Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those people who thank God they’re not like other people

phariseeandprodigalOur senior pastor Larry Buxton, who’s a baseball nut, says that parables are supposed to be stories that have a “late-breaking curveball.” He threw a curveball this past weekend with his sermon on the familiar parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee says, “I thank you God that I’m not like other people,” and the tax collector says, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pastor Larry shared that too often, we come away from this parable thinking that the moral of the story is to be more conspicuously self-deprecating in our prayer life. So we become people who say, “I thank you God that I’m a humble sinner, unlike those Pharisees who thank you that they’re not like other people.”

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A second chance to love a stranger

I got an email yesterday from a church member that made my heart swell and she gave me permission to share it on my blog. I had preached this past weekend about Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 29 for his people to “seek the welfare of the city to which they had been sent.” What I said was that in addition to contributing to the various campaigns and efforts to stop poverty, we need to make the world personal for the strangers that we encounter, because loneliness is a huge problem in our day. This story is a simple, beautiful example of how God gives us second chances to love strangers when we blow them off at first. Continue reading

The God who wants us to be family #podcast

We’ve been preaching a sermon series at Burke United Methodist Church called “Love actually” (titled after a favorite movie of my wife and me). We’re going through the four types of love in Greek: storge (family affection), philia (friendship), eros (romantic desire), and agape (Godly benevolence). To talk about family love, I chose to look at the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15, or as my favorite preacher Jonathan Martin calls it, “the story of the two lost sons.” I love it when Jonathan preaches about a passage before I preach on it, but two weekends ago we preached about the same passage at the same time, so I’ll be drawing a little from both sermons in this blog post. The better sermon on the topic can be found at Renovatus’ podcast here. I wasn’t enamored with my own sermon, but here it is: Continue reading

What does Pope Francis mean by telling atheists to “abide by their own consciences”?

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013Well Pope Francis probably made some more Christians angry this week with a 2500 word letter to the editor he wrote to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that was reported in a Guardian article I read. He told atheists that the best thing for them to do is to “abide by their own consciences” because “God’s mercy has no limits.” For a certain type of Christian, this kind of talk is pure blasphemy, but I suspect that Francis is talking the way he does because of a major difference in the way that Catholics understand human nature from at least reformed Protestants. Continue reading

Is morality the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?

apple on tree

This past weekend, I got to hear my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin live for the first time at Renovatus Church, preaching a sermon about the Garden of Eden titled “Playing God.” He made a number of provocative claims, one of which was basically to say that morality is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Continue reading

Feminism, sex, and virtue in Margaret Farley’s Just Love

I have been reading Margaret Farley’s Just Love: A Framework for Christian Ethics, the book that got the Vatican in a tizzy over renegade nuns several years ago under the grand inquisitor pope. To be fair, Just Love is more a feminist critique of Christian sexual ethics than it is a Christian sexual ethics, but the critique is apt and worth listening to. While Farley doesn’t fortify herself with Biblical chapter verse citations, her perspective makes sense to me when I consider sexuality under the lens of “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

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Five verses God has tattooed on my heart: #2 Matthew 9:13

I’ve often told the story of how I discovered the verse that became the basis for the title of this website. It was the summer of 2008 and I had been working at a summer camp in east Durham. The lectionary gospel readings I had heard over the previous months included Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, both of which involve Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” I had been tossing this phrase around in my mind, trying to understand what it meant. Then one morning at the camp, I was given the task of waking up a homeless man in our parking lot and sending him on his way. He was very belligerent, and I was worried for my safety, so I turned to walk away. But then the homeless man said, “Where’s your fucking mercy, man?” It was the only time in my life I ever heard God drop the f-bomb, and it definitely got my attention. Continue reading