Book Review-The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered

514ADoOhNcL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered Martin B. Copenhaver

Emotional Response-5

Scholarly Response-5

Most days, I am so thankful that my faith isn’t an easy answer faith. I don’t believe that if a happens then I need to do b. In my life, when a happens, I ponder and pray about the appropriate reaction, I consult my faith family, I read the Scriptures, and then discern whether b, c, or d are the correct course of action. Sometimes it takes longer to make a decision. I am included in the process of partnering with God and my faith community to see where God is leading me. Now on really rough days for just a few minutes, I covet a faith that has answers to every question. These times doesn’t last long. I am grateful to understand that God welcomes our questions, our concerns, our praises, our laments, and our anger.

“Easy answers can give us a sense of finality. By entertaining questions God has a chance to change us. Answers can be offered as a conclusion. Questions are an invitation to further reflection. For the most part, answers close and questions open” (20).

This book is not a book of easy answers because Jesus didn’t give us easy answers. Jesus asks 307 different questions in the Gospels. He is asked 183 questions (16). I’m thankful that someone else counted up these questions for us to let us know that Jesus asked almost twice as many questions as he was asked.

My sister sent me this picture recently. Her daughter has recently turns four and questions everything. While parents and others may tire of constant questions, questions are vital for learning. Maybe Jesus is asking us to channel our inner four-year old and ask more questions.

20150715_125330

How does Jesus teach us? Questions and parables are two of Jesus’ favorite methods of communication. Both of these methods have in common that they are not direct answers. They are asking the listener to participate in this process of understanding. “The goal is not to communicate knowledge but to elicit new understanding in the listener. Information is not the goal. Transformation is” (20).

Jesus asks questions about longing, compassion, identity, faith, doubt, worry, the reach of love, and healing. And finally, in Chapter 9, we read about the questions Jesus answers. The book says that Jesus only answers 3 questions and that is because the author believes that Jesus directly answers only 3 questions. The following 8 are answers that Jesus gave, but they don’t always directly answer the question he was asked. Jesus tells us how many times we must forgive (Matthew 18:21-22), when a husband may divorce his wife (Matthew 19: 3-9),  what we must do to have eternal life (Matthew 19: 16-22), what is the greatest commandment (Mark 12: 28-34), why the disciples are unable to heal someone (Matthew 17: 14-21), where they will eat the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-16), who will betray him (John 13:21-30), and after many times not answering Jesus finally tells us who is (John 18:33-38).

Who is Jesus? Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? These two questions are so similar and yet so different. The first one requires no commitment. The second one comes from the heart if we follow Jesus (Chapter 10). A Question from the Cross is a great look at what it means to have a Savior who asked, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” is the focus of Chapter 11. Chapter 12 finishes the questions with questions from the Risen Christ.

The book ends with a long list of questions in Chapter 13. The author encourages you to read them without thinking about the context or looking up the context. What are these questions that Jesus asks?
This book was recommended to me by a dear friend. She read this book and enjoyed it so much that she used it as a book study at her church. After reading the book, I would love to do the same. This book is easy to read and challenging in the way it makes you think. I would highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to grow a bit in their faith. I’d recommend it for individual reading as well as part of a book study. You should read this book!

A Fancy Tea Party

photo 2-42

My husband is part of the Sunshine Committee at UMES School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. This hard-working group celebrates everyone who works there. On your birthday, you get a birthday card. When you have a special event in your life, you are celebrated with a special get together. Promotions, job changes, new arrivals, and good-byes are all celebrated well by the Sunshine Committee.

I’ve just begun learning more about Development by volunteering for UMES SPHP, and luckily, my volunteer day last week was the same day they were hosting a tea party! It was such a treat for me to help with setting up and cleaning up for a tea party. The menu featured finger sandwiches, cheese cubes, fruit salad, cream puffs, cupcakes decorated like flowers, and tea and lemonade. It was a fancy and fun affair! I’m very impressed at how this committee turned a boring room into a flower filled and fancy decorated tea room.

photo 1-45photo 3-37

Worship Words-A Time of Silence

A Time of Silence

Our lives are full of noise. As I write this the washer is spinning, a man is installing a new shower door in our bathroom using power tools, and our air conditioner is running. Amidst all this noise, I’m thinking about silence. Maybe I’m thinking about silence because it is so hard to find. While writing this last sentence, my phone rang. Silence is hard to fine.

2201_50526348825_3014_n

This picture was taken at a place that does silence well, The Taize Community. Miraculously, thousands of people became and remained silent when entering the worship space there. It was amazing.

As we pray this prayer, remember somewhere you have enjoyed the sound of silence. Picture that place as we pray.

Holy God, our lives are filled with noise. With all the noise, it is hard to hear what is important. Speak to us in this time of silence.

(silence)

Holy One, how are we to stop for silence when there is so much to do? We look to you as an example because you rested. You created Sabbath. And now we rest in you for a time of silence.

(silence)

Compassionate One, so many voices call our names, beg for our attention, cry out for mercy. The needs expressed by your children overwhelm us. Our needs overwhelm us. God, you provide. Let us silently be with you without asking for anything.

(silence)

Loving God, you understand that silence is hard. Even in this prayer, our minds have wandered. We have looked at the clock. And you were with us in this silence. In the noisy and quiet times of our lives, we can rely on you. Help us to seek out silence. Help us to listen to the voices and sounds in our lives so we may hear your voice and and the voices of your children. Amen.

Book Review-Eating and Drinking

Eating and Drinking Elizabeth T. Groppe

Emotional Response-3

Scholarly Response-4

This book is a part of a series by Fortress Press called Compass: Christian Explorations of Daily Life. This book is divided into three sections. Section 1 is a look at eating and drinking in 21st Century America. Section 2 is a “Christian theological vision of eating and drinking” (4). And section 3 helps us make sense of the first two sections by reflecting on how we as Christians can eat and drink in ways that are more in tune with our faith.

In section one, she eats like a “typical American” for a day. She has coffee, serves her son a sugary breakfast cereal, a banana for a mid-morning snack, a fast food lunch, chocolate as an afternoon snack, and a dinner of frozen French fries and chicken nuggets. As she eats this foods, she describes the history of each food and how it comes to be in our grocery stores and homes today. I appreciated how she combined history and current farming practice to give us a full picture of how the food we eat is produced.

In section two, she utilizes the work of theologians and our sacred text to contemplate our relationship to food. She begins by exploring the two creation stories and then moves on to Adam and Eve in the garden. I found this thought about their sin to be thought provoking, “We transgress not because we desire things that are evil, but because our desire for lesser goods eclipses our desires for God” (49). What is it we value too much? How might we value God more? Did Adam and Eve’s fruit eating mark the moment when humans first became consumers? (49-50). We continue our journey through the Bible with the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, and surviving in the wilderness. She reminds us of the biblical mandates to care for those who are hungry and to live in harmony with creation and with the plants and animals who also call creation home. Using miraculous stories of feeding and the story of the last supper, we are reminded that eating was important to Jesus.

Section three opens with my favorite Scripture, Luke 24, where the risen Christ is recognized at table in the familiar act of breaking bread. She takes this story and pushes it back at us asking if the disciples would recognize Jesus today in the meals we eat? In this section, she opens our eyes to ways that our ancestors in the faith have been faithful in eating. She discusses fasting as a way to be more connected with so many who lack food and a way to think about eating more spiritually. She reminds us to offer a blessing before eating food and to ponder if we can ask God for a blessing on our food if the food was not grown and harvested in a way that is compassionate for the animals, soil, or workers? She asks us to start or continue to share the bread we have with others who are hungry. We can have more involvement in our own food by working to turn our national swords into plowshares. In a few pages entitled “Feasting”, she shares the story of how she made new friends by sitting down and eating a meal with them. Her book ends with a reminder to give thanks to the Creator who gave us life. “To give thanks is to receive without grasping, to eat without consuming, to taste without transgressing, and to live in the awareness that both the bread on our tables and the food and drink on the altar are unmerited gifts of the God who is love” (112).

I apologize for not posting an image of this book. I read it in the Virginia Theological Seminary Library and forgot to snap a picture before I left the library. Augsburg Press has more information and a picture too!

Worship Words-Call to Worship (God of Abundance)

DSC_1021

 

One-Here we worship the God of Abundance.

All-Here we hear of God’s goodness and love.

One-Here we are challenged to love and live as God’s children.

All-Here we put our faith in action.

One-Here we hear God’s word.

All-Here we share our time and talents.

One-Here we see each other as God’s children.

All-Here we eat at Christ’s table.

One-Here we splash in the waters of baptism.

All-Here we sing praises and laments to our God.

One-Here we know we are loved.

All-Here we know we are loved.

This call to worship was inspired by Sunday’s Gospel text, John 6: 1-21.

 

Racial Justice…Same as It Ever Was?

Sometimes I don’t know what to do or say in response to a situation. I listen to the news and pray for the people around the world whose stories draw media attention. I read stories and comments posted by my facebook friends and colleagues. The story that caught my attention this week was the arrest and death of Sandra Bland. I did not know her. I do not know all the facts of this story. What I do know is that too many people are dying needlessly and senselessly in this country. Last week my facebook feed featured stories of black churches burning and black clergywomen receiving death threats. And this morning I heard this song, Same as It Ever Was by Michael Franti and Spearhead. I felt like I could not remain silent about the black lives matter movement any longer. I firmly believe that we are all created in the image of God and we are all God’s beloved children. Saying black lives matter at this time in history does not diminish God’s love for all of us, instead it is a reminder that because we are called to care for each other we must speak out on behalf of those whose voices are being silenced.

I have so many questions. I want answers. I want to fix things. I want everyone in this country to have opportunities, to feel safe, to be loved, and to have enough.

I’m writing this to figure out what to say while recognizing there are no right words and knowing what needs to be said right now is that something needs to be done! So what am I doing? I’m writing this post in the hope it will encourage conversation and raise awareness. I’m participating in a new book group to study the history and current status of racism and using what I learn to change myself and to influence change in others. I’m learning from others and seeking out great resources like Showing Up for Racial Justice. And I’m wondering what you are doing? How can we partner to change things?

And, I’ll continue to pray. Join me in praying for our country.

Tea Samples

You will not be surprised to read that I love visiting tea shops. I love talking with the people who work at the shops and hearing their recommendations of new teas to try. And I love the free samples. Recently I visited  Capital Teas. They had two teas available for sampling. One of these teas I will never forget. I sampled their Sailor’s Delight. It was served cold and was so tasty. It is a blend of green and black tea with strawberry and papaya too. Delicious! I highly recommend it.

As I said I sampled this tea and enjoyed it. And then, I noticed that my tongue was tingling. Pretty soon my tongue started to swell a bit. As I was walking to the store to get some Benadryl, I began to cough. The good news is that I now know that I am allergic to papaya. I had been searching for years to find out what fruit I was allergic to after a reaction years ago. Also, good news is that after some medicine, lots of liquids, and a good night of sleep, I feel just like myself again. The bad news is that I won’t be able to drink Sailor’s Delight again. I do highly recommend it to everyone else!

Worship Words-10 Commandments Sermon

Scriptures-Exodus 20:1-17 and Mark 10:17-27

As we ponder the ten commandments today, what do you think about them? What do they mean for you as a person of faith? Are they one more list of things to add to your already full to do list or are they life giving models for how God dreams we can live? Possibly they fall somewhere in between for you or maybe you rarely think about the 10 commandments.

Thomas Long said this in an article on the commandments, “In popular religious consciousness, the 10 commandments have somehow become burdens, weights, and heavy obligations. For many the commandments are encumbrances placed on personal behavior. Most people cannot name all ten, but they are persuaded that at the center of each one is a finger-wagging “thou shalt not.”¹ For others, the commandments are heavy yokes to be publically placed on the necks of rebellious society.”

Viewing the 10 commandments in this way as a burden or restraints around our necks, rules that must be followed or else, holds us back from living our lives in the way God intended. God gave us the gift of life, so not living our lives the best way possible is in fact, a sin. We sin when we live in fear of failure because we are not using the gifts God has graciously given us. If we spend all our time thinking about what we aren’t supposed to do, there is no time left to do anything. God wants us to live our lives, to see the beauty in creation, to build strong relationships, to help others live. We were created to do good and that is what the 10 commandments help us to do.

Let me briefly sketch the story that surrounds the commandments. As the book of Exodus begins, there arises in Egypt a king who didn’t know Joseph. Remember, Joseph had found favor with the Pharaoh when through Joseph God interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. The Egyptians were saved from starving in years of drought and for this Joseph became the Pharaoh’s right hand man. When the book of Exodus starts, Joseph has been dead long enough that those in power no longer remember him or his technocolor dreamcoat. This leaves the Hebrew people vulnerable.

This new king noticed that the Israelite people outnumbered the Egyptians. With their great numbers will they soon become more  powerful than the King and his people? He decides to exercise his power in a decisive way. And so the Hebrew people were forced to work for the Egyptians. The work became more and more difficult until the Hebrew people were slaves in the land of Egypt.

God calls Moses to lead the people to freedom. God says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

And God does just that. This is why today’s scripture began with these words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” God begins this life-affirming set of instructions with a reminder to the people of where they have been, where they are now and how they got here. Even though they haven’t yet arrived in the Promised Land, they are no longer slaves and their new land, the land God promised, is coming soon.

The story is as simple as this. God sees our suffering. First, God frees us to new life and then God offers a new way to live. A life rooted in freedom with ways to live that will allow us to stay free. God gave us these commandments as a way to live in God’s promise of life for everyone. In my previous church, the chidren learned our faith stories by using Young Children in Worship by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman.  This book calls the 10 commandments, The Ten Best Ways to Live. What if we stopped calling them the 10 commandments? Instead, we could call these life-giving, relationship-strengthening, community-building verses The Ten Best Ways to Live.

Would they sound easier, if they were worded in this way, “Because the Lord is your God, you are free not to need any other gods. You are free to rest on the seventh day; free to love your elders and keep them safe now as they protected you when you were young; free from the tyranny of lifeless idols and empty words; free from murder, stealing and covetousness as ways to establish yourself in the land.”¹

By the time God gives the 10 Best Ways to Live to Moses, God has been in relationship with humans long enough to know a lot about the way we operate. That is why these guidelines, instructions, commandments were not handed to the people as soon as they left Egypt. God knew the people had been forced to do things, told what to do for so long that they might just rebel if they were told what to do again even if God was offering something better. So after the people escaped there was a time of celebration – dancing and singing. As the people began their journey, God provides water and manna from heaven.

God was with them as they met up with people who lived in the land they were traveling through and as people had disputes with each other that Moses mediated. And finally, God knows the people are ready for some instructions, some guidance for their lives. And so God give them a better way to live, freedom. Not a to-do list or a list of laws or requirements to be a good person. God gives these best ways to live to those God loves, the people with whom God is in a relationship.

And our gospel reaffirms that these are the 10 Best Ways to Live. Jesus encourages a man who questions him to live the commandments. I’ve always struggled a bit with this man’s response, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Wow. We know the 10 Best Ways to Live are life enriching and we know they aren’t easy. I’m not sure anyone here today would say sure I’ve been faithfully following all 10 for years. And yet, even with this man’s faithfulness, Jesus says there is more to do and the man is unable to do that one last thing. Do not be discouraged when we cannot do one more thing for God or for each other because this week’s gospel passage ends with these words of hope “for God all things are possible.”

The 10 Best Ways to Live and Jesus’ call to follow him are offers of relationship. We are those with whom God wishes to be in relationship. How is your relationship with God? What, if anything, is holding us back from strengthening this relationship? It could be any number of things in these days of busyness and hurrying. So many things filled our lives that God gets pushed to the side. And sometimes the relationship is strained because of events in our lives-we wonder why this happened and where is God? Or your relationship with God may be great right now which still doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about it. Are you neglecting your relationship with God? If so, what can you do about it?

Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World is filled with ordinary practices you can do with thoughtfulness while looking for God in our midst. In the introduction she says, “If you are tired of arguing about religion, tired of reading about spirituality, tired of talk-talk-talking about things that matter without doing a single thing that matters yourself, then the pages that follow are dedicated to you…My hope is that reading will help you recognize some altars in this world—ordinary-looking places where humans being have met and continue to meet up with….God.” (xvii)

Her fifth chapter or practice is about getting lost. She talks about how we get into routines and fail to pay attention. We drive to work and can’t remember the route we took or anything we saw along the way. We go about our daily lives without ever paying any attention. We get from point A to point B as fast as possible because we have much to do. In the midst of this chapter she talks about all the people who got lost in the Bible and how while they were lost they found God. Our ancestors in the faith who received the 10 Best Ways to Live, “needed forty years in the wilderness to learn the holy art of being lost…(because) by the time they arrived in the land of milk and honey, they knew how to say thank you and mean it” (74-75).

I hope you have a great getting lost story…where your best laid plans flew out the window as the route you planned to take was no longer available or the place you planned to stop was not open. When we have to move from our carefully constructed plans to plan b, c, or d, we are changed…hopefully for the better.

Where do we need to get lost to be more attentive to our relationship with God? Toward the end of the chapter, Barbara says, “If you are not able to set priorities any other way, then getting lost may be the kick in the pants you have been waiting for” (85). I hope today you feel the Holy Spirit moving in your life inviting you into a stronger relationship with our God.

Are these commandments rules from long ago that should be etched in stone, in our courthouses, for symbolic reasons perhaps more than practical ones, or are they etched deeply into our hearts, where we long for the wholeness and newness that God offers us? Are they holding you back or giving you new life in God? If they are holding you back, may you find some time today or this week to get lost and see God in your ordinary, everyday life. Amen.

This sermon was originally preached on October 14, 2012 at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has been edited for this blog post.

¹Thomas G. Long, “Dancing the Decalogue.” Christian Century 123, no. 5 (March 7, 2006), 17.

Book Review-Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs

photo 2-40

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs Tomie dePaola

In this true story from the author’s childhood, he shares his memories of his great grandmother and his grandparents. When he is still young Nana Upstairs (his great grandma) dies. The book deals with death of a loved one in a faithful and realistic way for a young child. While the book doesn’t address life after death, it does talk about how Nana Upstairs will not be physically here although she will live on in his memories.

The topics of death and grief are hard for us to discuss at any age. Despite the difficulty and range of emotions surrounding death and grief, these are topics we must be thinking and talking about throughout our whole life. I recommend this book for a child whose loved one has died or a child grieving loss. I recommend this book as a way to begin or continue a conversation about death, grief, and loss. Because this book is a loving tribute to his elders, I recommend this book for people of any age who have fond memories of their grandparents.

This is my 100th post. Thanks for reading through my first 100 and looking forward to continuing the conversation with you for many 100s more!

Worship Words-Go in Peace!

file0001255053864

The benediction is a favorite part of worship for me. Before rushing off to the million things on my to do list, I am invited or inviting other to stop, take a deep breath, reflect on what we have just experienced together, and remember I am a beloved child of God. If I am receiving the benediction, I like to close my eyes and bow my head. This posture prepares me to receive a blessing. If I offering the benediction, I like to look out over the congregation to see the people I love and God loves for one more minute before they hurry back to their lives. Next time you receive a benediction or as you read this one to yourself, I encourage you to take a deep breath and feel the Spirit of God present with you.

As you go out into God’s world, know that God goes with you. You feel and share the love of God when you open your hearts and your homes to people you love and those you do not yet love. You feel and share the peace of Christ when you look another in the eye and listen. You feel and share the compassion of the Holy Spirit when you share what you have with someone who needs it more. Go now in peace. Amen.