Food for Thought-The SemiColon

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The SemiColon

My precious semicolon;
your vertical period,
a comma stolen,
resting on a myriad,
of independent clauses,
denoting dangling theories,
participles of the past,
that force me to pause,
to look beyond one idea,
and consume with applause,
what lies inside your verbal Ikea,
right angles of existential guffaws,
scooped around mental gallerias,
illuminated by my typographic faux pas.

-Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-My Lucky Hat

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My Lucky Hat

I was nervous as a cat,
on that gloomy morning,
when I could not find my lucky hat,
I was always loosing that stupid thing,
one time a puma,
stole it in the rain,
last week,
I was full of pain,
when a ruthless hooligan,
grabbed my cap,
while I traveled,
partially back,
from hearing the fans clap,
for my favorite band,
Acoustic Tuna Fish
and the Delusional Sweat Glands”,
the Sweat Glands played,
ridiculously long sets,
of fugitive Nigerian reggae,
I can easily recall how much I began to fret,
when I heard “Shell Oil is Dancing Too Close with My Baby Today”,
then I realized my head was getting wet,
my lucky cap had been whisked away.
what lunacy, I say!

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Have You Understood All This? Thoughts on Matthew 13:31-52

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Jesus asks the disciples in verse 51, “Have you understood all this?” We don’t get an indication of a pause, delay, or the looks on their faces. He’s just run through a litany of some of the most important parables he’ll ever tell and which explain some of the most central concepts related to the coming “kingdom of God”. Matthew only says they answer with a single word, an affirmative, “yes.”

That question scares me. If Jesus came to me today and asked, “Have you understood all of this?” could I honestly give him the “yes” answer? This is one of the most important questions Jesus asks his disciples. It is a question I believe we need to hear him asking to each one of us. We’ve had a great deal of material thrown our way. It’s a tremendous amount to digest intellectually and spiritually. To understand it on the first go around, on one hearing, would be nearly impossible. Jesus isn’t introducing hard concepts. He’s not asking us to do differential equations. This is stuff we should be able to grasp. It’s in the living that the problems occur. How do we make the hard choices and prioritize like the people in the parables?

I think Jesus understands this. I believe he realizes we too often jump in and give hasty answers to hard questions. That’s why verse 52 is so important. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of God,” is how he begins. Trained is the operative word there. Training is a process, an ongoing, step by step series of learning events. Scribes were some of the most methodically trained religious leaders in the era of 2nd Temple Judaism. In some ways, their training never ended. They were always in the text, learning new things, memorizing, living and breathing the scrolls. Our understanding, Jesus is saying, is always evolving. We are always growing into our understanding of the kingdom of God. It’s something that never stops and like the scribes, we keep working on, with that level of intensity, each day.

Food for Thought-Richard’s Ongoing List of First World Problems

The store is out of Nutella.
No one sells the right kind of bottled water.
There’s nowhere to charge your phone on this boat.
There is no wifi.
There is a long line at the coffee shop.
There is nowhere to park our car.
The petrol was expensive.
Your computer is slow.
Your internet connection is slow.
You have to wear your sunglasses without Croakies.
You can’t find any coasters for your end tables.
Netflix isn’t working.
Where is my Ginger Ale?
The ceiling fan makes too much noise on high.
This elevator is never going to get here.
The seat doesn’t go far enough back to put my bare feet on the dashboard of our car.
They were out of sprinkles at the soft serve bar.
It rained two days in a row.
I forgot my password.
None of my friends get what “gluten free” means.
I forgot to pay the homeowner association dues.
You can’t Sushi at gas stations.
Have you seen my other pair of shoes?

Food for Thought-A Graveyard for Lunatics

 

A graveyard for lunatics,
all lined up,
with a certain crooked caché,
fugitives from their funerals,
in their own special ways,
hidden beneath leaves of lunacy,
a short distance from the waves,
these delusional hooligans,
come out to play,
in the heat of winter,
or a cold summer’s day.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Redeeming Redemption

Sometimes, when I read Jacob’s story (especially a bit beyond this’s week’s assigned text) that the work of redemption begins during the course of this night in the desert.  Yes, God had made a special covenant with both Jacob’s grandfather and father.  Jacob was part of that same arrangement.  Then, like many of us, he tried to alter the terms of the arrangement.  But even that itself, was inherent in God’s original idea for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  On the night in question, Jacob has an experience unlike his father or grandfather’s.  Whereas their encounters with God are described in vague (yet important) terms, “God showed” or “God said”, God comes to Jacob (in a dream) and stands beside him.  God stands shoulder to shoulder with Jacob.  He goes on to explain “the plan”, a revised arrangement, amended and in much greater detail than anything Abraham ever received.  The specificity of the overall vision which God shares with Jacob is absolutely staggering.  Abraham was shown a universe full of stars.  By comparison, Jacob received a detailed PowerPoint presentation from the creator of said universe.    Whatever redemption God began with Abraham, he’s doing it again, and in a much more specific and larger way with Jacob.   He’s redeeming redemption.  This pattern, of redeeming redemption, occurs time and time again throughout Israel’s history; sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways.  As a Christian, I believe the ultimate redeeming of redemption was through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.   Through his life and witness, we learn what it means to be redeemed again and again everyday.  I believe this idea of ongoing redemption, of redeeming the seemingly un-redeemable (i.e. Jacob) began under the night time sky in place called Beth-El.  If the less than virtuous physical embodiment of Israel, a man named Jacob, can be re-redeemed by the direct intervention of God, can’t we all?  I believe this to be seminal for understanding redemption as an ongoing action in our lives.  Redemption can be redeemed.

Food for Thought-Learn to Defy Conventional Wisdom, Let Jesus Do His Job: A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-43

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I like this parable because it runs against the conventional wisdom. I’m not big into conventional wisdom in general. Do you know what I mean? Conventional wisdom leads to housing bubbles, millions of cars being recalled, and eventually innocent people asking, “What happened?” I like to apply that same level of cautious skepticism when looking at some of the tried and true parables. If we want to learn something new, we might be wise to look for a new way in. That may mean the back door or even crawling through a window.

I’m going to open up a window, so we can see that connection, where conventional wisdom relates to our world and then meets up with the picture Jesus paints in this parable. Here we’re told the enemy, the devil, has sewn evil weeds in the gardens of our lives. Being the good gardeners that we are, we want to get these weeds out, do we not? We want to prune and weed right away. We can’t allow any evil, potentially satanic weeds to remain in our front lawns or back gardens. What would the neighbors think? “Look at the preacher’s house; sure is a pretty front porch and I love that old Oak Tree, I just don’t know about all those demonic weeds.” Or it’s like having a bad hand at cards; you want to get rid of ones that will do you no good later in the game as quickly as possible.
Against our better judgment, common sense, spiritual inclinations, Jesus comes in and says, “wait!” Slow, down. You want to hold on to your bad weeds and your good grass. You never know when that 2 of diamonds might be as handy as the ace of hearts. Keep them all. I’ll sort them out in the end. He says “wait” and we say, “whaaat?” What Jesus? You want us to do what? Let me get this straight. These weeds, obviously now identified as evil, even by you, you want us to leave in place, because you say so. Shouldn’t we get them all up now? The people on the news say if we leave them in place we will be in mortal danger. They could grow and spread among us. Jesus says to us, “if you pull them up now, you will pull up the good and the bad, you will do more harm than good. You won’t be able to tell the good from the bad. The best thing to do is let me do the sorting. That’s my job.”

Again, we continue. “Lord, we heard it on the radio, we can’t leave these evil weeds in place, they must be removed now.” Jesus comes back one more time. “I’m telling you, you will hurt yourself and many innocent good pieces of grass. Let me, God, worry about it. This is my issue, not yours. I know your would like it to be yours but I can handle it.”

You see why I love this parable. It exemplifies beauty that is the sovereignty of God. It also shows how we try to undermine God’s sovereignty by our own misguided attempts to do God’s job for God. God can handle it. God sees the world (a world that includes us and the weeds in our lives) in ways that we will never understand. We can only glimpse our gardens at this moment in time. He’s telling us this parable for this reason. We only see last night and this morning. Our perspectives are severely limited. Then the media and the world around us reinforce these same ideas that history started yesterday. This is where Jesus steps. Jesus always takes the long view. He knows that can’t take the bad without also harming the good. This is important to Jesus and should also be important to us. Preserving life at all costs is important to Jesus. He will deal with the evil in his own way which is different from our way. Secondly, Jesus knows that there are both weeds and good grass inside all of us. Again, these are indistinguishable from one another. In order to destroy the evil within us, to use our own time tested human methods, we would destroy ourselves.

Once more, Jesus’s method comes to the fore. Leave it to him. We don’t want to self-destruct or ruin ourselves. The key is to let Jesus help us work through the things which need to be pruned or removed from our lives. We also need to let him protect us from ourselves, save us from throwing out the good from the bad. We’d throw our own babies out with our own bath water. Jesus is the one who will stop us and say, “you may need that later, don’t be so quick to make a hasty judgment.” It’s an old fashioned way to say it but we still need to, “turn it all over to Jesus.”
As I mentioned earlier, this is a parable about letting Jesus do his job. The fancier way to say that might be to say it’s a judgment parable. We like to make judgments. We shouldn’t. Jesus likes to reserve judgment for the right time and place.

How do you tell the Baptists from the Methodists in the liquor store? The Methodists will look you in the eye, wave, and say hello. The Baptists keep staring and the floor, push their carts on by, and ignore you.

Christians know a thing or two about judgment. Or at least we think we do. For some reason, we have got it in our heads that judgment is a central component of Christian faith. Maybe it’s from movies, it could be from selective reading of the Bible, hanging out with the wrong sort of people, or listening to bad preaching on the radio-you know the kind I’m talking about-

The kind with lots of breath and inhalation after each word-
And the Lord said unto the Israelites, I will smite the heathen Jebusites with a plague of lice infested beavers on the third full moon of Avatar, Amen…

You know what I’m talking about. For any number reasons, whether it’s how we grew up, how we were taught, what we’ve heard, or encountered, we come away thinking judgment and then acting upon that judgment (let’s call it condemnation) is central to our faith and belief system.

On top of this, we have picked a role in this judgment. Though we know in the back of our minds that God is the one who does the judging.

That is, if and when judging is going to go down, when it’s going to actually happen, it’s going to fall to the deity. It’s not in our job description. In the back of our minds we know this. We can even profess it if pushed.But in reality, it has never, ever sank in. We have always seen ourselves as part and parcel of the judgment process.

Even though, we are the ones who are subject to being judged (we don’t recognize this, in fact, we usually ignore it altogether). Humans, especially Christian humans have always seen themselves as the 5th men (or women) or God’s judgment basketball team.We’re always right there, on the bench, yelling out, “put me in coach, I’m ready to judge,” I saw somebody walking down the street who I know was a sinner, I can spot them a mile away.

It reminds of how my granddaddy told me about getting out of jury duty. Just tell the lawyers you can spot a guilty man a mile away just by looking at him.We know who’s guilty. We can just tell, can’t we? That’s what we do. We judge people. We know who needs to be condemned. We’ve taken the burden off an already overworked God, have we not? Aren’t we doing God a favor, by spotting the people coming out the liquor store, or noticing who is buying what medicines at the pharmacy? As someone once told me, I kid you not, how do we know who to pray for if we don’t “look at their lives”? That is, we can justify our judgment, presuppositions, and gossip under the guise of prayer concerns. Brothers and sisters, I think the Lord’s got that game pretty well figured out. The only people we’re fooling are ourselves.

Paul has the answer, as he often does. Right there, in the first verse of Romans 8. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s not in Christ Jesus are they. If they’ve not said the sinner’s prayer, done this, that or the other, then they’re not in, right? Aren’t they? Didn’t Jesus die for everyone’s sins? Jesus wasn’t like Santa Claus up there on the cross with a naughty and nice list, saying I’ll die for some and not others. He died for the salvation of the entire world. We’re all in Christ Jesus.  That’s fundamental.

Christ was condemned so we won’t have to be. The immediate questions of sin, judgment, pain, and immortality, Jesus answered once and for all with the events of Easter Sunday morning. What Paul does is raise is a much deeper question; will your mortal body be the end? Will physical death be all she wrote for us? Paul leaves the ultimate question of what happens in eternity unanswered because it is not our question to answer. As Jesus notes in today’s parable, that’s His call. But for you and me and Paul, everyone is offered the opportunity to enter into Jesus’ condemnation free do-over. That’s got everything to with Jesus and nothing to do with us. Just as being graceful, forgiving, and more empathetic have everything to do with how we live after we’ve been given our do-over. No one gave us the go ahead or permission to be judgmental jerks but Paul says you’ve been given the freedom to live free of condemnation, in your own life and how you treat others. You’ve got the green light to go forward and live life differently. This is not something you try. This isn’t an experiment. This is the first day of the rest of your life. Make that choice, seize that opportunity to let God be God in your life and the world around you, and your world will change forever.

Food for Thought-How to Pray

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There’s just something about
Sitting down to pray,
When you let go,
With nothing to say,
Be there and listen,
Forget the stupid day,
Block out the world,
Keep the wolves at bay
Contemplate what’s around you,
The b flat harmony on nature’s page,
God told Jacob to take a nap,
Find holy rocks upon which your head can lay,
To see the angels walk,
There’s something about,
Laying down to pray,
Stand up, sit down, or climb a tree,
To pray requires no special way.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-A Poem for a Funeral

I’m conducting my first funeral in my new parish tomorrow.

No More Dread

Tomorrow I’ll stand,
Dressed in a tie,
To mourn the dead,
Whose mortal remains,
Will for forever lie,
Scattered beneath,
Ocean and sky,
I’ll say the prayers,
Which must be read,
Those words of scripture,
Are always in my head,
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,
Will indeed be said,
For he who knows,
No more dread.

–Richard Bryant