B actors, bit players and such

November 30 is the Feast of St. Andrew.

After the Gospel of John opens with a lofty prologue, lifting us toward Jesus in language radiant with philosophy and mystery, we flutter back down to earth where he’s encountered by run of the mill types.  Andrew among them.

When A-list actor John the Baptist* points at Jesus and says, “Hey, check him out,” Andrew (who’d been following *JTB to that point) runs over and follows this rising star.  Jesus says, “Sure, come hang at my place” and Andrew is so there.

Andy is dazzled and runs off to tell his brother Simon about this.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter – *Cephas* and *Peter* are from the word for *rock* in Aramaic and Greek, respectively). [John 1:40-42 ESV]

So Peter gets the audition, the cool new name and eventual promotion to the top of Jesus’ entourage.  Andrew is kind of in, kind of out… even though he’s Pete’s brother, he’s not always invited to the big events.

But Peter didn’t get there except by Andrew’s insight, inspiration and invitation.  The A list guy emerged by the efforts of the B lister.  Peter was carried by the bit player.

Quick, who catechized Mother Teresa?  Who invited Billy Graham to hear the Gospel preached?

Most of us are B (C? D?) listers when it comes to Christian stardom, at least as earthly appreciation goes.  But our impact, like Andrew’s, is probably more significant than we realize.

The stereotype is that the Academy Award winner goes to the mic and “thanks all the little people.”  Andrew reminds us that there are probably some big time saints out there who connected with Jesus because you or I did our bit as extras in a crowd scene.




The words get stuck in my throat

ISIS.  Boko Haram.  Planned Parenthood.  Pay Day Lenders.  Washington, DC… Like Yul Brynner in The King and I, I say “Etc. etc. etc.”

Our lists might not match up. But most of us have a list of people or behaviors we consider evil.

They mock God and they torment and destroy God’s creation. Their contempt for God’s people seems louder every day.

To which God says,

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48 NRSV)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)

That is one tall order. My mouth more readily forms curses.

As for those blessings? Well the words… the words…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

(Black) Friday Psalms

No, this is not another grouse about consumerism.

Just a thought that asserts itself from time to time when I offer the Friday Psalms.

Christian readings assign Psalms of penitence and lament on Fridays, to evoke the crucifixion and move faithful hearts to worship Jesus, who died on a very dark Friday.  These often contain complaints of weakness in the face of violence and injustice.

For example, the Book of Common Prayer assigns Psalm 142 this morning, which includes

Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. (Verse 6)

The Liturgy of the Hours includes portions of Psalm 59,

They have set an ambush for my life; the powerful conspire against me.  For no offense or misdeed of mine, LORD… (Verse 4)

Now my recurring thought is this: we make a mistake if we reduce Jesus to a good man who suffered a painful death.  Roman scourging and crucifixion were terrible, but lots of other people suffered the same.  And we all know people who’ve endured years of some ghastly ailment and the ravages of the treatments used to combat it.  Many if not most of them would strike us as “good,” even if imperfect.

In other words, Jesus’ physical ordeal was not as bad as what millions (billions?) of other flesh and blood bodies have suffered.

Devotion to the suffering of Jesus makes sense only if he is who the church says he is, and what the Friday Psalms reflect: the victim of the greatest injustice of all time.  The Creator submitting to the cruelty of a rebellious creation to save it from its own evil madness. 

That’s worthy of worship.

Thanksgiving choking hazard

Thanksgiving (the act, not the holiday) should not be hard.

The list need not be long to be wondrous.

Like many of us in an abundant time and place, I suppose my list of blessings is so long that I take much of it for granted.

And I’m quick to think of an infinite list of “don’t haves” that provoke anxiety.

I wolf down too much; I bring up too much.  I choke on overabundance and even more on the expectation of this, that and the other thing.

The New Testament gives a short list when it comes to expectations and entitlements:

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  (I Timothy 6:6-8 NRSV)

Man, I’m not very good at that.  I could stand to learn from one of the great spiritual guides,

If you do not lose the habit of speaking and complaining about everything – unless you do so to God – you will never finish your lamenting…

I repeat that the whole matter, or a great part of it, lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction.  (Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection 11.2; 12.2)

Pope Francis recently pointed out that many of us struggle with attachment to all the good stuff without lifting our eyes to delight in the One who gives everything for our enjoyment,

“They are attached to this idolatry: they are astonished by the power and energy (of these things). They haven’t thought about how much greater is their sovereign because He created them, He who is the origin and the author of this beauty. It’s an idolatry to gaze at all these beautiful things without believing that they will fade away. And the fading too has its beauty… And this idolatry of being attached to the beauty of the here and now, without (a sense of) the transcendence, we all run the risk of having that. It’s the idolatry of immanence. We believe that these things are almost gods and they will last forever. We forget about that fading away.”

There is a serious choking hazard if we try to gorge on gratitude as a once-a-year ritual feast.  Thanksgiving must be a daily diet – a rich one enjoyed in the unhurried luxury of prayer – so that we can delight in the One who loves us rather than life’s temporary tokens of that love:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer. (I Timothy 4:4-5 NAB)


One more helping

I’m noticing the Month of Gratitude on social media.  Folks are sharing something for which they are thankful each day in the run up to Thanksgiving.

That’s a worthy effort.  “Counting our blessings” can transform our view of the world and of ourselves.  It can push negative thinking out of our heads and drive complaints from our lips.

Some folks will use Thanksgiving dinner as a time to express gratitude.  A collective grace is said as each person at table names something for which they are grateful, and when all  have shared all say AMEN.

My guess (and this is not a criticism, just an observation) is that most thanks expressed will be for fortuitous circumstances, like good health or a job.  Relationships will be another group of blessings named.  Some material things will be in the mix, such as comfortable homes or precious gifts received.

But there’s one more serving to be enjoyed, and it’s seldom named, probably because it sounds hokey or like something somebody is “supposed to say.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37 NRSV)

Do we understand that we are loved by God?  Can we push aside all of the other platefuls of goodies and fill up on that choice helping of good news?  Do we see all of the other things we might list as gifts and tokens of that love – more than in some nebulous sense, but in a very personal sense, as real as a loved one’s embrace?

“In all these things…” The Apostle Paul wasn’t counting blessings when he wrote that, but smarting from afflictions.  If he could perceive God’s love through the bad stuff, how much more might we name it as we count our blessings?

You are (not) here pt. 2

In the first You are (not) here post, I wrote about some character traits to seek in churches – traits that imply Jesus is the head of the church and that his personality is present by the work of the Holy Spirit in the people.

Today I want to bring up another, which is diversity.  One sign that Jesus is present in the power of the Holy Spirit is that a congregation isn’t easy to describe ethnically or socially.  As the Apostle Paul wrote,

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.  (I Corinthians 12:13 NAB)

Race, culture, socioeconomic status, former religious orientation all become secondary to baptism into Christ and new life in the Spirit.

It is easier to build a church around similarities and affinities and, frankly, most churches (even very healthy ones) won’t be able to avoid this.  People live among people like themselves.  That’s the nature of nations and even neighborhoods.  But to find a church where such lines are blurred, bent or broken is a great blessing.

We can even take part in the blurring, bending and busting.  Thanksgiving is an opportunity – just look at what Jesus had to say about guest lists:

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

May our Thanksgiving recipes come out perfect, and our guest lists turn out messy.  (That sounds like people gathered around the altar, doesn’t it?  A messy bunch gathered to feast on perfection.)

I should mention that this year I’m the messy guest at a friend’s gracious table.  It is a blessing to be invited, welcomed and served this year.  Long story for another time.

Put That Down

It seems pretty easy to put down affluent college students who protest “microaggressions” and want “trigger warnings” so they don’t have to so much as hear words that bother them.

The Church of England is gobsmacked (learned that word from a Brit, I did) because theaters in the UK are refusing to run a church ad in which the Lord’s Prayer is heard – because the theater owners think it might offend some people.  Seems pretty easy to put down the theater owners (or the potentially offended patrons) for their putting down of the ad.

Some are pushing back against the cult of sensitivity with put downs like this meme:


OK, that’s funny.

But words are powerful and they can build up or tear down.  Or so the Apostles of Jesus taught in the first churches:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

Some survivors of abuse report that while physical injuries heal, the sustained verbal lashings leave lasting marks.  The Bible recognizes this reality as well:

As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me… (Psalm 42:10 ESV)

It shatters my bones, when my adversaries reproach me… (42:11 NAB)

We need to put verses like that down on paper and memorize them as warnings to keep abusive words from our lips.

We need to put down our egos so we can build up our neighbors.

This is not to exalt a wimpy lifestyle.  As I’ve pointed out before, powerful figures like Elijah and Jesus could handle the hostile words thrown their way.  Yet even they suffered times of fatigue and temptation to despair as their enemies hounded them, an experience given voice through the Psalm Jesus began to quote as he was crucified,

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
 “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!” (Psalm 22:8 NLT)


Verbal abuse is profoundly evil, because it insults the image of God in which we are made.  Abuse is one more symptom of a world that’s fallen away from God.

Because when the universe is in order, it pours forth praise to its Creator.  This is called “doxology,” from Graeco-Roman roots meaning “good word.”  We are meant for “good words.”

Put that down in your notes.  Even better, put it into practice in what you say of others and in what you’ll accept in what’s said of you.