Get up!

Linda went to start her car the other day, and the battery was dead. Apparently she hadn’t driven enough recently to keep it charged.

A few days earlier, I was walking up the three steps to our front porch, and I tripped on the top step, and down I went, face first. I guess that’s what happens when you’re trying to carry something while thinking about something else.

These days I consider it good if I can keep one thought in my head, let alone two or three at the same time. I mentioned the problem to one of our daughters, and I blamed it on creeping dementia. “No, Dad,” she said, “that’s pandementia.”

Pandementia – I think the word perfectly describes our current situation. After nearly a year of decidedly non-normal behavior, many of us have gone just a little bonkers trying to cope.

I told my chiropractor about falling, and she said, “You should have come to see me right away.” Don’t you hate it when people lecture you, and they’re right?

For weeks now, I’ve wanted to start a new exercise routine. Wanting is as far as I’ve gotten. The new routine would be on top of my regular routine of stretching and light exercise to help my back. I don’t remember the last time I did that.

I never figured that I would be one to fall into this sense of endless drifting. Not me, I’m too strong for that! But I have to admit that I have a major case of pandementia. What can I do to shake myself out of this mental quicksand? What can you do to shake yourself out of it?

Mindful that I always preach to myself as much as I do to you, let’s proceed under the jaunty title of “Seven Steps to Beat Pandementia.”

Let’s begin by reading Philippians 4:6-9 from the Common English Bible. The Apostle Paul writes:

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.

Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

For many of us, those are familiar words – almost too familiar. Let’s hear them again a different way, this time from The Message by Eugene Peterson.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

There you have them, Paul’s seven steps to beat pandementia. Let’s count them out.

First, don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. One way or another, anxiety is always crippling. It’s a mental dis-ease that does more to harm than many physical diseases.

Henri Nouwen says that worry means our hearts are in the wrong place. We’re focused on “many things” rather than the one thing that Jesus says is necessary (Luke 10:41-42). Our lives are so fragmented that we’re “all over the place” mentally and spiritually. We’re in such spiritual crisis that we may have an address but we’re never home.

Instead of worrying, pray. That’s step two. I love this phrasing from The Message: “Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.” Don’t hesitate to tell God all your troubles. Don’t hold back. God is a good listener. God already knows your concerns, even before you express them, but you need to put them into words to express them freely to God and to yourself. You may be surprised how much healing occurs when you hear yourself saying the words, in your head or out loud.

As you pray, always give thanks. That’s step three. As bad as some things are, other things are still good. Give thanks for the good, even if your heart is breaking over the bad.

As you praise God even in the midst of your pain, you may be surprised again at the change that can occur within you. This is step four now. As you pray, allow yourself to be filled with a sense of God’s wholeness. This is a sense that no matter how broken the world is, and how broken some parts of your life are, God is still working to mend all things. This sense is what used to be called the peace that passes all understanding. This is the peace that surpasses all we can fathom, the peace that keeps our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Fifth, focus on what’s good, and shun bad thoughts. A simple way to remember this is the old Johnny Mercer song that’s as true today as it was in the 1940s.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

Yeah, sometimes pop culture gets it right.

Sixth, practice what you’ve learned from role models who model Christ. You can best remember and honor those saints whom you have known by doing as they did. If you follow their good examples, the God of peace will be with you, and you will feel God’s peace within you.

The seventh and final step is a summary of all that came before. It’s a firm call to action to all of us when we feel weak and when we stumble. This message comes to us in a frequent refrain heard throughout the Bible, but especially in the New Testament.

When the Prophet Elijah falls exhausted, the messenger of the Lord comes to him and says, “Get up and eat!’’ (1 Kings 19:7)

When God commissions the prophet Jonah, God says, “Get up, and go!”  (Jonah 1:2)

When King Herod threatens the life of the infant Jesus, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Get up and go.” (Matthew 2:13)

When a crippled man is lowered through the roof to him, Jesus says, “Get up, pick up your cot, and go home.” (Matthew 9:6)

To a man at the Bethesda pool who has been unable to walk for 38 years, Jesus says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)

To the leper who returns to thank Jesus for healing him, Jesus says, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 17:19)

To blind Bartimaeus who calls out to Jesus for mercy, people say, “Get up, Jesus is calling you.” (Mark 10:48-49)

When the daughter of Jairus the synagogue leader dies, Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And she does. (Mark 5:41)

When Peter is called to the bedside of a stricken saint, he says, “Tabitha, get up!” And she does. (Acts 9:40)

After he is transfigured before them, Jesus tells his disciples, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7)

When he awakens his sleeping disciples in Gethsemane, he says, “Get up. My time is at hand.” (Matthew 26:46)

When Jesus accosts Saul on the road to Damascus, he says, “Get up. I have plans for you.” (Acts 9:6, 22:10, 26:16)

When God calls Ananias to help Saul, God says: “Get up and go find Saul.” (Acts 9:11)

When Peter is bound in prison, an angel appears and loosens his chains and says, “Get up quickly.” (Acts 12:6-7)

Those are just some of the “get up” commands of the Bible. Notice that we’re not told simply to “get up” but to “get up” and do something. Also notice that in these commands is an implicit promise. It takes gumption and resolve to get up when you’re down. But you never act alone. God is always with you. God is always at your side. And God may provide that extra “oomph!” to lift you up.

In these long days of pandemic, it is so easy to become bed ridden, house ridden, habit ridden, self ridden. Don’t fall into this trap. Don’t let pandementia get the best of you.

Read Philippians 4:6-9 again and again for those “Seven Ways to Beat Pandementia.” Or remember just this one.

When the battery dies, get up and recharge it. When you fall on your face, get up and get going. When it’s time for your exercises, get up and get moving. Whatever happens, always get up – and keep following Jesus, who’s always there to lead you.


This message was delivered online January 31, 2021, to Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgeton, Kansas, from Philippians 4:6-9.

Repairers of the breach

When you were a kid, do you remember belonging to a club? It may have met in one corner of the front porch, or maybe in the hayloft, or maybe even in a treehouse. Your club may not have had a name, but one thing it surely had was a sign – and probably the sign said something like, “No girlz allowed.” In the comics, that’s girls with a “Z” at the end.

Probably down the lane a ways there was another clubhouse that also had a sign out front, only this sign said, “No boyz allowed.” That’s boys with a ”Z” at the end.

Either way, you get the picture. Whoever else might be in your club, you sure didn’t want one of that other kind. Here’s it’s boys only; there it’s girls only. These are exclusive clubs, you see. They have standards.

There are still plenty of clubs like those, though the signs may now be invisible so as not to violate antidiscrimination laws. If yours is a public club, it must be open to everyone. If yours is a truly private club, it may be a somewhat different story.

You may be surprised to hear that the church is neither a public nor a private club. The church is altogether a different thing. The church is a creation of God. It is open to all God’s children.

Some churches seem to think that their members, and theirs alone, are God’s children – and all those other folks, well, presumably they’re somebody’s spawn but certainly not God’s. Let me say this plainly. These churches have it all wrong. Every human being is precious because every human being is created in the image of God. You’ve heard the saying, “God don’t make no trash.” Let me add to that. God don’t make no bastards either. Every human being is a beloved child of God.

Well, now I’ve done it. Not only have I offended some people who want to think that their church is an exclusive club. I’ve doubly offended them by using a word they think should never be said in church. But I think there are a lot worse words that should not be used in church, and those are words of exclusion and bigotry and hatred. When we use those words in church, we might as well be cursing God right to God’s face.

I have a confession I must make. It requires a little introduction. We are one of only two Reconciling Ministries churches in the Five Rivers District. That is, we publicly support the full participation of all persons in church life. As our website says, “We believe that all people are called to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.” And all means all, right?

The Reconciling Ministries people recently decided to update their statement of inclusion. We’ll eventually have to decide as a church whether we want to sign off on the change. The new statement is not a lot different from the old one. It’s mostly just longer, because it lists more people who might be unwelcome in some churches.

It begins: “We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation…”

The first time I read that, it occurred to me that the statement includes people who are transgender. For a moment, I was unsure about that. Do I want to “welcome and affirm” people who’ve changed from one sex to the other?

Then it occurred to me. First, how am I going to know? Second, what business is it of mine? I don’t think I know anyone who’s transgender. But I recall that some years ago I didn’t think I knew anyone who was gay, and God sure opened my eyes on that.

Whatever your sex or sexual orientation, you are made in the image of God, who transcends all sexual differences. Therefore, you ought to be welcome in any church that claims a relationship with God. I just can’t see it any other way.

I know some people cry, “These people are sinners!” Find me someone who’s not. “No,” some say, “These people are special sinners!” Well, what kind of special sinner are you? Do you really think your sins make you superior to anyone else?

Abraham Lincoln said it well in a speech he made in 1858 Lewistown, Illinois, during his debates with Stephen F. Douglas. He said the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence was that no person “stamped with the divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.”

Friends, this is Human Relations Day. It’s a day set aside by the United Methodist Church in anticipation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday. Today we especially remember King’s dream that one day all Americans would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and one day all Americans might be united in what he called “beloved community.”

We are as far from that ideal as ever. In recent weeks we have seen the election of a black man and a Jewish man to the Senate from Georgia, and the election of a woman of color as vice president. These are huge leaps forward in human relations, but they are leaps forward from so far back that they seem hardly measurable.

We measure such progress in inches, while every moment of every day millions of Americans are still deprived of basic rights – not just privileges but basic rights – because of the color of their skin or the country they were born in or their birth language or any of the many other idiotic ways that some people seek to enforce an advantage over others. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about some people trying to take advantage of others; robbing them of what’s theirs by birthright as children of God.

If nothing else, fairness demands that we change – fairness, and our national charter and, oh yes, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to announce grace and peace to all the world, with no exceptions.

After the assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, our bishop also has declared this a day of healing and hope. We are a long way from healing, but maybe there is some hope.

January 6 was Epiphany, a day of revelation and unveiling of truth. Surely what we saw in Washington was a sort of epiphany. We saw clearly that day how deeply our nation needs healing and how much we need hope.

We also saw clearly that some people want vengeance rather than healing, and they place their hope in the violent destruction of their enemies. While relying on our police forces to maintain order, we have to stand firmly against the forces of disorder without resorting to violent means ourselves.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:6). You can tell who the peacemakers are. They’re the ones who have bruises all over their bodies because they’ve been pummeled by both sides.

The prophet Isaiah calls such people “repairers of the breach” (Isaiah 58.12). To repair the breach in our land, we cannot be ones who lamely say, “There are good people on both sides.” Because some of the people involved are not good people.

The ones who stormed the Capitol last week with weapons and other implements of destruction, who savagely beat police officers who got in their way, who randomly destroyed public property, who ransacked the quarters of legislators and carried rope and zip ties in case they encountered one – these were not good people.

Nor can we excuse the behavior of those who helped incite this insurrection by reckless rhetoric and lies about a stolen election. Was it only last week that we renewed our pledge to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”? If only we’d known how timely that pledge was.

It is never easy to stand up for truth and goodness and stand against falsehood and evil. But we who are committed followers of the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life must take this stance. And if that makes us unpopular in some quarters – well, we already know we aren’t welcome in some clubhouses, don’t we? We also know that we are welcome in that great assembly that counts the most – the great family of God.

Even then, there will inevitably be disagreements among us. I’m sure that some among you may take sharp exception to what I’ve said today, or the way I’ve said it. As I’ve said previously, you are free to disagree with me. I’ll still love you, and I hope you’ll still love me. But we must stand united in the hope of Christ because we share the love of Christ.

In the spirit of that love, I invite you to join me in a prayer that captures the gentle spirit of Saint Francis, whether he actually used these words or not. Would you pray with me?

Lord, make me a channel of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith in you.

Where there is despair, let me bring hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may never seek

so much to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

and to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

These are words of hope that remind us of our God of hope and healing.

I think my grandson Theo can instruct us today. Theo is six years old, but sometimes he shows an understanding and maturity that surpasses that of many adults.

In a phone call the other day, he remarked, “We all need to do things to make people happy.”

Theo suggests that one way to make people happy is to send them a fun box. A fun box could contain some jokes (Theo loves jokes, the cornier the better). Or it might have a puzzle in it, or a game or a book, or maybe some cookies or a plastic flower. Your biggest limit here may be your own imagination.

But there’s more. Once you receive a fun box, Theo says, you need to send one to someone else. That way, we’ll all get a fun box in the mail from someone, and we’ll all know that somebody cares for us.

I think those are splendid ideas, and not just because they come from my grandson.

In coming weeks as you pray daily for healing and hope, why don’t you try contributing to healing and hope by doing something to make another person feel loved? If not a fun box, maybe you could send just a card or a note. Keep it simple, and keep it going, for as long as you are able.

This message was delivered January 17, 2021, online to Edgerton United Methodist Church, from Isaiah 58:10-13.       


Isaiah 58:10-13 (NIV and NRSV)

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.


Benediction from Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rewarding but dense

Tripp Fuller can be very engaging and accessible, as he has shown many times in his “Homebrewed Christianity” podcasts and a previous book. His latest book, though, is intimidating from the start.

The cover features a stark black and white photo of a solar eclipse. Given that bleak beauty, the title seems almost ironic: DIVINE SELF-INVESTMENT: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology.

I know that Fuller can write clean and clear sentences, even punchy and memorable sentences. In fact, there are a lot of those in this book. I only wish somebody had gone through my copy and underlined them for me. Then maybe I could have just skimmed the rest.

Because too much of the rest is written in prose so dense and convoluted that it is sometimes almost opaque. OK, this book is written for academics. I get that. But it’s hard to tell whether academic prose is carefully precise or merely gaseous.

One of Fuller’s “Homebrewed” slogans is “theology that doesn’t suck.” Merely not sucking isn’t good enough. Theology ought to sparkle. I know Fuller can write sparkling prose, and I wish he’d done more of it here.

His aim is to create “a robust constructive open and relational Christology.” That’s to fill the vacuum created by liberal theology’s “laryngitis” in constructive theology, especially where metaphysics is concerned.

For the benefit of those who aren’t sure what “open and relational” means, here’s his nifty introduction: “Open and relational theologies can take several forms, yet there are two central convictions that underlie them all; namely, that God affects the world, and the world affects God. God and the world are inextricably linked and from moment to moment, they share a life together.”

Christian faith is necessarily confessional, Fuller maintains, and he points to Simon Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. “What Peter is doing is making a confession of his faith,” Fuller says. “It is not a conclusion, or even a verdict demanded by the evidence, but a confessional response to the God who was present in Christ.”

Fuller says his confessional Christology has to address historical, existential and metaphysical concerns – that is, what happened in Jesus’ life, how God is present for us in Jesus, and how we can best understand God today.

He begins with an enlightening exposition of the modern quest for the historical Jesus. He concludes that though the quest does give “concrete content to the faith confession,” it really can’t tell us much about who Jesus is for us. What we need is not a Christology from below, or from above, but one “as a disciple from within.”

To explore that, Fuller pairs and compares the Christologies of six theologians. Catholic theologians Roger Haight and Joseph Bracken represent “Spirit Christologies.” Post-liberal Kathryn Tanner and process theologian John Cobb represent more traditional “Logos Christologies.” Finally, he compares the work of liberal Douglas Ottati, who offers a “Christology of the heart,” and the open and relational view of Andrew Sung Park.

I found these chapters the hardest in the book to read, and I found the comparisons simply tiring. The part about Cobb seemed clearer than the others, but maybe that’s because I’m more familiar with his work.

Given Fuller’s hope to create a “robust” Christology, I was underwhelmed by his concluding chapter tying everything together. Though he says that “the incarnation can be understood as God’s intention from the beginning of Creation,” he rejects the idea that Christ was pre-existent. He also rejects kenosis theologies and the hypostatic union. I want to know more here; I also want to know more about the difference between the Galilean and Roman gospels that he suggests several times.

Still, he says some great things. Open and relational theology establishes “Jesus Christ as model, means, and promise of God.” And “Jesus’ faithfulness was much more than a model; it was God’s divine self-investment in the world.” And “the essence of God does not change. God is love. Divine love is not an occasional activity.”

Finally, the last paragraph: “The work of God is revealed in the person of Jesus – precisely in what he said, did, endured, and continues to say, do, endure, and transform through the spirit. A disciple’s confession of Jesus as the Christ is not simply an act of identification, but one of recognition. If one comes to know themselves as known and loved by God in Christ, and one can see her life as also sustained and empowered by God, they might seek to discover and share the mind of Christ in which their will comes to cohere with God’s will. It is this life together in God for which the Spirit of God has always worked and the Word of God has always beckoned in desiring a full response. The promise and hope of salvation rests in this: that the God who chose to invest Godself in creating creaturely co-creators and who was ever faithful to the covenanted people of Israel, is the God of deep solidarity who stands in need of our shared salvation.”

Good stuff here, but some tough sledding to get to some of it.

** I am reviewing this book under an agreement with Speakeasy in which I receive an electronic copy of the book but no inducement to either praise or condemn it.

You are the Beloved

Henri Nouwen is one of the most beloved Christian writers of our age. He has a way of speaking directly and deeply to the human heart, offering words of encouragement, challenge, and hope. I begin each day reading a meditation drawn from his works. After hearing Henri’s voice every morning for several years, I find it hard to wake up spiritually without it.

So, one of his biographies says, it may seem strange that some of our most uplifting thoughts come from someone who suffered a lifelong struggle with feelings of inadequacy and loneliness and despair. At a time of great anguish in his life, Henri decided to start every day in solitude and contemplative prayer. The eventual result was an epiphany, a revelation of God’s presence and power. He came to a striking realization that guided him the rest of his life: “You are the Beloved of God.”

This became his life message. He writes: “All I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being: ‘You are the Beloved.’ ”

Henri heard these words spoken to him wordlessly in prayer. Jesus heard them spoken aloud to him by his heavenly Father, though whether they were a roar or a whisper we cannot say.

Jesus is about 30 years old when he learns that his cousin John is calling Israel to repentance and baptism. Jesus knows that it’s time for him to reveal himself to the world. So he heads for the Jordan River, where John is dunking all who come to him seeking a renewal of purpose and a new direction in life.

Jesus has no sins to confess, but he does feel the need to repent. That is, he needs a new direction; he needs to turn from one way of life to another. He needs to put the quiet life of a Nazareth craftsman behind him and stride boldly into his future.

What happens next is not visible or audible to John or to other onlookers, at least according to Mark’s version of events. That means that we can know about it only because Jesus spoke of it later. He told others about it because it’s an important moment in his life. It’s a powerful affirmation of who he is and what his mission is. It’s a personal epiphany, a fresh expression of his identity, a new way of seeing things into the future.

As he is coming up out of the water, he sees the sky ripped open. Can you imagine the immensity of it? And he sees the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove. Can you hear the flutter of wings and imagine feeling the small feet coming to rest on you?

And he hears that voice from heaven. Maybe it’s roar. Maybe it’s a whisper. All we know is that he hears it clearly. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism is a pivotal moment in his life. He remembers and cherishes this divine affirmation for the rest of his life. It’s what sustains him during three grueling years of ministry, walking, constantly walking, from one place to another, announcing the coming of God’s kingdom. It’s what sustains him during the good days as well as the bad. It’s what sustains him when he is betrayed, condemned and suffers an awful death on a cross.

He remembers the words: “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” God’s affirmation to Jesus at his baptism echoes throughout his life.

Like Henri Nouwen, what I would like you to understand today is that when you were baptized, whether you heard it clearly or not, God said something similar to you.

What I want you to understand today is whenever you recall or renew the act of your baptism, God says it again, whether you hear it clearly or not. God says: “You are my beloved child.”

No matter what other people say about you, no matter what society says about you, no matter what other churches say about you, this is the core truth of your life. As Henri Nouwen puts it, “Your true identity is as a child of God.”

This identity sets you free, Henri says, because it “is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world.”

If you dare to believe this, then you realize that you were sent into this world for just a little while to discover your true identity and claim it and help every other human being do the same.

Oh, you’re a sinner, some object. Big deal. Everyone else is, too. That’s why it’s so important for you and for everyone else to realize that “sinner” is a secondary identity, an acquired identity, a false identity in the sense that it’s not your true identity, who you really are. Your core identity, who you really are, is a child of God.

You may find this hard to hear, harder to understand. If you’re still making new year’s resolutions, then your top resolution of the year should be this: Know that you are beloved of God and claim your status as a child of God.

It will change your life. It changed Henri Nouwen’s life. It even changed the life of Jesus. Let this affirmation change your life today. You are the Beloved. Amen.

This message was delivered electronically January 10, 2021, to Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas, from Mark 1:4-11. 

What a disgrace

What happened at our nation’s Capitol the other day was a disgrace – both what happened outside, when Trump incited a riot, and what happened inside, when leaders of the Senate sedition caucus (Hawley and Cruz) continued to spew lies about the election that Joe Biden clearly and decisively won, and when rioters tried to sack the place.

Even Mitch McConnell called it a “failed insurrection.”

Rudy Guiliani fired up the Trump crowd with such lines as, “Let’s have a trial by combat.” Then Trump announced, “We’re gong to walk to the Capitol.” He didn’t, of course. He watched TV coverage of the mayhem he’d created from the safety of the White House.

Already the right-wing media (the true purveyors of fake news) are saying that the rioters weren’t Trump supporters at all. Why, they were all antifa! Betcha the arrest records will show otherwise. But better to blame a largely mythical organization than to admit that it was a Trump mob that tried to sack the Capitol building.

These were not “demonstrators.” Demonstrators don’t show up at a rally with firearms, clear plastic shields and ropes with grappling hooks. These people were looking to create trouble.

These terrorists achieved what the Confederacy never could – raising the flag of sedition inside the Capitol. Meanwhile, there were lots of American flags with the name “Trump” pasted onto them. That’s a clear violation of the flag code. But these phony patriots don’t care about things like that. Like their TV reality show master, to them it’s all about the show.

Trump still has two weeks to achieve his goal of making America a shithole nation. God helps us in the meantime.

He won’t disappear, alas. So maybe it’s time to look at some Trump “tells.”

I have no idea how good a poker player he is, but he has several “tells” that you can see all the time.

For example, you can tell if he’s lying: he’s either speaking or Twittering. He appears to be incapable of speaking the truth about almost everything.

More tells: If he calls something “fake news,” that means it’s 100% accurate but he won’t admit it because it exposes his lies.

“Deep state” is a funny one. Supposedly it’s nefarious people buried deep in government who don’t want him to succeed. But when Pfizer didn’t announce its vaccine breakthrough until after the election, Trump said Pfizer was part of “deep state.” In other words, “deep state” is anyone who doesn’t follow Trump’s orders or displeases him in some way. If you show any sign of honesty or integrity or independence of Trump, you’re part of “deep state.”

“Witch hunt” is another Trump favorite. All the investigations into his various shady dealings are “witch hunts.” Of course, that’s because they’re hunting him, and he’s the witch. One of these days, maybe somebody will catch him.

You may note that Trump loves to fire people. Makes you wonder why he hired them in the first place. Usually they show some sign of independence or integrity, and out they go. Trump’s presidency follows the pattern of his TV show, when he fired everybody who was smarter than he was. Eventually, of course, that meant he had to fire everyone else, lest they accidentally reveal how shallow he is.

Trump is an outlaw. He does not believe in the rule of law. He believes only in using the law against others and for himself. His favorite tactic is the lawsuit. Because he has deep pockets, he can keep a case dragging through the courts until his adversaries run out of money. If he threatens to sue you, that means you have done something that cuts close to his chicanery, and he must silence you by falling back on his favorite first- and last-resort tactic: send in the crooked lawyers.

When Trump and his allies talk about election fraud and illegal voting and ballot stuffing and a stolen election, what they really mean is that people of color were allowed to vote. In Trump’s world, black people and Hispanics would not be allowed near the polls.

These are just a few of the Trump “tells.” To parody an old tagline from “The Naked City” TV series: “There are six million lies in Trumpland. These are some of them.”

It’s all about creating a false reality, an information bubble that people can’t break out of once they’re trapped in it. Hawley captured it perfectly when he claimed that he was only trying to answer an outcry from his constituents. But who kept telling the lies that created the outcry? It’s a monster that feeds on its own depravity.

I hope this is the last I have to say about this wretch man. (Trump, I mean. Hawley, sadly, is likely to be around for a long time.)

Glimpses of glory

On Epiphany Sunday we usually hear the same story year after year. That’s the story of the visit of the magi, or wise men, to the young Jesus. But there are two other stories that need to be told, two other stories we need to hear. These also offer epiphanies, or revelations, of who this child is. These three stories offer glimpses of the glory of Christ.

The two stories that we’re not used to hearing both come from the gospel of Luke, where they immediately follow the story of Jesus’ birth. From Luke, chapter 2, 21 to 38:

Eight days after the child was born, it was time for his circumcision and naming. He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Forty days after his birth, it was time for Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses, and at that time they took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. It is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.”

For Mary’s purification they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. He was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.

He said, “Master, now you may dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation. You’ve prepared it in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

Also there was a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years and then as a widow to the age of 84. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

At that moment she came upon them. She began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Imagine going off to the biggest city you’ve ever seen and encountering two very strange people who approach you out of the blue and announce that your baby is not only precious to you but precious to the entire world.

I mean, you expect to encounter some strange people in a big city, but this is way over the top! You knew your baby was special. How do these people know? And how do they know so much about him? God must have revealed it to them.

Anna, the old lady, practically lives in the Temple. Seems like she’s always there. But Simeon, the old man, lives in the city. He was guided to the Temple by the Holy Spirit that day. Maybe it was a little nudge: “You ought to go to the Temple.” Maybe it was a big push: “You need to be in the Temple now!”

The Temple is a huge place; it covers 15 acres on several levels. It’s no coincidence that both Samuel and Anna show up at exactly the right place at the right time. They are there to witness two important things happening in the life of the holy family.

First, Mary undergoes ritual purification. She was ceremonially impure for seven days following Jesus’ birth. She has to stay in a kind of ritual quarantine for 40 days afterward. For a girl, it would have been 80 days.

A sacrifice is required. Normally, it’s a sheep. But for poor people, two turtledoves or two pigeons can be substituted. That’s what Mary and Joseph pay. It’s all they can afford.

While they are in the Temple for that ceremony, they also present the baby Jesus to the Lord. This is a serious matter. In the past, it was customary for many pagans to sacrifice their firstborn males to their gods. Many children were slain that way in Jerusalem’s Valley of Hinnom.

The Lord our God also laid claim to all firstborn males. But the Lord simply demanded that they be dedicated to the service of the Lord. God did not claim the blood of the child but the life of the child dedicated to God’s purposes.

That’s why Simeon could declare that Jesus would become a light for revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel. And given Israel’s poor record of listening to her prophets, Simeon also could see that Jesus would be a source of division among his people, and a source of pain to his mother as well.

In these stories, God reveals something of the nature of Jesus to two old prophets in the Temple. In our third story, the one we’re used to hearing on this day, God shows off Jesus to some foreigners. Matthew, chapter two, verses 1 to 11:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising at dawn, and we have come to pay him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.

Calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ “

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. And they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

About those three kings: First, we don’t know how many of them there were, only that they brought three gifts to the young Jesus. These were gifts fit for a king – gold and aromatic spices – very expensive. Who knows how many givers had to pool their resources to afford them?

Second, they were not kings. Matthew calls them magi. They are stargazers – yes, even astrologers, but not like those you read in the funny pages or online. They are wise men, scholars who look to the stars and to ancient religious texts for clues to what is happening on earth.

They see a sign in the sky. They call it a star. It might be a rare conjunction of planets, similar to the one visible to us a couple weeks ago. They’re not dummies. They know the difference between a star and a planet, but they’re just like us; when they look up, they see stars.

Some translations say they saw the star in the east. Actually, the text says they saw the star at its morning rising in the eastern sky. The conjunction we saw Dec. 21 was visible to us at its evening setting in the western sky.

Something about this celestial sight leads them to believe that a king has been born in Israel. He must be a special king, because off they go on a long and tiring and expensive and dangerous journey.

When they finally arrive at their destination, they are not just pleased. They are overwhelmed with joy. They are delighted. They are ecstatic. And when they see the child – who is by now a toddler – they fall to their knees and pay him homage. They adore him. They worship him.

Every parent surely adores their two-year-old. But none fall to their knees before him in worship. This is an extraordinary level of veneration.

These men, who have sacrificed so much to come so far, are aware that they are in the presence of supernatural greatness, and they are humbled. They worship the little guy who stands before them, bright-eyed and happy, gurgling and blowing bubbles.

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. This, this is Christ the King, the babe, the son of Mary.

“And the Word became flesh and lived with us,” the gospel of John says. “And we have seen his glory” (John 1.14).

These stories offer glimpses of the glory of Christ. Have you glimpsed this glory as well? Have you been called by the Holy Spirit to witness great things? Have you traveled a long and hard way to discover the Lord in your midst?

This, this is Christ the King. Let us haste, haste, to bring him praise. Amen.

This message was delivered online January 3, 2021, Epiphany Sunday, for Edgerton United Methodist Church.

Journey to Bethlehem

We’re still in the Christmas season, so I invite you to view a most interesting video presentation of the birth of Jesus. It comes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of its new Light the World campaign.

“The Christ Child” is a dramatized telling of the story. It helps if you know the story because there’s little dialogue, and what few words are spoken are in Aramaic, the ancient language widely spoken at the time of Jesus.

The music is way over the top and Mary does ride a donkey, but there are some interesting deviations from the standard telling – all supported by the latest scholarship.

When they arrive in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary go to a home of someone in Joseph’s family. It’s crowded because of the census. He wonders if they might not use the guest room, so he climbs a ladder to investigate and finds it full. You wonder how Mary could have gotten up the ladder anyway.

There aren’t just male shepherds in the fields that night. Herding sheep is a family business, so women and children also are gathered around the fire.

The magi remain a mystery. Having seen the star, they set out in a well-guarded caravan. By the time they get to Bethlehem, Jesus is a toddler. When they present their gifts and bow down to worship him, the significance of the act is evident in their faces. They’ve come a long way for this moment, and they find great emotional and spiritual fulfillment in it.

You may find it an affecting experience as well.

The film is about 18 minutes long. Find it on YouTube at https://youtube/yXWoKi5x3lw or at this address: