Thursday, December 14, 2017


Image result for simeon

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (I Corinthians 1:27)

While I was in Boston last month, I went to a Boston Bruins game at the Boston Garden. It was fun, except for a trip to the concession stand to get Nancy and me two cups of gelato. By the time I started back to my seat, I missed about 8 minutes of the second period, including a goal. That would have been bad enough, but on my way back up the stairs with the treat, a young man, trying to be kind, offered me some assistance. “Can I help you?” he asked. The only thing missing was “old timer.” It was a kind gesture, but it found it’s way under my skin. I thought to myself, “Do I look that old and feeble?” I should have said, “Thanks, but I’m okay,” but I didn’t. My retort was sharp, to the point. “Of course I don’t need any help...I’m fine!”

I’ve wondered since what that young man might have said to his wife or significant other after the game. “Man, an old timer practically bit my head off when I offered to help him. See if I ever offer kindness to the elderly again.”

Christmas is almost here. For the past three or four years, I’ve spent good parts of this time of year reading the Christmas narrative from the Book of Luke, with most of my time spent in the second chapter. I’ve always loved reading from Luke. He was a writer with immense skills. I think if he were around today, he might be winning Pulitzers. He was that good.

Most scholars believe Luke was a physician, which may be why in some Christian circles he’s known as the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, in addition to being the patron saint of bachelors and butchers.

About halfway through the second chapter, we’re introduced to a man named Simeon. There’s nothing earlier in the narrative that says anything about him, nor does Biblical history have much to offer. He comes upon the scene at a time when Israel has been conquered over and over again. The Babylonians have gone, as have the Assyrians. The Seleucids/Greeks have come and gone. The Romans are now in charge. Religiously, Israel is a shell of what it had once been. There are religious groups like the Pharisees, the up tight, legalistic band, and the Sadducees, who don’t believe in an afterlife.

Religious hope, if there is any, seems hidden from the view of most. This is where we see Simeon. Luke describes him as a man who, mysteriously, has come to believe that he won’t die until he sees Israel’s messiah face to face. His friends, if he had any, must have thought he was quite amusing. When they talked about him in polite company, the conversations must have been sprinkled with skepticism and rhetorical jabs. “That’s just Simeon being Simeon. Don’t pay him any mind, he’s really harmless.” “Simeon? He’s just a half a bubble off plumb. Just nod your head and pretend  you believe him.”

If there was any chatter in the background about him, Simeon didn’t seem to mind. He persisted. Every time I read the account, I’m amazed. He must have been a baby inspector, questioning God about every child who passed through his hands. “Is this him, Lord?” “No, you say.” “I’m still holding you to your promise. I believe you.”

How long did the pattern repeat itself? I don’t know, but I do know something special happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to him in accordance with tradition. Simeon cradled Jesus in his arms and made a startling declaration: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.”

Simeon knew what the so called wise and strong of his time couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see.

As the years pass, I sometimes wonder how old Simeon was. Was he 75, the mile marker I just passed? Was he 35? We’re not told, and I suppose that’s the point. The story of Jesus is a story for people at any age, young or old.

That means a lot to me. Jesus promised a second advent, which tells me I can go on looking ahead to an even more profound “consolation.” It doesn’t have anything to do with my age. It has everything to do with the amazing way God often does his work outside any culture’s approved streams of wisdom and power.

Simeon saw this and it would be good for us to consider it also.

Friday, December 01, 2017


Image result for hypocrites for roy moore

I had a homecoming of sorts to celebrate my 75th birthday. It came in the form of a surprise trip to Boston.

Nancy had told me we were going to Chicago and I was quite content with that.  But, when the skycap told me we were actually going to Boston, my jaw dropped. Then, when I saw my kids were waiting for Nancy and me at the departure gate, my jaw hit the floor.

I had a wonderful time. On our first night there I got to see a Boston Bruins hockey game, complete with lots of goals, a fight (which Nancy loved), a rare penalty shot, an even rarer save, and an empty net goal to cap the evening off. For the rest of the week we spent most of our time walking along Freedom Trail, stopping at historic sites like Faneuil Hall, the Bunker Hill monument, Quincy Market, Paul Revere’s house, Old Ironsides, and the Old North Church. On the 8th, we celebrated my birthday, along with Nancy, my kids, and my brother and his family, at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Boston’s “North End” neighborhood.

On the day before we came back to Kansas City, Nancy, my son Jarrod, his girlfriend Julie, and I took the subway over to Harvard Square, then walked over to Christ Church, the church I attended when I was young. I was amazed at how familiar everything looked - the Revolutionary War bullet hole at the entrance to the sanctuary, the short, circular staircase going up to the 18th century pulpit, and the kneeling benches in front of the altar.

My brother and I were acolytes. I had the responsibility of lighting the altar candles before the service and snuffing them out when the service was over. My brother led the procession, carrying the cross at the beginning and end of the service.

As I walked around the sanctuary, I got caught up in old memories and the mystery of the religion I was trying to understand. As I knelt at the altar, I was almost always aware that there was a “presence” near me, but I never could quite tune in to the frequency of that presence. Part of it stemmed from the fact that, after the priest recited a couple of collects (collective prayers), I would find myself swaying from side to side, feeling sick to my stomach. I’m not sure whether the feeling came from an allergy to the flowers at the altar or the sins of my youth convicting me, but about the time we got to the collect of confession, with the priest reciting, “We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us,” I’d be ready to go. One of the choir members, a young African-American college student, would take me to the restroom where I’d heave my guts up. He’d then wash my face and we’d get back to the sanctuary in time for the end of the service.

It happened so often I began to believe that God had it in for me. I don’t think I ever got to hear the last part of the collect of confession - “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent.” If I had, I might still be an Episcopalian today.

The impressions of youth are often quite powerful. My impressions of God as a cosmic killjoy stayed with me for almost fifteen years, until a series of personal crises led me back “home.”

I thought about my young experiences this morning as I was reading Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the New York Times, in which he outlined the un-Christian manner far too many Christian leaders are approaching the intersection of religion, politics, and ethics. Speaking primarily about evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Flip Benham, or politicians like Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler, Douthat accuses them, rightly so, of being hypocritical in their strenuous defense of Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore. Douthat's words were pointed and powerful - “younger evangelicals (are being) betrayed by older pastors who insisted on the importance of moral character and then abandoned these preachments for the sake of partisanship — revealing their own commitments as essentially idolatrous.”

Douthat is right. Do these men really believe that the young in their flocks or political action committees can’t see the hypocrisy and idolatry? Well, they can and they will abandon this Christian tribalism and self-serving politics and replace it with religion and politics that are new and vibrant.

The change can’t come soon enough. We’re desperate for it.