Welcome Text Week Readers

I am honored to have earned a spot on the regular roster of The Text This Week resources.  If you’ve landed here from there, thank you for clicking over.  My goal is to blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so if you’re here early in the week, check back.  Be sure to comment if you have thoughts, and sign up for email updates.

–The Rev. Steve Pankey

Bathroom Mirror Worthy

One way to surround yourself with Scripture is to write a few of your favorite Bible verses on Post-It notes and hang them on your bathroom mirror.  That way, every time you brush your teeth, wash your hands, or do your hair, you can’t help but see things like “God is love” (1 John 4:8) or “God has a plan for you: plans to prosper and not harm; plans for hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) or “Faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

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Maybe not this many

As I read the lessons appointed for Sunday, I ran across a quote from the Track 2 Psalm that was tailor made for my bathroom mirror.  “Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; * do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:9,  BCP).  If I could figure out a way to refrain from anger in car line, my life would be so much easier.  If could manage to leave rage alone, I might not need blood pressure meds.  What really caught my attention was the Psalmist’s refrain through Psalm 37, “Do not fret yourself.”

According to Google, fret is a word that is actually coming back into vogue.  This is probably due to our increasingly stress based lifestyles of working too hard to make enough money to pay of the too much stuff we’ve convinced ourselves we need.  There is a second definition of fret, however, that is actually closer to the original Hebrew meaning. While we all know fret to mean “to be constantly worried or anxious,” it can also mean to “gradually wear away (something) by rubbing or gnawing.”  To put this in perspective, the Grand Canyon was made by water fretting rock.

In the Hebrew, this word that appears three times in Psalm 37, means “to be kindled into flame” or “to heat oneself in vexation.”

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Be it anxiety, stress, or anger, the constant force of negativity in our lives will eventually lead to a flame, which can easily grow into a flame thrower that does real damage to those around us if we’re not careful.

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In this bathroom mirror worthy passage, the Lord invites us to lay aside fretting, to not lot those things that would gnaw us into worry, frustration, and rage get the best of us, and instead, to take delight in the Lord.

Stir it Up

“Renew in these your servants the covenant you have made with them at their Baptism…”

“Defend, O Lord, your servant with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your  Holy Spirit more and more…”

“May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you…”
(BCP, 309-310)

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I remind you to stir up the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. – 2 Tim. 1:6

It has been said that in the 1979 Prayer Book, Confirmation is a liturgy in search of a theology.  While that is mostly a true statement, given the major changes that the Baptismal service underwent, the reality is that something is happening when the Bishop lays her hands upon a lay person who has come to make an adult profession of faith.

The generic collect at the time of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation as well as the specific prayers for Confirmation and Reaffirmation each, in their own way, mirror the prayer of Paul for his disciple turned Christian leader,  Timothy.  With full recognition of the work already begun by the Holy Spirit, Paul prays that Timothy himself might “stir up” or “rekindle” the gift of God, that is, the Holy Spirit, that was given to him by the laying on of hands.

It happens first in Baptism, it happens again at Confirmation, it is possible again and again during Reaffirmation, and it is the goal of every Ordination service: that the Holy Spirit might come with power and might to empower every disciple for ministry.  What is interesting about these words from Paul, however, is that he isn’t praying for the Holy Spirit to rekindle itself in Timothy.  Instead, Paul encourages him to stir it up with himself.

The work of following Jesus is not passive.  A disciple does not just sit around, hoping that the Spirit will do its work within one’s own soul.  Instead, having received the gift of grace and empowered by the Spirit through the laying on of hands, every disciple, from the very young to the very old, from the average layman to the Presiding Bishop, must take it upon him or herself to do the work of spiritual growth through the reading of the Scriptures, daily prayer, evangelism, and acts of service.

Is that you Jesus?

VARIOUS DR SEUSS

Zat you Santa Claus?

The Grinch tried to steal Christmas by dressing up as Santa Claus so as to go unnoticed on Christmas Eve.  At one point, while stuffing a Christmas tree up the chimney, the Grinch encounters little Cindy Lou Who who asks him, “Santie Claus, why? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?”  The Grinch looked like Santa, but he didn’t seem to be acting like him, and Cindy Lou, a girl of maybe two, was quick to ask why.

This Sunday, the Lectionary gives us two of three “sayings of Jesus” that if Luke hadn’t expressly told us that Jesus said them, we’d seriously wonder about.  When Jesus doesn’t act like we think Jesus should, are we willing to be like Cindy Lou Who and ask questions?

Take, for example, the second non sequitur from Jesus that ends with this difficult sentence, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”  The whole issue of slavery aside, the idea that Jesus would encourage us to think of ourselves as “worthless” is totally foreign to the modern American reader.  We’re so used to God so loving the world and picturing Jesus as a giant Santa Claus in the sky to even begin to think that Jesus would utter this phrase.

So what do we do with it?  Well, we can dig into the translation a bit.  The Greek word translated in the NRSV as “worthless” can also mean “useless,” which doesn’t help very much.  Friberg also says it can be translated as “mere,” which feels a whole lot safer.  To be “merely” a slave seems a lot more palatable than to be a “worthless” slave.  A deep cut into exegesis takes me into the Thayer Lexicon, which describes this saying of Jesus as hyperbole.  “By an hyperbole of pious modesty in Luke 17:10 `the servant’ calls himself achreios, because, although he has done all, yet he has done nothing except what he ought to have done; accordingly he possesses no merit, and could only claim to be called `profitable,’ should he do more than what he is bound to do…”  Of course, resorting to calling it hyperbole feels like cheating my way out of a difficult saying.

There’s also the way translations have changed over the years.  From “unprofitable” in the King James and Young’s Literal to “unworthy” in the RSV, NIV, and ESV to “merely” in the CEV; it seems to be only the NRSV that takes such a hard line in translating achreios.  This makes stepping back from the Grinch Jesus a little less Joel Osteeny.  Maybe it isn’t that Jesus called us to feel worthless, but instead that he is reminding his disciples that in the Commandment to love, there is no wiggle room.  One cannot do anything more than has been asked when living into the full expectation of loving God and loving neighbor.  There is no way to do it more, only to fail and do it less.  And so, when we all is said and done, do we recognize that we have merely done our duty, or, more likely, do we give thanks for the graciousness of God who forgives us each time we fail to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

It might not sound like the Jesus we are used to, but it is Jesus who invites us into love.

Open our eyes, Lord

The audio can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website.  Or you can read here.


I don’t remember much about the first few months of life for either of our girls. As many of you are aware, life gets complicated with a newborn in the house. Between washing bottles, never ending loads of laundry, being generally in awe of the miracle of life, and a total lack of sleep, it is hard for the human mind to create long term memories in those moments. They say that is why women decide to go through childbirth more than once, they honestly can’t remember how bad it really was. All joking aside, one of the random things I do remember from those early days is the pediatrician telling us that babies have to learn to see much like they have to learn to walk. It takes time for them to learn how to use their eyes: how they move side to side and up and down; how to make them focus on something close; how to be translate what they are seeing into near and far. It takes almost two full years for a baby to learn to really see the world around them. As I read the Gospel lesson for this week, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the process of learning how to see the world doesn’t end at age two. In fact, I am more and more convinced that learning to really see is a key piece of spiritual development. I think that is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees in this parable about Lazarus and a rich man.

There was a rich man. Usually here I would try to remind us that compared to the rest of the world, we too are rich, but that isn’t what’s happening here. This guy wasn’t middle class American rich. He was Richie Rich rich, Warren Buffet rich, Saudi Royal family rich. Jesus tells us he wore purple clothes. These days, purple shirts are sold everywhere. You can get a purple polo from the Rescue Mission for less than $2. There was a time, a long time in fact, when purple clothing was exorbitantly expensive. The dyes used to make a purple shirt were hard to come by and the color was even harder to set. This man, who wore purple, was exceedingly rich, and more than likely a member of some royal family. Not only did he wear richly colored fabrics, but Jesus says this rich man had access to linen as well. Like purple dyes, linen was (and still is) very expensive to obtain. To say he was well dressed would be an understatement. Every day this man was dressed in a sixty-thousand dollar Italian suit while he feasted sumptuously. The Greek here literally means that he “made merry brilliantly”, or to use a more modern phrase, this guy partied hearty every day. Every day was Super Bowl Sunday and every meal was a Thanksgiving feast for this rich man in well-made clothing.

As he would go back and forth from his mansion, the rich man would pass through a large gate. Plopped down near the gate was a man who was exceedingly poor. Lazarus was his name, the only person to have a name in one of Jesus’ parables, it means “God has helped,” but it doesn’t seem like God had helped Lazarus very much. While the rich man wore purple and linen, Lazarus was covered only in sores. While the rich man feasted sumptuously, Lazarus coveted the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. While the rich man’s life was full of business partners, servants, and family, Lazarus’ only companions were the dogs who licked his sores. Back and forth the rich man would go. At the very least he had to have noticed the stench of Lazarus. Occasionally, he would have had to shoo the dogs away. He’d likely stepped right over him a time or two. The rich man knew Lazarus was at his gate, but he made the choice not to see him.

The rich man spent his life building a chasm between himself and Lazarus. One day, they both died, and suddenly, that chasm that had been growing for years became fixed. The rich man was stuck in Hades while Lazarus was carried to heaven. We come to realize the active nature of the rich man’s ignorance of the plight of Lazarus when immediately he calls out to Abraham and asks for Lazarus, by name. It wasn’t that he had never noticed Lazarus at his gate, but he chose not to see him. The rich man had seen Lazarus, he even knew his name, but instead of seeing Lazarus as a human being, the rich man saw a smelly, beggar who was covered in sores. Lazarus didn’t fit into the rich man’s well-manicured life, and so he ignored him. His sin wasn’t things left undone. His sin was a thing he did; he actively and purposefully chose not to see the poor man at his gate.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus defines his ministry during a sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. After his baptism and forty days of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went throughout Galilee, empowered and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. He preached in Synagogue after Synagogue until he finally arrived back where he grew up. There, in the Synagogue at Nazareth, he preached from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In Luke’s Gospel, more than the other three, the ministry of Jesus is about seeing, about having compassion, and about caring for the poor. The rich man had failed at all three, and as the flames licked his heels, he realized, too late, the error of his ways.

“I beg you, Father Abraham, to send Lazarus to my father’s house – for I have five siblings – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Here, I think, is where we find our place in this story. We are the rich man’s siblings, still on earth, still making choices about who we see and who we don’t see every day. Because they don’t fit comfortably in our lives, it is easy to ignore the homeless children who make up as much as 10% of Foley schools. It is easy to bypass the poverty-fueled drug problem in the historically black neighborhoods around here. It is easy to disregard the modern day slavery that keeps our Latino brothers and sisters packed into trailers tucked deep in the woods. Alternatively, it might be those we do see that cause us the most consternation. When we see those people who challenge our comfortable lives, how do we choose to see them? When we see a black man with his hands raised on a road in Tulsa do we see a man who needed help, or, as the police helicopter pilot called Terence Crutcher, do we only see “a bad dude”? When we see protests over more unarmed black men dying at the hands of police officers, do we see a people crying for justice or thugs hell bent on violence? Jesus is very interested in who we see and how we see them.

Abraham denied the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers and sisters saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them, and if they don’t, they won’t even be convinced by a man who has risen from the dead.” We have Moses, we have the prophets, we even have one who has risen from the dead who calls us to have our sight restored – to see those who the rest of the world ignores as beloved children. Spiritual maturity comes as our eyes come into focus and we learn to see those who are inconvenient, those who are disturbing, and even those who might be frightening. We learn to see Christ in them. We learn to see them as beloved of God. And when we learn to see, we learn compassion, we learn to care, and we learn to love. Open our eyes Lord, and teach us to really see the world around us. Amen.

Who and What Do You See

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My first year of undergrad was spent at the University of Pittsburgh.  Pitt is located in an urban neighborhood called Oakland, and, like many densely populated areas where people travel by foot, was home to several panhandlers.  By the time Christmas rolled around, I had already figured out how to be like the rich man in Sunday’s Gospel lesson and not see the beggars who sat at the proverbial gate of campus.  They were passive annoyances, easy to pass right on by as if they never existed.

There were a few who were more engaged in their craft. One guy stood at the door in front of the Rite Aid store in such a manner that only he could open it.  Whether you were coming or going, you were at this man’s leisure to let you in or out.  He had a white Styrofoam cup in hand.  It would jingle with a few coins as he reached to open the door.  it was clear that he expected to be paid for the service he rendered, whether you asked for it or not.  He wasn’t as easy to ignore.  You saw this man, but what I saw was simply an annoyance I had to get past.  I never saw him as a human being upon which I should have compassion.

It isn’t hard to be like the rich man.  Whether our ignorance of someone is active or passive; or if we see them, judge them, and cast them aside, we are no better than the rich man, no matter how poor we might be relative to his purple robes, linen suits, fatted calves, and fine wines.  And while it suits Luke’s theological narrative to have this be about rich and poor, I don’t think it is only about that.  Our inability to see another as beloved of God happens again and again, everyday, in every aspect of life.  We see the Republican is a xenophobic rube.  We see the Democrat as a bleeding heart sap.  We see the Terence Crutcher and other big black men as “bad dudes.”  We see police officers as trigger happy symptoms of systemic racism.

Every time we fail to see another human being as beloved of God, we sin in the same way the rich man did.  As his siblings still on earth, we have a chance to repent.  We have Moses.  We have the prophets.  We even have someone who rose from the dead.  We have eyes to see. We have hearts to love.  Who and what do you see?

Who are you?

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There is a natural tendency to place oneself inside a story.  This is perhaps especially true in the parables that Jesus tells.  I suspect it is because they are both generic and hyperbolic, it is easy to read oneself into the story, to stay there for a while, and to feel what is happening.  Of course, who we think ourselves to be in the story will have a large impact on how we interpret it.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the meaning of the story can change drastically if you think of yourself as the injured traveler or the Levite, rather than everybody’s favorite Samaritan.

As we read the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man this week, I can’t help but think that the gut reaction of most listeners will be to place themselves in the role of Lazarus.  Very few people actually consider themselves to be rich.  It is very easy to push that title at least one tax bracket above our own, and given the erosion of the Middle Class and the ever-widening chasm between the haves and the have nots in the last 40 years, it isn’t too difficult to place oneself as a beggar, lying outside the gates of those who wear purple, and step over you in order to feast sumptuously everyday.

Very few of us will place ourselves in the position of the rich man, and to be Abraham would be awfully presumptuous, but this morning, as I read my usual preaching resources, I realized that I’ve always missed a character in this story.  Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, points out in her commentary that maybe our place in this story is the brothers and sisters of the rich man.  We have Moses and the Prophets.  We even have one who proclaimed a ministry of compassion and rose from the dead.  Do we have ears to hear?  Do we have eyes to see?  Or, are we too busy making excuses for our lack of compassion; pretending  instead to be the sore-covered beggar by the gate?

Who are you in this story?  The answer seems to be of eternal consequence.

Contentment

The Acts 8 BLOGFORCE makes a rousing return this week with a question that is both timely and applicable.  In the life of the Church as well as in the Revised Common Lectionary, we are rapidly approaching stewardship season, and as such, it is time, once again, for all of us to listen for God’s call upon our checkbooks.  As such, Acts 8 has invited all of us to consider this question: “How has financial giving affected your spiritual life?” For more information on how to offer your own response, click here.


I can’t remember when it happened, but I distinctly remember the feeling.  It must have been around a big football game: Black Friday before the Iron Bowl or the Saturday before the Super Bowl; as I drove around my neighborhood of modest starter homes, I began to notice lots of large, rectangular boxes sitting on the curbside.  At first, I didn’t  pay any attention to it, but by the time I passed the third box, I could feel the envy welling up inside me.  I wanted a big, fancy, new TV to watch the game with too!

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The problem was, unless I wanted to go into $500 worth of debt on my credit card, there just wasn’t the disposable income to cover a sweet new TV.  With a relatively new baby at home and my wife not working at the time, we were prepared to make sacrifices, but it was in that moment, driving through our neighborhood on trash day, that I realized that part of the sacrifice of giving to God is being content with what you have.

At the time, the Pankey family was still relatively new at tithing.  Even as late as seminary, we had subscribed to the left over model of giving to the church.  Of course, it was easy to justify the $2,400 a month we spent on rent and tuition to go to seminary in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.  Once I was ordained, however, we knew that if we were going to ask people to give sacrificially, we had to as well.  And so, on day 1 of my first call out of seminary, we gave 10% of our income to the glory of God. There is a difference, however, between giving because you feel like you have to and giving out of contentment.  It took me several years to learn that lesson.

In Sunday’s New Testament lesson, the author of 1 Timothy tells the young leader that there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.  He warns Timothy of the trap of riches.  The temptation that comes with a lack of contentment takes our attention away from God.  Envy leads to ruin and destruction.  As I rode through my neighborhood that afternoon, those empty TV boxes pulled me to the edge of the root of all evil: the love of money.  Thanks be to God, the temptation of a shiny new TV for the big game didn’t win out.  In coming to grips with the opportunity cost of tithing, I realized that sacrificing for the Kingdom is something that should bring joy.  I’ve learned to give thanks for what I have, to be joyful in the building up of the Kingdom, and to be content in all circumstances.  Of course, I’m not always successful at it, but God continues to work on me.  The Spirit continues to call me to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  All these years later, I’ve learned the power of intentional sacrifice: a spiritual lesson that is helpful not just in financial giving, but in prayer, in time, in service, and in life.  I’ve learned to set my hope on God, who, as the author of 1 Timothy says, “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

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