random musings...

Tag: Discipleship

Do We Know What We Want?

Have you ever struggled with a difficult decision, perhaps a major change in life such as whether to move or quit a job? We’re faced with decisions all the time and sometimes we’re not sure what would be best. When we make difficult life changing choices, we often look for meaning and a sense of inner peace. But, if we ask for meaning and peace of heart, do we know what we are asking for? Do we seek meaning in the accumulation of things as in the story of the rich person who wasn’t able to give up their wealth to follow Jesus? Do we believe that winning a huge lotto jackpot will bring us peace? Or maybe we seek meaning in status, having people look up to us and think we’re important. Or maybe we seek peace in power, thinking, “if only I had more control…” Even in the church we look to the world’s definitions of success, thinking to follow Jesus “successfully” means bigger churches and bigger offerings. We think that is what measures how meaningful we are, whether our efforts are “worth it” or not.

When James and John came to Jesus in Mark 10, asking to sit beside in him glory, maybe they were wondering if following Jesus, with all his talk of death and persecution, was really worth it. Maybe they were seeking a sense of meaning. But like many of us they thought meaning was found in glory, power, and wealth. But Jesus responds that in God’s eyes to be great is to serve. This is where we find the natural harmonies and rhythms of life that bring peace. God created us as interdependent beings, not to be competitors for empty glory but to be companions meant for relationship and community. To be great, to find meaning and peace, to find what makes it all worth it, is to serve, to help each other, to support each other, and to love each other.

Jesus asks if we can follow in his footsteps and give up our pursuits of wealth, power, and glory to serve? Can we help each other, support each other, and love each other even if the world around us is threatened by it and despises us for it? That isn’t an empty threat either. Right now in our own times, journalists who are seen as threatening the power of so-called leaders are being denigrated and even killed. If we as Christians do as Jesus did and stand up to oppressive power, we too may put ourselves at risk. There can be a cost to following Jesus. We often think James and John didn’t realize this, that they wanted glory with no effort. But, I wonder if they just wanted to be reassured it was worth it. I believe it is. We will get resistance when we live for justice. We will get pushback. But we were created by God to be companions, not competitors.

I also believe in resurrection, in God’s promise of new life. In every discouraging lie told, for every degradation of the poor, of women, of immigrants, of LGBTQ people, I see more and more people standing up and saying this is not acceptable. In standing up for each other we plant the seeds of hope. We begin to nurture new life – a life that acknowledges that to serve and support each other, to love, is the order and motion of God’s Creation. This is where we find true, lasting meaning and peace in life: in God’s unconditional, everlasting love flowing through us and into the world.


This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do we know what we are asking for?,” from October 21, 2018. The audio of the sermon can be found on the Phoenix Community Church web site.

Doubling Down

Doubling down is a betting term that involves taking a risk for increased reward. It can also mean to become more tenacious or resolute. In the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30, we can find examples of both. In the parable, a rich landowner entrusts funds to three servants and then goes away on a trip. When the landowner returns, he finds two of the servants have invested the money and doubled it. The third servant buried the money, neither gaining or losing. In accounting for his actions, the third servant basically calls the landowner a tyrant and says he buried the money out of fear. The landowner gives the third servant’s money to the first two and then has the third servant banished, declaring that the rich will get richer and those that have little will lose it.

The first two servants in the parable took a risk, invested their funds, doubled the money, and were rewarded by the landowner. In a way, they doubled down and it paid off. These first two servants are often portrayed as the good guys in this story because we almost automatically interpret the landowner as analogous to God. In this view the first two servants took risks with the gifts they were entrusted with and multiplied them. To be willing to take risks on behalf of the Divine is not a bad lesson.

However, what if the third servant is right? The landowner concludes the parable with the declaration that the rich will get richer but this isn’t what Jesus teaches us elsewhere. Jesus consistently teaches that God will humble the powerful and lift up the poor, that wealth is more problem than virtue. So, what if the landowner really is a tyrant, not meant to represent God at all in the story but instead meant to be just what he is named as – an unfair and dishonest business person? Then, the third servant becomes not the lazy servant but the hero of the story because he refuses to use the money he was given to participate in the systemic evils of the economic system. And, when called to account, he doubles down. He becomes more tenacious and resolute even though it costs him all that he has. What if acting in the manner of this third servant is really what it means to live in the kin-dom of God?

We always come across those forks in the road where we have to decide which path to take and we have to struggle with the indecision and fear, much like I imagine that third servant did. We have to struggle a little to hear God’s call for us. Perhaps this parable is telling us that to follow God’s way of love, to live in the kin-dom, is to face our fears and walk through them, even knowing that things may or may not work out as we want. Because it’s the right thing to do and because, well, what if we spoke truth to the world and it did work out? What if we created new life where before there was death? What if we created a flourishing, abundant world of love, peace, and justice?

God’s kin-dom is a way of life, a way of living into the future. There may be delays and distractions. There may be failures along the journey. But there is also the promise of new life, the promise of something always waiting to be born again. Jesus’ own story doesn’t end with death but with resurrection. Let us be kin-dom people, putting our trust in God and walking God’s path boldly, walking tenaciously and resolutely through our fears into the promise of new, abundant life. Let us be the seeds from which God’s kin-dom of love and justice grows.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 19, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Back in the Water

In the story of Simon’s call in Luke 5:1-11, Jesus sees a hidden potential in the fisherman Simon, an unlikely candidate for the role of disciple. Jesus sees past the clutter of stereotypes, past any gruff exterior, past Simon’s protests of being a sinner, of not being worthy and sees the potential that lies beneath. He believes Simon can unlock that potential in his service for God. Perhaps that’s what discipleship is. Yes, it is an invitation to follow God through Jesus, but maybe being a disciple also means unlocking our own potential and becoming who God has designed us to be.

Simon moves from his familiar life into an unknown future because of this Jesus guy who sees something in him and tells him not to be afraid, not to fear letting his potential out. Of course, call stories always beg the question: is Jesus calling us too? Does Jesus see some potential in us that we’re too afraid to let out, that we keep cluttered and covered with the activities of everyday life?

We all have potential, but one thing that stands out for me about Simon is that he seemed willing to trust. After Jesus is done teaching, he asks Simon to pull his boat into deeper water and cast his nets to catch some fish, despite the fact that Simon had been fishing all day and caught nothing. Simon doubts and complains but does it anyway. He’s willing to do what Jesus asks even if he doesn’t think it’s going to work. Simon’s journey to unlock his potential, to become a follower of Jesus, begins with a simple act of trust, that act of getting back in the water even though it didn’t make a lot of sense to him.

That small act of trust is rewarded with an over-abundance of fish in which Simon gets a glimpse of the Divine breaking into the world. Simon’s reaction, however, is to become scared and overwhelmed and he tries to send Jesus away. We often get scared when something good happens to us because we wonder “what’s next?” and aren’t sure if we’ll be able to handle it, whatever it is. In a way, Simon was right to be scared because Jesus was about to ask Simon for an even bigger act of trust: to let go of his fishing business and follow him in his ministry to help the poor and the oppressed.

Although it was Simon’s story, to be called by God doesn’t necessarily mean we have to drop everything and become an itinerant preacher. So what does it mean to be called, to become a disciple? I think it at least in part means, like Simon, being willing to:

* unlock our potential, even in the face of our fears of what might happen next
* step out in trust, even when we have doubts about whether its going to work
* try again if we fail; to get back in the water and cast our nets again
* un-clutter and let go of what is hiding our potential, like Simon did with his fishing career

We might begin with small acts of trust to start unlocking our potential, getting our feet wet before moving to the deep water. We might begin by asking God and ourselves some questions through prayer, meditation, and discussion with others: What are our talents? What are our passions? What gets us excited and feeling full of life? And, then: How does God call us to use those talents and passions? How can we use them to follow Jesus? How can we use our talents and passions to make the world a better and more loving place?

With Simon, God took an unlikely person and started doing unexpected things because Simon was willing, despite his doubts and fears, to trust what Jesus was asking him to do. Despite having already failed at catching fish that day, Simon was asked to get back in the water, to trust and try again. May God give us the courage to get up and follow as well, that we may clear the clutter away and realize the talents and passions God has given us, that we may unlock the potential of the love that God has filled us with, that we may weave that love into a world of hope, peace and justice.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, January 22, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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