Thursday, May 29, 2014

With God on Our Side?

(As I am supply preaching this SUNDAY... I have a sermon not a prayer this week)

With God on Our Side?

Psalm 68

1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    let the wicked perish before God.
3 But let the righteous be joyful;
    let them exult before God;
    let them be jubilant with joy.
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
    lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds[a]—
his name is the Lord—
    be exultant before him.
5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
    he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
    but the rebellious live in a parched land.
7 O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,Selah
8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
    at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
    at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
    you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

Pennie and I spent a week on the road to Boston... 
so I could attend my 40th seminary reunion. 

On the way home we stopped and had dinner with a couple of our friends who we know from our time in Worcester when we there in the 90's. 

Gary was the Chairman of the board who brought me to do campus ministry in Worcester.
We are brothers in ministry and peace and justice issues and the kind of liberal/radical theology that worked in certain settings but occasionally got us into grief over the years.

While Gary's wife Annie and Pennie were in the kitchen talking about important stuff like grandchildren and life... Gary and I got into a theological discussion in the front room.

I told Gary I was working on a paper for the Cincinnati Civil   War Roundtable. 
This is a group of men and women who meet once a month discuss the events, battles, and people who were involved in that tumulus conflict that defined us as a nation.

I said I was writing about the role of religion in the Civil War and how many leaders and soldiers believed they were acting for God... 
that God had a stake in the war and they were fighting with God's blessing and guidance.
They believed their side would ultimately win...
because they believed they had God on their side.

   Even Abraham Lincoln believed the war was God's judgement on America's 250 years of slavery.  

Gary said his understanding of God was different... that he saw God in everything and everyone... and that he didn't see God acting or directing history like Lincoln did.

Whoa... I said... what do you do with the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures... Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos.... prophets who believed that God does judge peoples and nations... who preached that God sent Israel into exile because it had forsaken God and God's commandments.

Yes... the prophets did say that... Gary confessed... but he saw God in a different way.

And with that we were off... exercising what is left of our wits... which does not take very long these days.

So when I got the email from Linda Nicols about preaching today... 
I looked up the lessons for today. 
And there it was... as if ordained...
this reading from Psalm 68.

Just a quick reading makes clear... 
this is not some sweet poem written by a shepherd boy created while tending his flock.

No... this is a stirring and eloquent recital of the God of Israel who protects God's people ... 
who vanquishes her enemies and provides for them.

Verses 7-10 recite the Exodus story... the defining myth of how God delivered the Hebrew children from the clutches of the Pharaoh... Led them through the Red Sea... thru the wilderness... across the Jordan... into the promised land.

7 O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,Selah
8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
    at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
    at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
    you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

For the Psalmist... 
for the prophets... 
for all of Israel... for Jews then... and today... 
God acted... 
God intervened of their behalf... 
and led them to the promised land.

The Psalmist and the prophets believed that God intervened in history... 
Israel's history. 
The later prophets would warn of God's judgement of their sins... 
and the punishment of exile for those.

They believed that.
But do we?
Do we believe that God acts in history... 
judges peoples and nations?
Do we believe that God intervenes in human life and human history?

Or are we... 
most of us like my friend Gary... 
who sees God everywhere... 
but not a God who interferes in our human affairs... 
who moves and is engaged and acts in our lives as a people or a nation.

Hang with me a minute... 
I think there is more at stake here than just a theological argument.

Because the kind of God we believe in defines who we are as persons... 
who we are as a nation.... 
and who we are as a church.

You see.... 
I think there is part of us who does believe that God does act in human life... 
in human history.
Just listen to how we pray.

In a few minutes we will pray for the world... 
for different countries... 
for the Earth... 
we will lift up together people amongst us we wish God to care for... touch... comfort and heal.

Surely when we pray for all of these people and nations and churches and the Earth... 
we pray these words because we want... 
expect God to do something... 
care and touch and comfort and heal
We want God to act.
So like the Psalmist and the prophets... 
we do believe in a God who acts in human affairs... 
in human history.

But... And there is but coming.. You just know there is... 
do we believe that God will always act the way we think... we hope... 
we want God to act.

Or to put it another way... 
is it our expectation that God will always be on our side?
Such thinking or believing recalls Bob Dylan's song... "With God on Our Side."

"With God On Our Side"

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

If we are honest... 
though we may not say it as bluntly as Dylan's words
we believe that we are God's chosen people.
We believe because of our history... 
founded and sustained as a Christian nation... 
that whatever crisis or conflict we are engaged in... 
we have God on our side.

We ought to be careful believing that.
We ought to pause... 
proceed with great caution before we make such an automatic assumption.
We need to humbly confess that we may not know what God's desired outcome in every crisis and conflict.
In doing so... we may be in for a surprise.

We need to struggle with who God is... surprising... unpredictable... free
and confess that God may not be on our side.

Listen for a minute to someone in our own history to someone who struggled with these question.
Listen to Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address... 
as he attempted to discern what God was doing in the midst of our terrible Civil War...
trying to discern whose side (North or South) God was on.

  Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes

 Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Lincoln makes two arguments we as 21st Americans ought to ponder when we want to ask about how God acts in history.

First... Lincoln believed that the war was God's judgement of America for its 250 years of slavery.
He called it an "offense" and that God had decided to give  us this war as punishment.

Some may find such an argument outrageous... 
or like my friend Gary... 
just not acceptable or compatible with his understanding of who God is. 

But you know... 
I am not sure God really cares all that much about how we "conceive" God.

God is much more concerned about how we follow God's commandments...
whether we care for "the least of these..."
is much more concerned about how we make war on one another... 
and make little peace with one another.

In light of those expectations...
I believe God does judge...
judges persons... 
judges peoples... 
judges nations 

Yes... our ultimate judgement is mercy and grace through the saving power of Easter.

But in our living.... our history... 
as people and as nations...
God does pronounce and carry out judgements for and against God's people... and their nations.

Do we seriously believe that all we have done and are doing to our world... 
The Earth that God created and appointed us as it's stewards...
has escaped God's notice... 
or will escape God's judgement

Second... the vital question for Lincoln was not to ask whether God was on our side... 
but whether we can affirm that God acts in God's own way
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Unsaid is this truth:
We will not always like what God intends to do in our crisis or in our conflicts...
We may be shocked to discover that God is not on our side but the other side.

The genuine question of faith for us is... 
can we accept what God has done and is doing in our lives... 
as people and as nations...
even when God does the opposite of what we hoped... what we prayed for.
even when God is on the other side.

My favorite story about God and Lincoln concerns a meeting he had with a group of ministers who came to visit him.
At the end of the meeting... one of the ministers invited Lincoln to join them as they prayed for God to be on their side.
Lincoln turned them down... 
but told them ...
if they had a prayer to ask to be on God's side... 
that prayer he would join in praying with them.

A writer once said... "God always gets the world God wants."
The Psalmist believed that.
Abraham Lincoln believed that.
Maybe we should too.


Monday, May 12, 2014




16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried aloud to him,
    and he was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
    he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God,
    because he has not rejected my prayer
    or removed his steadfast love from me.

Listen to me 
as I declare what God has done
and is doing in our lives

In the nights where sleep comes not 
and fears of the night gather around 
seeking to overwhelm us
paralyzingly what acts we might dare

God's Spirit descends upon us 
A calming presence in the midst
of nightmares and torments
freeing us for the abundant life
we have been given

 Listen to me 
as I declare what God has done
and is doing in our lives

In the darkness of mourning
when grief splashes upon us
overthrowing the careful ways 
we have built our hopes and dreams

God's healing arms
lifts us from the seas of despair
into the light of Easter 
and joy of resurrection 

Listen to me 
as I declare what God has done
and is doing in our lives

In the endless cycle of war
death and destruction 
we despair that peace will come
and the guns fall silent

God's shalom pours down upon us
washing away the hates and jealousies 
among people and nations
making us sisters and brothers all

Listen to me 
as I declare what God has done
and is doing in our lives

For God has restored us
refreshed for discipleship
sharing the Good News
of Jesus who saves us
and God who keeps us



(This SUNDAY, Easter 5, is Confirmation SUNDAY in our Church and I wrote this prayer for my confirmand who will be confirmed this week.)



61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;

We pray that as we tremble
and shake at your presence 
On this day
This holy day of Confirmation 

We boldly 
and humbly pray
Spirit of the Living God
Pour down upon us

May your Spirit enrich our hearts
so we may love and cherish
and all whom we live
and share this life with

May your Spirit inspire us
to act boldly for your Son
Our Savior Jesus Christ
To serve
and work
and rejoice 
always and forever

May your Spirit empower us
to reach out and touch
the lonely
the forgotten
the abused
the hurt and grieving 

May your Spirit 
be with us always
every day
every step
in triumph
and defeat

Come Holy Spirit
on the Confirmation Day
Bless us
and keep us
in your love and care




Thursday, May 8, 2014


A Prayer for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[b] and ate their food with glad and generous[c] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Bring us together, Lord Jesus
that we may be One

Too often we eat at separate tables
sharing our bread with only ourselves 
and family
shunning the greater community 
as alien

Invite us to your meal
that our lives may be nourished 
and thus become hosts and guests
to one another 
and share our table and our bounty

Bring us together, Lord Jesus
that we may be One

Too often we hoard our wages
fearing losing our treasures
unwilling to share our wealth
invest in our neighbors
give to the poor

Open our eyes
that we may open our pockets
share our wealth 
with the needs of our community
so everyone has what they need 

Bring us together, Lord Jesus
that we may be One

We too often see the other as stranger
to be feared
keeping them at a safe distance
avoiding friendship
never risking intimacy 

Open our hearts
to love our brothers and sisters
offer an ear for listening
a hand for helping
a voice to join their laughter

Bring us together, Lord Jesus
that we may be One

We pray in silence
worship inside ourselves
shun coming together 
for song and praise
preferring solitude 

Open our voices
to share praises to you
Our Savior
sing and dance and clap together 
in anthem and prayer and proclamation 

Bring us together, Lord Jesus
that we may be One


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Easter 3

Luke 24

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

You are here
Lord Jesus
here at the table

We look too high
and too far out
for you 
out there in the stars
beyond the heavens

We look for you
in paintings and statues
carved figures
portraying your face
and hands and feet

You are here
Lord Jesus
here at the table

We listen for you
in the hymns of the church
songs of praise
harkening to the words
the choir sing

We listen for you
in the words of the preacher
proclaiming good news
in sermons and prayers
messages of hope and deliverance
You are here
Lord Jesus
here at the table

You are here 
Lord Jesus
in the breaking 
of the bread
as you were broken for us

You are here
Lord Jesus
in the pouring
of the wine
as you were poured our for us

You are here
Lord Jesus
here at the table

We come to Your table
invited by your love 
welcomed by your mercy

Come Lord Jesus
in the bread
in the wine

Come Lord Jesus
Come to your table
Come now
Come tomorrow
Come always and forever


Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Psalm 16

7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Where should we look for guidance 
How can we find our way
For we are lost, dear God
and cannot find our way 

We wander 
restless, distracted, confused
Unsure of our destination 
or what is our purpose

We have tried various advisors
studied roadmaps
calculating and recalculating
which route we should take

Who can show us the right path
lead us through storm and wind
Who can shelter us 
when we are frightened

Only you, dear Lord

Only you take our hand 
and never let go
pulling us up when we have fallen
so we can walk

Only you, dear Lord

Only you will gather us up
in your strength
and carry us
to safety 

Only you, dear Lord

Only to you can we look 
for hope and assurance
knowing wherever we go
You are there

Only you, dear Lord

Only you are there
on our first day and our last
walking beside us every step
and then take us home

We praise you and thank you 
For your presence with us
now and forever


Thursday, April 17, 2014


Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

That can't be our savior
Can it?

Look at you
You don't look very brave or dangerous
Certainly not strong enough to take on
our enemies... our burdens... our needs

We need to look for somebody else
Someone stronger
Someone who can take on our oppressors and liberate us from their tyranny

That can't be our savior
Can it?

Listen to you
We don't hear anything?
Only silence... Nothing
No words of protest or anger
No shouts at his persecutors

We need someone who will speak up
Declare the time for revolution
Sound the cry of freedom
Utter judgment upon those who condemn us

That can't be our savior
Can it?

You are just giving up
Acting like a lamb being led to the slaughter
No objection
No complaint
No plea of innocence

We need someone who will speak in his defense
in our defense
Someone who will resist the hangman's noose
Who will not die in complicity with his executioners
Someone who will be defiant before the last nail is hammered in the cross

 That can't be our savior
Can it?

Yes, Lord Jesus
It is you who are our savior
You who are obedient
Even to the last
Obedient to what God has called you to do

Yes, Lord Jesus
It you who are our savior
You who through your faith
Shout even in your silence
God's love for humankind

Yes, Lord Jesus
It is you who are our savior
You are the conquerer
over the power of death
and the grip of the grave

We are saved
We will rise again
We will live with you forever