Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer

“Render unto Caesar…” is Not About Your Taxes: Daily Office Reflection

February 16, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 105:1-22; Isaiah 65:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Mark 12:13-27)

Mark 12:13-17

13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.


This is a passage that is often used to talk about taxes and civic duty. The argument generally goes something like this: “Be sure to give the government it’s fair share and give God his fair share.” It argues for and reinforces a view of the world in which their are two spheres: the civil and the religious, the church and the state, or the city of man and the city of God.

There may be some value to viewing the world in this way, and indeed, many have and do. But I contend that this is not what Jesus is arguing for in this passage.  This is another classic example of Jesus being asked a binary question (do we pay taxes or not) and providing a paradigm shifting answer.

This was no simple question. To answer ‘yes’ would be to grant legitimacy to the oppressive and occupying government of Rome. To answer ‘no’ would be to effectively be seen as a religious zealot and a blatant act of treason.

Jesus chooses a third way. He asks the questioners for a coin, a denarius. This is a significant act. The imperial denarius of Tiberius includes not only the likeness of the Emperor but also an inscription which read “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The image on one side of the coin represented Tiberius sitting on his throne as one who ruled over the known world. The inscription reads “PONTIF(ex) MAXIM(us) or “High Priest.” Tiberius Caesar claims to rule the whole world–both politically and religiously.

No good, faithful Jew would be caught dead carrying this coin. It was idolatrous! They actually minted other coins to use for day to day expenses so they wouldn’t break any commandments. On top of that, it was unlikely that the average Jew would have that much on them. Most Jewish people were quite poor, living day to day. And Jesus was popular with the poor.

So Jesus asks them for a denarius and, uh-oh, they have one! Mark says that Jesus knew the hypocrisy of the accusers. This is not really in reference to their disposition in asking the question. It was in reference to the question itself. The emphasis could read, “why are you trying to trap ME?” You are the one with the coin! And inside the temple courts! With all of these poor/oppressed people around you! Why are you asking ME if I buy into this system or not. You are the religious and political leaders and YOU obviously do!

The denarius bore the “image” of Caesar. In the world of currency, this was a statement as to whose authority gave the coin value and to whom it ultimately belonged. Jesus uses the word “image” to allude to something else that bears the image of its maker: you and me. Genesis 1:26-27 says that we are made in and bear the image of God.

So Jesus looks at this coin with the image of Caesar’s and says, “That’s cute. It has his face on it so give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; i.e. the coin. But there is a greater at work here. Are you giving to God what has God’s image? I can imagine Jesus lifting up his hands to all the people gathered there in the Temple courts and gesturing to all that was around him as he spoke: these people are God’s. (put perhaps you are giving them to Caesar instead for political power…after all, he had just maligned them for abdicating the responsibility of caring for God’s vineyard)

So Jesus makes the question not about a division of loyalties, but of a primacy of loyalties. The Jews had a saying during this time, “No King but the LORD.” To which we would give a hearty “amen” because it is true and sounds true and feels good to say. Because it is easy for us to look back two millennium and point our fingers at these religious/political leaders and judge them for their shortsightedness.

Jesus exposed the fact that the men who asked the very question about participating in the system were, in fact, participating within it themselves (and benefitting!) This is not about taxes, it is about loyalty and about thoughtful participation in the world around us. It is about recognizing our own role in the “system” before asking others about their own. And it is about the responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus to proclaim and embody the deeply political and cultural statement that “Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not).”

This does beg the question: “When laws or acts of the modern day Caesars effectively disregard the image of God in others, what then is the responsibility of those who bear God’s image in the world?”

Collect of the Day: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Daily Office Reflection: “By what authority?”

February 15, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 101, 109; Isaiah 63:15-64:9; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12)

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’-Mark 11:27-28


We struggle today with the idea of authority in a variety of ways, and the texts today deal with authority in a variety of ways. We see across these texts people who abuse authority, an appeal to God’s authority, a discussion about those who hold authority in the church, and a questioning of Jesus’ authority by those who felt their authority questioned!

We hear this come out in different ways today. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” “Tell me your qualifications/credentials again…” and even statements like “Not my president…” There is a not-so-subtle indication that authority is not assumed, it must be earned. And if someone seems to be exercising authority toward something I disagree with or which threatens me, I immediately question them.

These religious leaders do the same thing. But notice Jesus’ question. It is genius! Amongst other things, it exposes something  of which we are all guilty: we question authority in order to disparage or discount others, not in an effort to discover real authority.

And it helps to distract from the ways in which we have failed to properly exercise authority in our own lives. This is the point of Jesus’ parable. People who were given authority over the vineyard abused it and the people they were meant to “protect and serve” (to borrow a contemporary phrase).

For those of us who follow Jesus, we have authority that is to be exercised in service to the world. We also are free to submit ourselves to others, as people all under Christ’s authority. What could it look like for us to seek to use our influence for the flourishing of others?


Proclaiming and Embodying Good News to Our Neighbors (Why Extreme Vetting and Deportation is NOT the Gospel)

There were two situations which have prompted reflection for me and this post. The first is seeing Franklin Graham’s use of “extreme vetting” as a way of trying to talk about the gospel. He posted the following on his Facebook (I decided to place the whole quote here for context):

I’m on my way to Puerto Rico—to warn people that God uses extreme vetting. What do I mean by that? I want the people of Puerto Rico to know that God loves them and that there is only one way to enter the gates of heaven—and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Good works can’t get you into heaven. Religion can’t either—being a Baptist, a Catholic, or a Methodist, can’t save you. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Thousands of Christians have been praying across the island for this weekend. I’ll be preaching the Good News that God loves sinners and sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for their sins. My purpose for going is to help Puerto Ricans “immigrate” from earth to heaven one day. I want Puerto Ricans by the thousands—and people everywhere—to have their immigration status in Heaven stamped and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ for all eternity.

It prompted many to respond, both in affirmation and disavowal. One meme stood out to me, posted by a supporter:


While I’m tempted to run in a lot of different directions with this, there was a second, even more infuriating reason for me to write here: a beloved community member in our neighborhood was pulled over by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers over the weekend, who were allegedly impersonating Baltimore City police officers. They arrested him and sent him to a detainment facility in Frederick. You can read more here and see that this is a trend nationwide in increased enforcement. This follows multiple affirmations by city police and officials that people will not be stopped or questioned out of suspicion of their immigration status. In a neighborhood where trust of police is already low and crimes committed against immigrants are largely unreported, this is a huge blow (not to mention the loss we are feeling a community member who did so much to heal racial/ethnic divides amongst youth). To be clear, this young man was not a violent criminal. He was a valued community member.

As a result, neighbors organized in about 12 hours to rally together in our neighborhood to march in solidarity for our immigrant neighbors. Kara and I eagerly joined the hundreds of people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and statuses to say collectively that immigrants are welcome here, that they matter, and that we are with them. We want our neighbors to be able to work and go to school and to the store without increased fear, and we want them to see their neighbors love them.

For us, this was a way to embody the good news of Jesus, that has nothing to do with “vetting” or fear and everything to do with welcome and dignity. The claim by Graham (and this meme) is that “God uses extreme vetting” is categorically false, not to mention tone deaf and hurtful (as one of my Latina friends noted). A vetting process is, by definition, a background check on someone based on their life up until that point. So how does vetting align with God’s work in the world? Graham says that the facts that God “vets” people is a part of the good news. I strongly disagree. God is about reconciliation, not a stringent vetting process. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says this:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Our responsibility as ambassadors of the kingdom of God is not to talk about a stringent vetting process (and baptize it with spiritual language), it is to urge others to receive the free gift of reconciliation from God. Restored relationship with God is available to all because of the work of Jesus. The results of a background check do not deny us entry into the kingdom of God! They pre-qualify us for the demonstrated need for reconciliation in the first place!

The good news does not compel us to build walls, but rather proclaims that the walls which have divided us are destroyed in Jesus.We see this in Paul’s discussion of the Dividing Wall of Hostility in Ephesians 2. We catch a vision in Revelation of embodied difference in the Kingdom, yet unity in Spirit as we will gather around God’s throne from every nation, tribe, and tongue to worship. In a new heavens and a new earth where the gates will never be shut, by the way!

What is lost in this analogy of vetting and gates and such is that Scripture refers to followers of Jesus as immigrants, as people in exile. We have our citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20) and are described as exiles and foreigners (1 Peter 2:11) Not only are we to practice love and hospitality for others (and hospitality literally means a “love of the foreigner”), we are ourselves foreigners, strangers, and exiles. God’s Kingdom is our home.

When we talk about heaven (or, more biblically, the new heavens and new earth) as a place with extreme vetting, walls, and gates and when we cheer the building of walls and the deportation of “those people” and it gets likes and shares on social media by other Christians, we must admit that there is a reason why this is good news for many of those who support such measures. Extreme vetting is good news for those who fear the other. Walls are good news for those who want to be safe. Gates are good news for those who want a strong selection process for their eternal neighbors. This is good news for white, privileged Christians because it starts to make heaven look a lot like the American idyllic life. This is how someone like Graham can make the statements he makes: he truly believes them.

But how is this good news for the refugee family? How is this good news for Lazarus at the rich man’s gate? How is it good news for the majority of the world’s population? How is it good news for our immigrant neighbors who are wondering if they can even take their kids to school anymore?

Quite simply, I don’t think it is.

The good news for all of us, is that God loves us all so much that God has made a path of return, reconciling everything and all of us. The vetting process is overturned, because the wages of sin is death. Vetting is BAD NEWS not good news!! It is all about gift. And the gate has been flung open wide and the invitation extended to all regardless of country of origin, background, orientation, identity, or ideology. Should anyone desire to enter, they are welcome to do so. This is good news for all of us.

And this is why we march in solidarity. This is why we sing “You’ll Have to Go Through Me” (a wonderful song written by one of our community members). Our neighbors see what sort of good news we believe and embody. Kara commented on how many of our Latino neighbors stepped out of their workplaces along the street as we marched by, smiling and waving. They knew we were there to support them and their families. They knew they were loved and valued. I want to make every effort to show that the good news I believe and proclaim is, in fact, good news for all my neighbors–not just the ones who share my privilege, who look like me, or who agree with me.

Yesterday, proclaiming the good news meant chanting: “No Hate. No Fear. Immigrants are welcome here.” and “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here and we aren’t leaving).


Daily Office Reflection: “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies…”

February 9, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 146, 147; Isaiah 50:1-17 2 Timothy 2:14-26; Mark 10:17-31)

2 Timothy 2:14-26

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

If I’m honest, my motivations behind social media posts, blog comments, and conversations are often mixed and convoluted (at best) and even more often coming from darker places. Have you ever stopped to consider why you are saying or typing this or that? Sometimes it is reactive for me; I see someone who post something wrong or I hear what I think is an ignorant statement, and I believe it is my job to respond. It’s a reflex. Othertimes, I feel the overwhelming need to share what is in my mind or heart; the goal being simply to get it out, for better or for worse. And, in the last few weeks, there has been much in my mind and heart!

I don’t have to convince you that we inhabit an increasingly polarized world full of binary logic and little room for moderation. (and if you vehemently disagree with me here, perhaps you help to support my case!) This makes real dialogue incredibly challenging. How can we engage with people in a way that is gentle and loving and kindly?

Notice the encouragements above. We are not to simply bemoan “culture” and rail against it (a culture that we are often more a part of than we would prefer to admit). We are invited to see that we play a role as well. We are often pulled into the fray far too easily, arguing over words and inviting more quarrels. And we do this in the name of truth.

But in the process, we ruin the listener. And we may even be blocking the way for repentance (including our own, by the way).

But the answer is not just try harder to be nice. It’s not simply stop doing this and start doing this. Our propensity to our argue and be triggered into debate comes from someplace. It operates from a story we are telling ourselves. If we are truly honest with ourselves, that story may sound something like:

“I like to be seen as the right and smart one, so I better respond to this tweet.”
“If I don’t convince this person of my position, then I’m not being faithful.”
“My self worth is tied to how many ‘likes’ or re-tweets I get.”

Today, the good news is that God’s approval is the only approval which matters for us. We are to work as those who are approved by him. 

How might your interactions with others (virtually or IRL) look different if they were informed my this incredible news! I am wondering today what would happen if, before any comment or post or conversation, I just rehearse this declaration from God: “Derek, I am already pleased with you. You do not have to work for my approval, you can operate from my approval and with my approval as my son and servant.”


Daily Office Reflection: “So that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God”

February 6, 2017Epiphany V (Psalm 78:1-39; Isaiah 59:1-15a 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Mark 9:42-50)

Psalm 78:1-39

1Hear my teaching, O my people;*

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2I will open my mouth in a parable;*

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,*

we will not hide from their children.

4We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,*

and the wonderful works he has done.

5He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,*

which he commanded them to teach their children;

6That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;*

that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7So that they might put their trust in God, *

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments;

8And not be like their forefathers,

a stubborn and rebellious generation,*

a generation whose heart was not steadfast,

and whose spirit was not faithful to God.

9The people of Ephraim, armed with the bow, *

turned back in the day of battle;

10They did not keep the covenant of God,*

and refused to walk in his law;

11They forgot what he had done,*

and the wonders he had shown them.

12He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *

in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

13He split open the sea and let them pass through; *

he made the waters stand up like walls.

14He led them with a cloud by day,*

and all the night through with a glow of fire.

15He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *

and gave them drink as from the great deep.

16He brought streams out of the cliff,*

and the waters gushed out like rivers.

17But they went on sinning against him,*

rebelling in the desert against the Most High.

18They tested God in their hearts,*

demanding food for their craving.

19They railed against God and said,*

“Can God set a table in the wilderness?

20True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed;*

but is he able to give bread

or to provide meat for his people?”

21When the LORD heard this, he was full of wrath;*

a fire was kindled against Jacob,

and his anger mounted against Israel;

22For they had no faith in God,*

nor did they put their trust in his saving power.

23So he commanded the clouds above *

and opened the doors of heaven.

24He rained down manna upon them to eat *

and gave them grain from heaven.

25So mortals ate the bread of angels;*

he provided for them food enough.

26He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens *

and led out the south wind by his might.

27He rained down flesh upon them like dust *

and winge!d birds like the sand of the sea.

28He let it fall in the midst of their camp *

and round about their dwellings.

29So they ate and were well filled,*

for he gave them what they craved. 

30But they did not stop their craving,*

though the food was still in their mouths.

31So God’s anger mounted against them;*

he slew their strongest men

and laid low the youth of Israel.

32In spite of all this, they went on sinning *

and had no faith in his wonderful works.

33So he brought their days to an end like a breath *

and their years in sudden terror.

34Whenever he slew them, they would seek him, *

and repent, and diligently search for God.

35They would remember that God was their rock, *

and the Most High God their redeemer.

36But they flattered him with their mouths *

and lied to him with their tongues.

37Their heart was not steadfast toward him, *

and they were not faithful to his covenant.

38But he was so merciful that he forgave their sins

and did not destroy them;*

many times he held back his anger

and did not permit his wrath to be roused.

39For he remembered that they were but flesh, *

a breath that goes forth and does not return.

In Strength to Love, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. says this about history:

We are not makers of history. We are made by history. 

This is a bit of a tricky quote. In its context, King is bemoaning the influence which history has in perpetuating segregation, racism, and the inaction of the church. He is speaking to the power of the “rugged collectivism” of the world. He later compares Christians more to thermometers which are influenced by the world around them. So, he is stating reality as he sees it, not as it should be. We should be history makers. “A man is either a hammer or an anvil.”

We certainly are influenced by history, for better or for worse. And we see in this psalm today that we are cut from the same cloth as our forefathers. We forget the works of God. We doubt the enduring presence of God in the wilderness, despite incredible and miraculous provision. “I mean, I know God gave us water from a rock, but can God give us a three-course meal and a table for us?”

This passage invites us to be informed by a different story; to be shaped by the work of God. And then, to respond from a place of active faith. 

How could today be different for you if you chose to trust God’s miraculous provision? What is important for you to hold onto today from your story with God–ways that God has worked mightily? What is God inviting you to remember as you continue to participate in God’s unfolding story today?

May we trust our loving and providing God today. 

Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, restored, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “The restorer of streets to live in”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day. (It looks like the site was down earlier this morning, but should be up now)

February 6, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 80; Isaiah 58:1-12; Galatians 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41 )

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Wow. It was hard to decide which passage to reflect upon today. And this one from Isaiah is so rich.

I had the chance to participate in a prayer vigil/information session yesterday afternoon at a church in our neighborhood. It was organized in response to some recent events of violence against our Latino brothers and sisters and the growing distrust and fear from many within immigrant communities of law enforcement. It was a beautiful and educational time for all of us as we heard from police, city agencies, and organizations who all seemed to be saying one thing: your livelihood is important to all of us–here are the tools and resources for you to navigate life here and thrive. We are fighting for you. We see you and we want you to flourish in our city. You matter.

As we walked from the church to the place where the most recent violence took place for a candlelight prayer vigil, I began to speak with one of the other clergy. We discussed the overall state of the church in their particular denomination in our area, and the word “burdened” kept coming up. But the churches were not burdened as much by the realities of their neighborhoods as they were with buildings and budgets and inactive/apathetic members. And, I would add, also burdened by political debate and theological hair-splitting and arguments. (this is true for too many churches/denominations, so I level no judgment at all against this particular tribe)

We both discussed how we are grateful for those churches and leaders who are finding themselves burdened by the plights of their neighbors, of the prevalence of injustice and its consequences, and the daily bread of every one of us. We had mutual friends who are in the trenches, doing the work of ministry in, of, and for the neighborhood.

In reading today’s texts, I am wondering what modern-day “fasting” looks like (the fasting Isaiah condemns). When Isaiah spoke against the fasting which does not please God, I wonder if today he would bemoan our aging church buildings which sit empty most of the week but have pristine sanctuaries. I wonder if he would speak up at the budget meetings or church council and ask where the money is going to feed the hungry and to work against injustice, as they vote to start yet another capital campaign. I wonder…

What if we believed that, when we care for those whom God cares, that God will rebuild and restore all of us? Is there a freedom awaiting us as we move from “institutional survival mode” into risky and radial hospitality? Is there provision for us as we shift from finger-pointing and fist clenched in anger to open hands offered in service? What could this look like?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Finally, I think the Collect prayer for this week is apt for today:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “A house of prayer for all peoples”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

February 3, 2017

Epiphany IV (Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38; Isaiah 56:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13 )

Isaiah 56:1-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
The Lord will surely separate me from his people;
and do not let the eunuch say,
I am just a dry tree.
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

First, I’m sorry for the gap in posts this week. I got a pretty serious cold that knocked me out for a few days. So…to the both of you who read this (one of whom is my mom!), my apologies! 🙂

This has more recently become a favorite passage of mine, as I continue to see how much Isaiah had a huge influence on Jesus’ conception of his own ministry (and how some NT writers picked up on other themes in Isaiah). It is clear that Jesus has a heart for the outcast. And even though he spends much of his ministry amongst the Jewish people, he has a strong disposition toward those who are excluded.

I’ve often heard this passage as a reference to a world mission impulse and perspective. Jesus quotes part of this passage as he overturns the money changing tables in the court of the Gentiles. The idea is that such activity was keeping the nations (ta ethne-Gentiles) from worshiping in the Temple. God’s intent is that all people groups from all over the world should worship him. And this is true.

However, Isaiah mentions two groups of people specifically: eunuchs and foreigners. These are the people who Yahweh wants to be in “in my house” and “in my walls” and on “my mountain.” The salvation of the Jewish people, the ingathering of the exiles, is directly tied to the inclusion of the “others”, both within their tribe and from other tribes. The presence of the eunuchs and the foreigners during the worshiping activity of the Temple is meant to be a sign that points to the future reality of the kingdom.

And the call for the people of God is to maintain justice and do what is right, which seems to at least mean inclusion of these groups of people. Those who are most disadvantaged and outcast and those who don’t belong. And we would agree with this…in principle. But what about in practice?

You see, the thing about the money changers is that they were actually providing a service. Or at least they thought they were. But the service had become oppressive and encroached upon the place created for the “others”. Commerce and transaction had replaced welcome.

Are there places where we have pushed out the other? Are there institutions (religious or otherwise) which may actually alienate and exclude in the name of proper order? Have we replaced doing what is right with doing what seems proper or efficient?

And then there’s this whole emphasis on the sabbath…but we will have to save that for another time.


Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, psalms, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 30th, 2017

Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )

Psalm 56

1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.

2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?

5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.

6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.

7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?

9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.

10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;

12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.


Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).

But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!

Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?

Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?

For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.

But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.

And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)

As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.

So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?

For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.

Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?

Daily Office, Discipleship, Musings, Prayer, psalms, Relationships, Scripture

Psalm 37: One of My Favorite (and Most Challenging) Psalms-Part 2

I wanted to share one more reflection on Psalm 37. When reading it as a part of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 37 is split into two parts. I want to focus on the second part today. You can read part one here.

Here is the full text below:

9 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly, *

and their inheritance shall last for ever.

20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times, *

and in days of famine they shall have enough.

21 As for the wicked, they shall perish, *

and the enemies of the LORD, like the glory of the meadows, shall vanish;

they shall vanish like smoke.

22 The wicked borrow and do not repay, *

but the righteous are generous in giving.

23 Those who are blessed by God shall possess the land, *

but those who are cursed by him shall be destroyed.

24 Our steps are directed by the LORD; *

he strengthens those in whose way he delights.

25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong, *

for the LORD holds them by the hand.

26 I have been young and now I am old, *

but never have I seen the righteous forsaken,

or their children begging bread.

27 The righteous are always generous in their lending, *

and their children shall be a blessing.

28 Turn from evil, and do good, *

and dwell in the land for ever.

29 For the LORD loves justice; *

he does not forsake his faithful ones.

30 They shall be kept safe for ever, *

but the offspring of the wicked shall be destroyed.

31 The righteous shall possess the land *

and dwell in it for ever.

32 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, *

and their tongue speaks what is right.

33 The law of their God is in their heart, *

and their footsteps shall not falter.

34 The wicked spy on the righteous *

and seek occasion to kill them.

35 The LORD will not abandon them to their hand, *

nor let them be found guilty when brought to trial.

36 Wait upon the LORD and keep his way; *

he will raise you up to possess the land,

and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

37 I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, *

flourishing like a tree in full leaf.

38 I went by, and behold, they were not there; *

I searched for them, but they could not be found.

39 Mark those who are honest;

observe the upright; *

for there is a future for the peaceable.

40 Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; *

the future of the wicked is cut off.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD; *

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them; *

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.


The main trust of this psalm is this: God cares for those whom God loves, so God will care for them, protect them, provide for them, and deliver them. One of the large ways God does this is by being just and dealing accordingly with the wicked. The righteous, then, can live in such a way that shows they truly believe this to be true about God, by way of generosity, living peaceably, dwelling wherever they are, and entrusting themselves to the  strength and power of God.

I wonder, though, how many of our decisions in life are motivated by a deep, unspoken belief that God is not working for our good, that God doesn’t really care for us, God won’t provide for us, and that God has left things up to us to take from here.

Yes, I realize this is a blunt statement and certainly doesn’t jive with our stated professions of faith. I can already hear the cries of “Deism!” and “Heresy!”, with which I certainly agree. Be that as it may, I think this psalm speaks to our struggle to truly believe (at a core level) what we confess or profess to believe (at a surface level). And we can see this in our fears and actions. We are not really believing what we confess to believe.

When there is injustice around us (and it certainly abounds!) I know my first impulse is to get angry and wonder,”What are we going to do about this?” This is not a bad question at all. But, if it is not tempered with, “What is God doing about it and what will God do about it?” then we may need to step back and ask ourselves, “How can I actively trust God’s presence and work in the world to right this injustice?” Notice, this is very different from “letting go and letting God” (I have a whole rant on that phrase I will spare you from, for now!). Nor is this just pure activism. It is active and faithful presence, rooted in the beautiful reality of God’s greater care for justice than my own.

Quite simply put, God cares more about justice than we ever could, and God can bring about justice in ways we never can. So, this can free us to live generously, compassionately, peacefully, and faithfully; knowing we are participating with God in this powerful and restorative work in the world. God will help. God will rescue. God will deliver. And God invites us to join in this work! What a privilege!


My question today is: When I see the wicked prospering and evil abounding, even amongst those who claim to follow Jesus, how can I engage from a place of deep trust in God’s work and desires, not simply from my own anger or fear?

Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 27th, 2017

Epiphany III (Ps. 40, 54; Isa 50:1-11; Gal 3:15- 22; Mark 6:47- 56 )

Mark 6:47- 56

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.


In the midst of adversity, we often assume the worst about any new development in our situation. I call it the “Oh, come ON!” reflex and have found this to be true in my own life. When things are not going well, that is the same day that I lose my keys, stub my toe, miss the bus, and imagine many more things going from bad to worse. Think “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”In fact, it’s all I can usually think about.

What is so telling about this story is that it follows Jesus’ miraculous provision in the loaves and fish. This story was so amazing and did not match with anyone’s expectations. I mean, how could it? So then, the disciples get caught up in a storm. This is bad, but it was fairly common. This was worse than normal. But then they see Jesus walking on the sea. But they don’t see Jesus, they think it’s a ghost. Oh, come ON! First we were going to die and now we are haunted? REALLY?!?

Jesus speaks, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

This speaks to imagination and to our hearts. When we see a terrible situation going from bad to worse, could it be that Jesus is present right in the middle of it? Instead of letting our imaginations run wild with all the possible bad things that could happen (a ghost is pretty imaginative!) could we imagine instead how Jesus might be strolling right in the middle of it all?

As many have said, we are either in a storm, coming out of one, or about to enter one. Where are you? And, more to the point, where is Jesus? Where do you need to hear him speak the beautiful and good news of his presence? And how can you even imagine his presence in the midst of whatever it is you are facing? Jesus is not just with you, he is powerfully at work as well, to help you move from fear to encouragement.