Sunday, October 29, 2017


Psalm 46


        Today we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. Some of you, particularly those from the Lutheran tradition know all about Luther. I suspect the rest of you are familiar with the great German Reformer.  Since I doubt preaching a biographical sermon would increase your knowledge, I thought I would share an anecdote about Luther which may or may not be true.

        Luther was an accomplished Biblical Scholar. He felt it unfair only those fluent in Latin should have access to God’s Holy Scriptures. To remedy this Luther translated the Bible into the language of the everyday people. Copies were printed and dispersed though out the country side. While it was not a pure translation, no one seemed to care. Not only did it make the Bible accessible, it became the primary text used to teach folks how to read.

        As Luther was translating the Psalms, he ran across a word that seemed to be untranslatable. Throughout the Psalms, at the end of a phrase, the word Selah appeared. Luther could not find the word in any other part of the Bible and he had no idea what it meant. I would like to think Luther approached a Jewish Rabbi and asked how the word might be translated into German. If this was the case the Rabbi would have responded, “It is a word that cannot be translated because it is a word that should not be spoken.” Confused, Luther asked the Rabbi to explain. The Rabbi responded, “How can you speak that which is silent?”

        Truth is we don’t know how Luther discovered the meaning of Selah but he did write this concerning his discovery. “The word Selah is introduced confusedly and altogether without discernible order to show the motion of the Spirit is secret, unknown to us, and by no means possible to be foreseen. Whenever Selah is written, it is meant to interrupt the words of the Psalm in order that we might be brought to a moment of reflective quietness.”   

        I invite you to shut your eyes and hear Psalm 46 as Luther might have heard it.

        God is our refuge and strength,

        A very present help in trouble.

        Therefore we should not fear

Though the earth should change.

The mountains shake,

Though the waters roar with its tumult.



(wait 15 seconds then have Kathleen sing)


 A mighty fortress is our God,

        A bulwark never failing.      


There is a river whose streams

make glad the city of God. 

God is in the midst of the city,

It shall not be moved.

The nations are in an uproar,

Yet when God speaks, the earth melts.

The Lord of host is our refuge.


(wait 15 seconds then have Kathleen sing)


And though the world with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us.       

We will not fear for God has willed,

His truth to triumph through us. 


Come behold the works of the Lord.

He makes wars to cease.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.

Be still, and know that I am God.

The Lord of host is our refuge.




(wait 15 seconds then have Kathleen sing)     


Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also,

The body they may kill,

God’s truth abideth still.

His kingdom is forever.




(Wait 15 seconds)


Please open your eyes. I find amazing things happen when we are able to clear our mind and simply encounter the word of God. Silence is difficult. There is so much chaos and noise wanting to break or even challenge our concentration.  Luther’s engagment in the practice of Selah is actually pretty amazing. He was not one who normally held his tongue. When he was handed a Papal Bull declaring he was excommunicated, Luther’s immediate action was to throw the document into a public bonfire. When confronted by Erasmus, a free thinker quite impressed with Luther’s writings, Luther rejected Erasmus on the spot because Erasmus chose to remain in the Catholic Church. When approached by Zwingli over the meaning of the Eucharist, neither man could remain civil causing a rift in the Reformation. Yet on April 17, 1521, at the Diet of Worms, Luther fully embraced the concept of Selah. When asked if he would repudiate all his writings, Luther started to speak, and then fell silent. He asked if he might have the evening to consider his answer. Knowing that the answer might condemn the monk to a public execution Emperor Charles V granted the request. After an evening of prayer and silence, the next morning Luther responded, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

These three sentences should have guaranteed his execution. Luther only escaped death because Charles V intervened.  The Emperor rushed Luther back to Wittenberg where Luther continued to write, teach, and preach. It was then that the Reformation officially began.

Would the Reformation have begun without those three sentences? Would Luther have spoken those words the day before? Any answer is mere speculation but we all know while a quick retort might give us a bit of satisfaction, it is the thought out response that usually wins the day. How quickly trust breaks down between people because words are spoken hastily. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. We are like flies on honey hardly caring that later there might be a sticky mess requiring a bit of cleanup. Just imagine what might occur if we stop, and take a moment of silence before we leap. The results might be historic.

I imagine Luther had read Psalm 46 a hundred times before he understood the power of the word Selah. One day in 1529, perhaps during his morning devotions, Luther inserted the word Selah into his reading of the Psalm.  Twelve years after Wittenberg, eight years after the Diet of Worms, the Reformer was overwhelmed by the courageous writings of an ancient poet. As Luther sat in silence new words came which could not escape a marvelous union of ink and paper. Suddenly the Reformation had an anthem.

The third verse has always been my favorite.

And thought this world with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us.

We will not fear for God has willed his truth

To triumph through us

The Prince of Darkness Grim,

We tremble not for him.

His rage we can endure,

Or lo, his doom is sure.

One little word can fell him.


I realize Luther clearly states while a battle between Satan and Christ might rage, there is really no contest. But perhaps we need to remember the word could be Selah, for it is in the silence, the holy space, that God’s word of calm and grace and peace has a chance to reverse our initial response of rage.  Truth is, so often our doom is sealed by the careless fire exploding from our lips.

On this Reformation Sunday, in the midst of all the personal and political drama that fills our lives, let our hearts be cooled, let our lips “be felled” by one little word.  


        God is our Refuge and Strength.


        The nations might be are in an uproar,

but the Lord of host is with us.


        God makes the wars to cease,

        God takes our weapons out of our hands,


        Then God speaks,

        Be Still,

        In your silence, know who I am.


        I am with you,

        I am your refuge.

Selah!                To God be the glory.    Amen.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Between Two Rocks and a Hard Place

Exodus 33:12-23; 34:6-7


        If you attend Adult Sunday School you know one of my favorite passages is Exodus 34:6-7. God said, “You tell those people I am gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and steadfast in love.”  If you love the Psalms, you recognize that phrase which appears throughout those wonderful poems. Exodus 34:6-7 represents the very essence of this mysterious Word called YHWH who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. But to fully understand Exodus 34, we must look back to the circumstances that led to Moses’ second trip up Sinai.

        In their pain, the enslaved Hebrew people cried out and YWHW heard their voice. Moses was sent to confront Pharaoh and lead the captives to freedom. But that did not work out so well. So the power of God was demonstrated before all the people in Egypt. Rivers turned red, gnats filled the air, lightening and hail thundered from the sky, locust devoured the crops, and darkness swallowed the entire land. Hebrews and Egyptians alike were terrified by the actions of an angry God. But the heart of Pharaoh had been hardened. He refused to relent to the demands of Moses.

        Finally God rained death down upon every Egyptian family. The first male of each household perished. Even Pharaoh was not spared. Holding the lifeless body of more precious than gold, Pharaoh screamed, “Get these accursed people out of my sight. Send them away from here. Their presence only amplifies my anguish.”

        It is amazing how quickly pain can turn to anger. Minutes after the son of Pharaoh had been placed in the ground, the King of Egypt swore vengeance on the escaping slaves. Gathering his finest charioteers, Pharaoh led his faithful toward a rendezvous with death.  By evening, the woman of Egypt carried their men home to an eternal rest beside their first born.

        What kind of God is this that spits in the face of Pharaoh? What kind of deity is this that allows the waters to offer safe passage to some and ordains death upon others? This was YHWH the powerful. This was YHWH the almighty. This was a God who made a promise and delivered. This was a deity to be feared.

        Not looking back, the children of Israel confidently marched into the desert. They remained faithful and courageous for about 48 hours.  Then they got thirsty, and hungry, and finally angry. They screamed at Moses, “Did God bring us out here to die?”

        How quickly we turn to the negative? It’s like someone winning $100 million in the lottery and asking, “What kind of taxes will I be expected to pay?” The Hebrews had hit the jack pot. YHWH was their guy. There might be a hardship or two but the way to freedom had been paved. All they were expected do was to follow the road. How could they even imagine God would let them die? But they did. They complained and whined, failing to notice right before their eyes water and food flowed through the desert. Their God exhibited the authority to transform death into life. How could they not believe? How could they not give thanks?

        Moses led them to an oasis at the base of Mt. Sinai. He said to a weary people, “I am headed up to mountain to have a conversation with God. Rest, wait for me, and please, try not to get into trouble. I will just be a day or two.”

        Well, two days turned into forty. To suggest the children of Israel could stay out of trouble would like believing three year olds can play together quietly. Eventually Moses came down the mountain with a stone tablet in each arm. The Commandments described in detail every bit of the mischief attempted during his absence. In anger Moses raised the stones above his head and smashed them to the ground. The commandments and the heart of God broke into a thousand into pieces. Then Moses spoke, “Did you not think God was watching? Don’t you understand what you have done? You witnessed the Passover and the Red Sea. You know what YHWH does to those who play with fire. Do you still think your God will save you?”

        The people fell on their knees, “Moses, we don’t want to die. Go back up the mountain and plead for our lives. We are not worthy but YHWH listens to you. Please, save us.”

        Ever intercedd for another person? Of course you have. It always puts you between a rock and a hard place. Moses was tired. Moses didn’t want any more aggravation. He had enjoyed the life of a shepherd before stumbling into that burning bush. He probably had already charted a course back to the land of his father-in-law. But then he hesitated. As they say in the OT, Moses girded up his loins and headed back up the mountain.

        No one went with him. He had no idea how God would respond. I am not even sure Moses wanted God to forgive the Israelites. Why not just wipe them out and start over with a few faithful like Joshua and Caleb? Moses carried the weight of a nation and the weight of God’s holy dream.

Step by step that burden got heavier.

Step by step his allegiance to Israel grew fainter.

Step by step he welcomed his death as a respite.

When he could go no further, YHWH appeared.  (stop)

When I am tired, I can say the stupidest things. When I am either I am too worn out to care or too weary to pay attention the filter that is supposed to catch my wayward thoughts takes a sabbatical. With no restraint I let go with a blast which causes nothing but chaos. It feels good, for about 30 seconds, and then reality hits me right between the eyes. I would do anything to retrieve those words but it is too late. Now they will forever haunt me.

Moses had one of those moments. He was tired of dealing with the Israelites. He was exhausted representing a deity who appeared in bushes and clouds but never in person. In his anger Moses shouted, “Let me see your glory. Make yourself known to me. Give me something I can take back down the hill. I have seen your power. I have witnessed your anger. But I have never seen your face. You call yourself “YHWH, I am.”  That’s not good enough. Give me a real name. Tell me who you are.” Then Moses, realizing what he said, fell on his face and expected to die.

Instead he received these words, “I am gracious. I am merciful. I am slow to anger. I am steadfast in love.”   


A couple of weeks ago I turned 67. I have lived my entire life in the most powerful nation of the world. I have witnessed the Korean War, the Cuban Crisis, Vietnam, and showdowns with the USSR, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. I am no longer impressed with power as an instrument that brings stability.

For 67 years folks who are suppose to be real smart have promised me I could be a person of influence if I buy the right car, eat the right food, live in the right neighborhood, and use the right deodorant. They were wrong. The almighty dollar cannot bring us happiness.

Is anyone really surprised that the people of Israel witnessed the power of an Almighty God and it had little or no effect on them? Two weeks after the miracle of the Red Sea the Hebrews had already turned their backs on YHWH. Why? The answer is painfully simple. Power and might and authority free no one. They only enslave us. If all we do is pledge our allegiance to power, might and greatness we end up spending every waking hour fearing someone is plotting to take it all away. It doesn’t matter if that someone is a neighbor, a boss, the IRS, a terrorist a thousand miles away, OR EVEN GOD. How can you love what you fear?

Someone once told me in order to fully embrace God I must fully surrender to God. If I surrender to the power of God I am little more than a prisoner. If I surrender only because God is almighty I become less than nothing. MY actions, My thoughts become insignificant.

But if I surrender to God’s Grace I discover my worth. If I surrender to the God’s Mercy I reclaim my dignity. If I know God’s Anger is only for a moment, I live beyond my fear. If I celebrate God’s Steadfast Love I know there is a light that can penetrate my darkest midnights.

The power of God is not meant to dominate and control but rather liberate and enable. God is not a heavenly dictator demanding passive dependence because God’s highest intention is setting us free to become instruments of justice and compassion.

Do you remember what God desires from us?

Do Justice, Love Kindness and Walk with Humility.

Do you desire how to follow that enlightened path?

You become gracious,

You become merciful,

You become slow to anger,

You become steadfast in love.

You become a liberated child of God, empowered to live for the common good of all creation. Be gracious, merciful, slow to anger, steadfast in love.   Then faithfully walk in the light of God.               Amen.            



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Whatever Is

Philippians 4:4-9


        Later today I was scheduled to go to Charlottesville to make a presentation on The Book of Confessions. I delighted to help out some of my fellow ministers in their officer training and looked forward to having a meaningful discussion on both the historical setting and theological significance of the eleven statements of faith found in this document. Then I got an email asking if I might switch topics. Instead of The Book of Confessions, I have been asked to explain the Essential Tenets of the Reform Faith. 

        Anyone who has been elected to the office of elder might remember the series of questions posed at their ordination. The one I find most troubling and the one to which I am to speak about tonight is, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expectations of what scripture leads us to believe and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?”

        I would hope before anyone would answer this question they might ask, “What are the essential tenets of the reformed faith?” In this intelligent and diverse congregation the answer I receive would be quite different than my experience this evening. This congregation celebrates a variety of religious experiences and doctrines. This has helped us listen to an assortment of truths, some which are spelled with a capital T and others which are no less important but might not be universally held. The creedal statements we find in our Book of Confessions include declarations from six different denominations written over a period of 1700 years. While the Hammurabi Code, The Magna Charta, and the Declaration of Independence each agree on the importance of the human experiment, each differently defines the essential concept of human liberty.   So why should we be surprised that a religion 2,000 old might differ on which tenets/critical beliefs should be held as truth?

        As a Christians we share with all other Christian denominations our belief in God. But just mention the word Trinity and the sparks begin to fly. Do I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Creator, Reconciler and Sustainer? How did the concept of trinity come about? What does it mean? Do we believe in one God or three? Regardless of our answers, gratefully it does not lessen our faith in the mysterious ways in which God reveals God’s self.

        Second, and perhaps more universally, we celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We are not alone. God, Emmanuel, is with us.

        But then a great divide begins as we try to discern the actions of this mysterious God. As Protestants, we acknowledge we are justified by Grace. We cannot save ourselves but are dependent on God’s love in Jesus Christ to draw us back to God and fulfill God’s command to love God and others nearly as much as we love ourselves.

        Second, Protestants claim the authority of scripture. That can really cause the sparks to fly. Here at Rockfish I think we see The Bible as the lens through which we know God and discover ourselves. The Bible points us to truth.       All that is well and good, but even as I have tried to carefully craft those words there are folks here who wished I would have made stronger statements concerning God, incarnation, salvation and the Bible. Others of you might have felt the language chosen was much too definitive and left no room for disagreement or discussion. Such is the nature of the beast when we choose to talk about something we believe but can’t prove.

        As you might have guessed, each of the denominations from which we originate has definitive statements which further define the essence of what we believe. Those statements are both significant and debatable.  Hopefully each of us is open to the Holy Spirit in determining what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

        Like our ancestors, who came by different streams and trails to claim citizenship within this great nation, we each have traveled a distinctive theological road. Some crave discussions concerning transubstantiation, the trinity or atonement. Most of us are more interested in how God expects us to live together.   Sometimes you just have to set Books of Order and creedal statements aside and return to the Bible.

        This week our text peeps in on a church in the town of Philippi. Discussions within this congregation centered on the identities of God and Jesus. They argued over interpreting the Torah and how a Hebrew document could speak to a Greek congregation. Most of all they  disagreed over who would take Paul’s place.

        Paul wasn’t coming back. It was up to the members of the church in Philippi to develop their own leadership. They were attempting to establish faith statements which would both drive and inform their discussions. They did not have a copy of The Book of Confessions.  The New Testament had not yet been written. All they had was what they had heard from Paul and the early Apostles. 

        As Paul sat down to write, he knew the tension in this little congregation was about to explode. Each discussion burst into a passionate debate ending in anger and accusations. These were friends being torn apart by multiple   versions of what each considered to be the truth.

        Paul could have ended his letter when some great theological statement telling them to get their house in order. Instead he wrote these words:

        “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known. Turn to God in prayer. God will hear your supplications. Know that the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.

        My friends, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, do these things and the God of peace will be with you. Greet each others as saints in Christ Jesus knowing that the grace of God is with you.”

        Tonight in Charlottesville folks aren’t going to ask me questions. They will make declarations concerning the church and accusations concerning the church’s loss of belief. There will be allegations directed at the Presbytery of the James and beyond. Each will range from sincere to sanctimonious. Thank goodness there is a time limit on the meeting or it would never end. I already look forward to the moment when the moderator closes with a prayer. I know some will linger but at some point I will excuse myself and head to the parking lot.  Then, in the privacy of my car, before I turn on my radio to hear some soothing jazz, I will give thanks to God for allowing me to serve Rockfish Presbyterian Church, a diverse and complex people, who love each other, respect each other, argue with one another, listen to each other, but most of all, sing praises to God for bringing us all together. 

Thank-you for always letting your gentleness always be known. Please don’t ever change.  Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Favorite Commandment

Exodus 20:8-11


        In 1927, the African-American poet James Weldon Johnson gave us a gift. Reaching back into the memories of his childhood, Johnson resurrected an art form that had almost become lost. Throughout the Black community there were the preachers, the story tellers, who would remind his congregation of this great God who despite darkness and chaos issued a promise of hope and life. These sermons were seldom heard outside the Black church.  Johnson used his own words to recreate those sermons in a brilliant gem he called God’s Trombones. The best known of these sermons was titled, “The Creation”. It began like this:

                God stepped out on space,

                And he looked around and said:

                I’m lonely  ---  I’ll make me a world.

                And as far as the eye of God could see

                Darkness covered everything,

                Blacker than a hundred midnights

                Down in a cypress swamp.

                Then God smiled,

                And the light broke,

                And the darkness rolled up on one side,

                And the light stood shining on the other,

                And God said: That’s good!


        Those words would be far more effective if spoken by someone with a voice like James Earl Jones but I think you get the idea. The Black preacher took what folks knew and mixed it with what he believed God did and began to paint.

        So how would a white preacher today enlighten a congregation on the vast wonders of the creation story as recorded in the book of Genesis? Perhaps like this.

        God stepped out into the midst of darkness and chaos and declared, “Let there be light.” God then separated the light from the darkness and a poll of 68% of the angels declared this to be a good thing.

        On the second day God separated the waters from the earth. God raised his arm and created the sky. Facebook created a chat room to discuss this.

        On the third day God created dry land. The dry land God called earth and the water was called the sea. MSNBC reported the phenomenon was seen by 33% of the other gods as a risk which was not sustainable.

        On the fourth God placed the sun and the moon in the sky separating the night and day. Fox reported this as fake news claiming it was an illusion created in Hollywood.

        On the fifth day God declared swarms of creatures would emerge from the waters and birds would occupy the air. A poll was immediately taken by Gallop to see how many angels were upset by this violation of their air space.

        On the sixth day God created every kind of animal to roam the earth. Then God said, “Let us make humans in our own image.” That afternoon humans recorded their initial thoughts on newly established twitter accounts.

        On the Seventh day God unplugged his phone, canceled the newspaper, turned off the TV, and rested.      (stop)

        The fourth commandment might be my favorite. That may seem strange because Sunday is the one day of the week I do everything but rest. Of course Doug Wood is quick to remind me I play a lot of golf the other six days.

        In our tradition, Sabbath is celebrated on Sunday.  Recently the faithful have been heard to grumble about those who engage in other activities on Sunday morning. Our battle cry is, “Remember the good old days when the churches were full and all of us had to suffer through a twenty five minute sermon.” But now children play baseball on Sunday morning and no one gives it a second thought. Families engage in projects around the house on Sunday morning and no one feels guilty. Today folks do anything they can on Sunday morning to forget the past six days.  Maybe we Christian who have worked so hard to preserve the Sabbath we have forgotten why it was declared sacred?

        In the beginning of the development of Judaism, the Sabbath was a day of rest. It was the day designated to escape the daily grind and remember that from the beginning God declared without recreation there could be no re-creation. The Hebrew’s identity was created in the midst of slavery. They were exiles in both Egypt and Babylon. They knew firsthand what it was like to be confined by a captor who cared little for their welfare. So once a week, they remembered a God who rested. They remembered a God who cared. They remembered the God who had rescued them and they remembered this God expected them to care and if necessary rescue those around them. If you are enslaved seven days a week you will never look up and notice the plight of your neighbor. But if on the seventh day you rest, and remember, and praise God, it is amazing what you will see.

        History tells us that when the Hebrew people returned to Jerusalem they went through centuries of creating rules and regulations concerning what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. They institutionalized their holy day. People started worrying so much about what they couldn’t do they forgot why Sabbath keeping was so important. By the time Jesus arrived he kept getting in trouble with Sabbath laws. If someone was hungry on the Sabbath he fed them. If someone was sick he wasn’t going to wait until the following day. Proper behavior on the Sabbath was to hide out at home, be miserable, and anxiously wait for the sun to set. Then they willingly put their shackles on and prepared to go back to work.

        We read these stories in the New Testament and we laugh at how strict the Jewish laws had become. How quickly we forget our Blue Laws. Did you know Blue Laws were created in the 1640’s in England because Cromwell declared folks were having too much fun on Sunday? The descendents of Cromwell, many of them Presbyterians brought this tradition to the colonies where it became universal law. Blue laws existed into the 20th century until professional sports captured the imagination of a vast majority of the American public. Once professional sports began to be played on Sunday and heaven forbid, beer sales were legalized to support the games, the blue laws lost their hold on society. Then even folks who had no interest in the Boston Red Sox or the Washington Redskins wondered why folks went to church in the first place.  We had set rules and regulations on how to observe the day. But we forgot why the day was so important? What about a refresher course.

        Remember the Sabbath. It is no accident that this is the fourth commandment. The first three commandments declare YWHW to be God above all others. God gave us life. God gave us purpose, but we are so quick to forget all this because we are easily enslaved by our jobs, our cell phones, social media, or a hundred other things that dominate our lives. The Sabbath was created so we might pause and REMEMBER who we are and whose we are. We can only do this when we put all those other things down and purposefully rest, purposefully remember, and purposefully give thanks to the one who gave us life. Then our mind and heart is released. Our eyes recognize the folks around us and we boldly proclaim, “I care for them. I will treat them with dignity. I will protect their lives and their property. I will utter the truth to them and try not to envy their new BMW sitting next to my eight year old Toyota.  

        Sabbath is where memory and observance merge. We remember the goodness of God and we give thanks. We remember the sacredness of our neighbors and we vow to be better neighbor. When we remember, we rediscover the beautiful world God originally imagined.

        Institutions that enslave us hate joyful communities. Think of all those things that divide and isolate us.  When we were growing up nothing could destroy our world quicker than gossip. Now our kids are enslaved by social media. When we were young adults no one imagined loving going to work every day. But no we are warned if we don’t work 24/7 someone can be found who will.  How healthy was that? Today we are living the good life yet we aren’t we still enslaved by worrying about what will happen tomorrow.

        On the seventh day God rested. God rose above the burden of being The Creator and said, “I need to kick back and remember why I’m doing this in the first place.”

Are we so different from God? Don’t we need a day to refresh our souls? Don’t we need an hour to share a few memories from yesterday, or perhaps even 2,000 years ago. Perhaps we need to sing, “Bless the Lord O my Soul.” Perhaps we need to pray, “Thank You.” Perhaps we need to re-invite others celebrate a moment without chaos and darkness. Let’s reclaim the Sabbath. Let’s drop all the old rules. Let’s just try to keep the Sabbath……. restful.  Imagine what a gift that could be.       Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bending the Knee

Philippians 2:1-11

        For the past couple of years I have become intoxicated by a TV show called Game of Thrones. Maybe you have heard of it. For those of you who have a life not controlled by HBO let me give you a brief summary of what transpired this season. Game of Thrones is a mythical country which sort of resembles England. King’s Landing houses the Iron Throne and the head of each tribe desires to occupy it.  This season the person on the throne is a particularly nasty woman who will do anything, include killing her kin to keep the throne. Her chief rival is a woman known as the Queen of the Dragons. The name is not allegorical. She actually has dragons at her disposal. The Kingdom of the North is ruled by Jon Snow, who is quite the heart throb. He died last season but was resurrected, probably due to the outcry of young women who watch the show. Then there is the Army of the Dead, a mass of Zombies who exist in the region beyond the kingdom of the North.

        This season the Zombies are marching south. The Queen of King’s Landing wants to destroy the Dragon Queen. Jon Snow faces the threat of the zombies and knows his only chance for survival is to join forces with the Dragon Queen. But in order for this to happen Jon Snow must “bend the knee” to the Dragon Queen.

        Bending the knee has certainly taken on a life of its own this year. From professional sports to the hottest show on TV, a lot of knees are being bent. So imagine my surprise on discovering in one of the most poetic texts in the New Testament, Paul reminds us when we hear the name of Jesus we all should bend the knee. My response has always been, “Well of course we should. He is Lord of Lords. Jesus doesn’t need a dragon to get my loyalty.”

        But have you ever given a moment’s consideration to why God exalts Jesus and gives him a name that is above every other name? The answer may not be what you want to hear.  In verse eight Paul declares, “Jesus humbled himself.” Do you have any idea how difficult it was for Paul to utter that phrase? When I think of the Apostle Paul a lot of words come to mind. He was brave, persuasive, brilliant, and opinionated to the point of being pig-headed. But I have a hard time thinking of Paul as humble.  Imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to admit that Jesus, the son of God was not only human but humble. Name one example of any god in Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian or Roman mythology that counted humility as a virtue.

        Yet Paul writes to his dear friend in Philippi. “Make my joy complete. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. And how do you do this? Be like Jesus who humbled himself.”

        There is not a lot of bending the knee these days. We have pretty much divided ourselves into conflicting tribes. Internationally there is the US, Russia, China, North Korea etc. In America we have red, blue and purple states. Locally we have folks for the pipe line and those against it.  Maybe Game of Thrones is so popular because it is such an accurate portrayal of the 21st Century.  Any sign of humility, any indication of humbleness is perceived as a weakness which will be quickly exploited.

When we find our way to church we claim we are here to bend our knee to Jesus. But do we really believe Jesus wants us to be humble? Our actions show otherwise. I speak as one more guilty than most. My rage can be fueled by a limited vision. I’m not quick to understand the reasoning of someone who disagrees with me. I am informed by a world-view of my own making. Seldom does that include taking the time to consider that someone else’s view might be as provocative as my own. I rush to my office, look up at my wall of institutional degrees, and conclude that certainly Jesus must think like me.

        This morning’s text reminds us that conceit and ego were not invented in the 21st century. The church at Philippi had hit a bump in the road. Two folks stood diametrically opposed to each other and demanded the church take sides. Paul was asked to step in and solve the schism. In a moment of brilliance the apostle whispered, “Humble yourselves and God will lift both of you up. We are empowered not through rage or anger or might.  We are empowered when we take a knee, not only to Christ, but with those Christ calls his children.”

        I can’t think of a better day to remember this than on World Communion Sunday. This is one of those celebrations Presbyterians got right. It was begun by a Presbyterian minister in New York City in 1933. Our country was a mess. The Great Depression was creating food lines that wrapped around buildings. Roosevelt introduced his New Deal Policy which initially was not fully embraced by members of his own party. An American Nazi party was organized and supported by some prominent New Yorkers. Christians became suspicious of other Christians. Hugh Thompson Kerr went to ministers throughout the city and asked, “If we can’t do anything else together, let’s at least come to the Lord’s Table as one people.” Initially only a few folks outside the Presbyterian tradition joined Kerr.  But by 1940 the first Sunday of October was celebrated as the day Presbyterians, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Brethren, and Disciples of Christ gathered at the table of Christ. Today, denominations all over the world celebrate today as a day of communion and a day to pray for peace.

        I had the honor of eating lunch with Tom Long on Thursday. Tom is a noted theologian who has taught at Union, Princeton, and Emery. Since retirement Tom gives lectures and workshops around the country. I am lucky enough to have known him for some time. I asked Tom why he thought folks are drawn to the idea of World Communion. I love his answer.  He said, “When Jesus was teaching and preaching Augustus Caesar was the most powerful man in the Roman world. In the eyes of most, Augustus Caesar was a god. But Jesus never mentions him.”

        Well sometimes I am not the brightest knife in the drawer so I looked at Tom and said, “What’s your point?”

        “Today the most powerful folks in the world are Merkel, Macron, Trump, Kim and a slew of others. They consume our conversations. But if Jesus were around today, he would respond the same way he responded 2,000 years ago. Jesus would say, “I am about my Father’s business.” Then Tom smiled, “Louie, you know what that business is!”

Indeed I do. It is lifting up the broken and empowering those who are enslaved. It is recognizing those who are never seen and releasing those who have never felt free. It is speaking a word of peace to those at war and word of hope to those who are victims of war. In bending the knee, we are saying to any institution that worships power or any nation that specializes in terror that we are Christians. We need to be about our father’s business.

That is why today Christian’s worldwide come to the table. Then, for the sake of others, together, we take a knee.