, making what they need each day rather than being able to swing into Stop and Shop and grab what we need.

But neither the bread not the dailiness of it are the most crucial part of the prayer. The heart of the prayer lies in the pronoun: us. Give us our daily bread. Not me. Us. I am not simply praying that I will not go hungry, I am praying that there will be enough for everyone.

Let’s remember, first, how we got to this point in the prayer. We have asked that God would make us mindful that God is the Universal Priority, the one who both imagined all of creation and holds it together. Then we prayed that God’s will—God’s intent that all of creation would flourish in relationship with one another—would be a reality in our world just as God dreamed it. And now we are praying that everyone of us would be nourished daily.

Last week we sang the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which has one of my favorite lines: “Morning by morning new mercies I see.” The person who wrote that hymn had in mind the story we read earlier about God raining bread on the Hebrew people in the wilderness “morning by morning,” offering them new mercies to see. The only instruction they were given was to take what they needed for the day and no more. To follow those instructions meant they had to trust God that they had enough, and they had to have an awareness of those around them, that they weren’t the only ones who needed to eat.

Our gospel passage was the story most of us know as the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which makes it sound like Jesus ran an amazing catering service, but the event was not that planned. Once again, it was a bunch of hungry people in the wilderness. They were not quite as isolated as the folks in the earlier story, nor had they been there as long, but they had been following after Jesus for most of what appears to have been a pretty hot day and Jesus could tell people were hungry, so he told the disciples to feed them.

The disciples were frustrated by his request because they were in the middle of nowhere and they were not workers in the food industry. All they were able to find was one boy with a sack lunch of bread and fish. Jesus divided the crowd into groups of fifty and had them sit down together. Then he blessed what food they had, and the disciples began to distribute it. Luke doesn’t give us many details about how the dinner went down, other than to say everyone ate and they had twelve baskets of leftovers.

I am convinced that a big part of what happened was that those who had food and were keeping it for themselves began to share with those in their group once the disciples started passing out food. People began to realize they were part of an us rather than just a me. When people shared, they had more than enough. They fed everyone.

Hear me clearly. I am not saying it wasn’t a miracle. I think that is the miracle. Our world would be transformed if we truly lived into the reality that we are all connected and there is enough to go around.

Many years ago, I belonged to a church in Dallas, Texas. One of their traditions was a Wednesday night meal and prayer service. One Wednesday, as a part of a world hunger awareness emphasis, we had a Hunger Meal, which meant before we got to the serving line, we had to draw a ticket that was marked with an indicator of what we would eat. The meals were divided into those who simply got some rice, those who got rice and beans, and those who got rice, beans, ham, and cornbread. The percentages of who got what meal were based on the percentages of who goes hungry in our world, so most of us got rice, a few less got rice and beans, and only a handful got a full meal.

I sat down at a table where one man was being quite vocal about being cheated out of his midweek dinner because he only had rice. Others at the table tried to explain, but he wasn’t having it. About that time, a kid who was seven or eight sat down next to him. The boy had the full meal. The man got quiet. The boy, who knew nothing of the man’s complaints, looked at his plate and said, “You hardly got anything to eat. Take some of mine.”

No one else had to say a thing.

Perhaps a paraphrase of “give us our daily bread” might be “teach us to share.” The root of our English word companion means “with bread,” which speaks a deep truth. God created us to live in relationship. We don’t begin as individuals and then figure out how to connect, we are born connected—first, to our birth mothers, and then to our families–and then learn who we are as our connections grow to include others We are created for companionship. God’s will is for us to feed one another, to nourish one another—and that is not just figurative language. We are called to make sure we—in the largest sense of that word—have enough to eat.

As we think about these words we say every week, let us also think about who in Hamden isn’t getting daily bread and how we can be companions. What are the things, the people, the organizations that keep us connected and feeding one another?

At our deacon’s dinner last Thursday night, Lisa and Nancy told Ginger about their quilting and how that connect with veterans of our community. The prayer shawls offer another tangible means of connection with people who are hungering to know they are not alone. Many of us ate well this week because of the vegetables that Anna and Bill share so generously from their garden. We lots of other people we could name who are making daily bread for those around them.

How do we deepen the connections between those of us in this congregation and those of us outside of these walls so that we not only pray the words that Jesus modeled for us, but we can also be part of the answer to the prayer. As we go from worship to share coffee and snacks—our weekly bread—may we keep dreaming together about how we can be a part of taking care of all of us. Amen.


my old man


I was driving home from church on Sunday when a song crossed my mind I had not thought of in a long time.

“Hey, Siri,” I said, “play ‘My Old Man’ by Steve Goodman.”

She repeated my request and the song began. The version I have is from a live album, so it started with Steve talking about his dad and then saying he wrote the song after he died. Then he began picking his guitar and singing.

I miss my old man tonight
and I wish he was here with me
with his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
he could look you in the eye and sell you a car
that’s not an easy thing to do
but no one ever knew a more charming creature
on this earth than my old man

Our fathers were not that similar, as you will see if you listen to the whole song, but I find resonance in Goodman’s grief. I, too, miss my old man tonight, and I have in particular over the past few days because (as I realized driving home on Sunday) it was during these last days of July ten years ago that Dad suffered the strokes that eventually killed him. He died on August 3, 2013.

It was not random that the song came to mind as I worked my way home.

Dad and Steve Goodman had their own connection. My father loved “You Never Even Call Me by My Name,” a song Steve wrote with John Prine, though my father knew the David Allan Coe version. He kept the CD cued up in his car and listened to the song over and over.

(A brief aside: Goodman also wrote “The City of New Orleans,” “Banana Republics,” and–if you’ve ever been at Wrigley Field when the Cubs have won–“Go, Cubs, Go.” He died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36.)

I was in my late thirties before my father and I began to figure out how to talk to each other. I credit Ginger with being the one who gave me a way to move beyond the stalemate that existed, but that’s a longer story for another time. For reasons I don’t know, as our phone conversations grew more frequent and affectionate, I called him Pop, which I had never done growing up and I don’t know that it was something I did face to face, but when I picked up the phone I said, “Hi, Pop.”

Perhaps I needed a new name for a fresh chapter in our relationship. That chapter lasted over two decades before he died. I am grateful. I thought of the way we found each other as Goodman sang,

and oh the fights we had
when my brother and I got him mad
he’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout
and I knew what was coming so I tuned him out
and now the old man’s gone, and I’d give all I own
to hear what he said when I wasn’t listening
to my old man

Eva Meijer writes,

Memories are much more fluid than data, more tangible too. Perhaps stories are a better metaphor for memories. Stories also change over time, and because of who tells them; stories that people tell themselves and others change with them. And they change us too, whether they’re our own stories, or those of others.

If he were alive, we would both be setting our alarms to wake up at 3 am to watch the Zambian women play their first World Cup game, or maybe we would record it and watch it together (by phone) over breakfast. That the competition falls over these weeks is serendipitous for me as I remember him.

I miss the old man tonight
and I can almost see his face
he was always trying to watch his weight
and his heart only made it to fifty-eight
for the first time since he died
late last night I cried
I wondered when I was gonna do that
for my old man


mercy drops


mercy drops

who knows why old hymns
rise to the surface
but I found myself
singing about showers
of blessing for no
apparent reason
other than the rain
hitting my windshield
wipers keeping time
until I got stuck on
two words mercy drops
I almost stopped and
ran under the rain
hoping to be drenched
in kindness and love

then I heard the words
in a different way
mercy as a noun
not an adjective
something to be dropped
like a new record
hoping to be heard
or a pan full of
chicken that turns the
kitchen floor into
a schnauzer buffet
sometimes on purpose
and by accident
you hold a handful
until mercy drops

in a world full of
flooding and monsoons
maybe mercy needs
a new metaphor
say mercy drops in
like a friend who risks
asking forgiveness
and not permission
because they know the
weather of our hearts
droughts and depressions
and somehow I’m back
to the rain and my car
mercy drops ‘round us
are falling amen


PS–the poem also took me back to a song I wrote with Billy Crockett long ago called “Mercy as the Rain.”




“people weather over the course of their lives . . .” Eva Meijer

when I got my new
carbon steel skillets
they came pre-seasoned
but without the scars

a patina will
develop with use
the leaflet explained
they will show their age

like a copper pipe
or a bronze statue
the lichen on stone
weathered not rusted

I look at myself
layers of living
on my face my hands
I’m in there somewhere

dinner is over
at least for tonight
the kitchen is clean
the pans put away

we can lay today
on top of the rest
that preceded it
layer on layer

the skillets look used
say the same for me
like it’s a good thing
we are aging well



on earth as it is . . .


I’m three sermons into my series on the Lord’s Prayer and it is already changing how I hear and say the prayer. Reciting the words every week is playing with dynamite. Preaching through the prayer is opening up a spiritual journey for me that I was not expecting. I hope you find something here as well.


God’s will.

When I put those two words into the search window of my web browser I found pages and pages that were willing to tell me what “God’s will” meant, but most of them were not helpful. One listed “twelve things that are definitely God’s will for your life,” and another had “the top ten lies about God’s will.” A couple of them said God had a secret will, a revealed will, and a discerned will, which made me think they were describing some kind of theological “three bears” story. The online thesaurus listed these words as synonyms: destiny, God’s plan, predestination, what is written, inevitability, and “the way the cookie crumbles.”

I think Mr. Roget has some work to do.

Understanding God’s will is not easy, yet one of the things that Jesus prayed—and that we say every week—is “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

What was he saying? What are we praying for?

One of the reasons those questions are difficult is they are often tied to how we think about suffering. We would like to understand—as the book title says—why bad things happen to good people, why life is tough when we feel like we are trying hard to be good. People we love get sick. People we love are in pain. People we love get crushed by life, even when they are people of faith. Does that mean those things are God’s will just because they happen? Does God intend for us to suffer as some sort of lesson? Is suffering payback for our not doing what God wanted?

Another idea that is problematic when it comes to God’s will is predestination—the idea that God has destined us for certain things and already knows what will happen, which then means when something happens, it must be God’s will.

My mother looked at life this way, particularly when it worked in her favor. She was scheduled to be on a flight many years ago that ended up crashing. Her plans had changed at the last minute and she was not on the plane. She was convinced it was because it was God’s will for her to live. We spent more than one conversation with me asking if that meant she thought God willed those on the plane to die.

I grew up being told that God’s will was like a map of my life—that God had things planned out and it was up to me to make sure I stayed on track. It’s a variation on predestination, in a way, and it creates another problem. The mental image I carried was the map at the shopping mall that showed the whole place and then had a red X and a bubble that said, “You are here,” but I never could tell where I was on the map or where I was supposed to go next. What if I made a wrong turn when I was in second grade and I never realized my mistake?

What all those perspectives share is they make God’s will mostly about the circumstances of our lives, but Jesus’ words have a broader reach: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He was talking about a more expansive understanding. To get a sense of that, let’s look at his life and some of the other things he said.

At Jesus’ first sermon after his baptism, he stood in the synagogue and read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. God has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Later, when someone asked him about the greatest commandment, which might be another way of asking about God’s will, he answered,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.

He also told a parable about a final judgement, which was depicted as a king rewarding those who had followed his instructions:

Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who will receive good things. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then those who are righteous will reply to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
Then the king will reply to them, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”

Jesus’ ministry was revolutionary because he was determined to love everyone, and that is what he called his followers to do—and we are some of those followers. To follow Jesus—to do God’s will—is to love others in his name, to look for ways in our daily lives that pull us into the lives of others, to say and do things that liberate, comfort, and build relationships. That is how God’s realm flourishes on earth as it does in heaven.

When Jesus talked about earth and heaven he was talking to people who had a layered or tiered view of the cosmos: earth was down here and heaven was up there. Some of that thinking is still a part of us, but in more recent times we have learned that everything in the universe is made up of the same stuff, the same energy, and it is all connected in ways we are barely beginning to grasp. We are, literally, stardust.

The more we learn, the more we see what we have yet to comprehend, but what is becoming clearer is the universe—what people in Jesus’ time meant by “heaven and earth’—is made up of relationships. God created ev everyone and everything to depend on and support and affect everyone and everything else.

Too often we talk about science and faith as if they were adversarial, but cosmology and physics resonate what God has been saying all along: we are made for each other. We can’t live like that is not true. We know too much. We can’t unlearn our vital connection to one another.

Jesus talked about coming to give us abundant lives. He talked about living like the lilies and the wildflowers that grow and bloom and spread gratuitous and seemingly random beauty just being themselves. He talked about trusting that God is with us even when we cannot feel God’s presence. And the last prayer he prayed was for his followers to love one another so intently that they were unified in their love of the world.

Too often across history, when religious leaders other than Jesus have talked about God’s will they have weaponized it to control people or to shame them. Those are the roots of some of the ideas about suffering and blame that I referenced at the start of the sermon. Thankfully, they have not been the only voices. Also, across history, there have been those who have embodied the will of God by following Jesus and have spent their lives loving those around them. They are the ones who are doing God’s will.

God’s will is living with open arms, not closed fists.

We talked last week about hallowing God’s name, about God being our priority and the Priority of the Universe. God’s priority is Love. God’s name is Love. To pray for earth to feel like heaven is to pray that all of creation would live into our connectedness, that would embody love.

To pray for God’s will to be done is to pray that love would be the dominant energy in the world. For that to be true, we will need our actions to undergird our prayers. If we pray for God’s will to be done on earth like it is in heaven, we have to live like we mean it. As the old songs says, they will know we are Christians by our love. Amen.


limit less


I was just finishing up at the gym on Monday when I got a text from Ginger asking if I wanted to meet her for coffee at RJ Julia and read for a while. My answer, of course, was yes–the one catch being I didn’t have a book with me, but I was going to a bookstore, so that problem was easily solved. She already had a window seat in the cafe, so I perused the shelves and tables and was captured by this title: The Limits of My Language: Meditations on Depression. I felt like Eva Meijer, whoever she is, had written a book personally to me.

Once I had my coffee and Ginger and I had talked for a few minutes, I opened the book about the limits of language and found this paragraph:

An ending. An encasing, a world within a world (a self inside a self), thoughts that thrust themselves into a nest of other thoughts and ruthlessly push out their healthy foster-brothers and sisters (like baby cuckoos), an ever-present shadow (even in the light), a confirmation, a truth , an illusion, heavy sand where the shore turns to sea, a fungus that a manages to worm its spores into everything, static noise, fading away, a greenness that sucks up every colour, until all that’s left is the memory of colour.

I read it twice to myself and then out loud to Ginger. One way to talk about the limits of language is to start by showing what our words can do, I suppose. Meijer is a philosopher, as well as an author and musician and artist, and her words took me back to a quote by another philosopher, Wittengenstein, who wrote,

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

I learned of those words from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig who went on to say after the quote,

Words will never do us justice. But we have to try anyway. Luckily, the palette of language is infinitely expandable.

Koenig embodied his claim by creating a book of newly coined words for situations and feelings that had no words for them; Meijer keeps reusing and repurposing the ones we have. Both of them encourage us to remember we can do far more with our words than we do.

When I started working as a trainer at the Apple Store at Southpoint in Durham, North Carolina, one of my tasks was to teach introductory workshops for people getting new iPhones. The new phone then was the 4S. It was at the same time that the Voyager 1 spacecraft reached the edge of our solar system. Voyager was launched in September 1977, as I was beginning my senior year in college. I am not a big science guy, necessarily, but there was a certain poetry to the space exploration of those days that captured me, so when I read about the spaceship leaving the solar system it stuck with me, as did the note in the article that the computer in the new iPhone was 250 times stronger than the computer that put Voyager into space.

I shared that information with the people in my workshop and then said, “You could launch satellites with your phone. Quit playing Candy Crush and go change the world.”

Eva Meijer seems to issue a similar challenge with the way she launches her words from the page:

Imagine carrying a sea inside your body. It moves at every step, just enough to let you know you’re made of water. You know the water is dangerous, that people have drowned in it, that you can’t live beneath it. You also know you;’re stuck with that sea, and there’s no escaping it. Sometimes the water rises, and then it falls again, like the tides, although not as regularly. Till one day it rises and rises and you slowly start to panic. You can’t escape it, because it’s inside you. No one sees it from your exterior, although your eyes fill with tears more than usual. You’d better lie down somewhere and wait till the water drops and you can move again. You’d better not lie down, because if you do you’ll probably drown–and meanwhile the water is rising and you’ve already been holding your breath for a minute.

That sea is familiar to me; I know what it feels like when the water rises. I am grateful to say that the tide has been out in recent months, so I have not had to hold my breath, to stay with her metaphor, and I know some who have been overwhelmed. Beyond the descriptive and poetic power of her metaphor–and she has more that are just as evocative–I keep going back to her title and wondering where the limits are when it comes to how we choose our words.

I don’t know that language is limitless, but I trust that we could limit less in the way we speak and write, the way we talk to and about one another, the way we express what it means to be in the world. Maybe it’s making up new words like Koenig does, and then maybe it is taking the time to find the word we already know that gives birth to new possibilities, the way God spoke the universe into existence from stars to flying squirrels, from sea scapes to friendships.

Maybe the limits of my language have a lot to do with the limits of my world. I know there are more ways to say “I love you” than I have learned to say, and more ways to say “I need help” as well, among other things. Words may not say everything, but we have far from exhausted what they can do if we choose them well.