“Losers”
First Sunday Back After the Storm

  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… Philippians 3:4-14 Just a couple of days before Katrina’s coming,…

“An Axe in the Attic”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…” For years we have been warned that the day would come—that a category 4 or 5 hurricane would hit  New Orleans and that the waters would rise higher that the levees and we…

“Mending”
At a 2-Week “Sabbatical” at Lake Junaluska

Even now, one of my son Luke’s favorite shirts sits next to my sewing box.  Sometimes I will let 3 or 4 items pile up before I will sit down, open the box, thread a needle, examine the damage, and begin the careful work of mending, patching, repairing.  How long…

“Now Open”

Mark 16:1-8 “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them…” You have heard of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.  Did you know that there is a sense in which the Gospel According to Mark is an Unfinished Gospel.  These verses we just read…

“All Things New”
First Katrina Anniversary

Isaiah 43:16-21 “Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Do you not perceive it?” It was the Sunday Mayor Ray Nagin was to be in worship with us.  But by then the mandatory evacuation of our city was underway.  It was 1 year ago, August 28.  It was 8:45 am. …

“Spiritual Gravity”

Mark 10:46-52 “And they called the blind man saying, ‘Take heart!  Rise! He is calling you.’” Maybe you saw the article recently on the front page of the Living section in the Times-Picayune entitled “Katrina Fat.”  It made me feel a little better to know that I am not the…

“Acorns and Oaks”

Luke 6:17-23 “Blessed are you poor…you that hunger…you that weep now…you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you…” Whenever I go to the beauty salon to get my hair cut or colored, it gives me an opportunity to read magazines that I would otherwise never…

“Unconditional Joy”

<em>Jazz Sunday</em> 2 Corinthians 3:17 “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In one of his books, Anthony de Mello tells the story about an Italian couple who were getting married.  They had an arrangement with the parish priest to have a little reception in the parish…

“The Heart Has Reasons”

John 12:1-8 “Mary took a pound of costly ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair…” Many, many years ago, when I was an undergraduate student at LSU, I had a poster stuck with magnets on the side of the refrigerator of my small…

“This is My Story”

The Easter Story from John 20   When I first came back to the city after the storm, I went through a long period when I couldn’t sleep very well. A lot of people had that same trouble.  But something of such tragic and monumental proportions had happened that the…

“Life Interrupted”

Acts 16:9-15 “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night:  a man beseeching him, ‘Come to Macedonia and help us…Immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach to them.” Anyone who reads the New Testament can see that the church in…

“Don’t Waste the Pain”

Romans 5:1-5 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” Who in his right mind would say something like that?  “We rejoice…

“Something Permanent”
Second Anniversary of Katrina

Psalm 71:1-6 “Be thou to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me…” In the opening chapter of his book, “A Brief History of Time,” the physicist Stephen Hawking, tells a variation of a story that has been retold for decades.  This is my favorite version of…

“Standing on Tiptoe”

Matthew 24:36-44 “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” I was just wondering, now that we are standing at the threshold of another Advent season, with just 4 weeks to Christmas, 23 more shopping days:  do you…

Surely

“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Psalm 23 When Cassie Worley’s father, the well-known, beloved psychiatrist Dr. Charles Steck, died, one of the several scripture passages Cassie and her brothers selected for the service was Psalm 23. Cassie told me that when she…

“Contraflow”

Matthew 9:9-13 “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Anyone who lives in New Orleans knows what the term means:  “contraflow.”  Just in case there is even one person here who is not from here, let me explain.   It is a most unusual procedure. A radical…

“Imagine the Unimaginable”

from Genesis 17 and 18 “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh?…Is anything too hard for the Lord?” There is a word in the English language that almost always makes me smile:  impossible.  I love that word.  Beware of using it.  “I have learned to use the word…

“Blind Date”

from Genesis 24 “Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord…who had led me by the right way…” The story of Rebekah and Isaac, how they met, how they married, is one of the Bible’s great love stories.  It begins, however, with great sorrow, for Isaac’s mother, Sarah had…

“Church of the Lighted People”
Third Anniversary of Katrina

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world.” It was John Claypool who first made the point that we Christians spend a lot of time arguing about what we believe about Jesus, when what really matters more is what Jesus believes about us.  And what does he believe about…

“Hold Fast to What is Good”

Romans 12:9-22 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…” When the city of New Orleans planned its 3rd Katrina Anniversary observance, none of us had in mind a reenactment.  This is déjà vu, all over again.  Same weekend. Same timing.  Same scripture lesson. …

“Life Expectancy”

Mark 13:34-37 “Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come…watch!” The great Yogi Berra, famous not only for his baseball, but also for his proverbial words of wisdom, once said, “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to…

rayne under construction 3

“Through”

Isaiah 43:1-5 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” On August 24, 2008, the historic Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, which had very nearly been destroyed by Katrina, celebrated the completion of a 3 year, $5 million restoration.  The towering scaffolding, the chain link fence, the…

“Post-Traumatic Hope”

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.” Anyone who lives in New Orleans knows what post-traumatic stress is.  It is an anxiety disorder that occurs in about 3 ½ % of the general population in response to…

“Bless You Boys and Girls”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well-pleased!” You may find this hard to believe, but I have never been much of a football fan.  It’s true.  At least, not until now. Not until the new New Orleans Saints, a team with such class and…

“The Soul of the City”

Jazz Sunday 2010 What would life be without music?  Can you even imagine such a loss?  So it was in Afghanistan in 1976 under the Taliban rule when music was banned from the country. The only music permitted was the religious Taliban “chants” and the only musical instrument allowed was…

“Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead”

Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Do you not perceive it?” It is one of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz, when the same tornado that transports Dorothy from Kansas to Oz, drops a house on the Wicked Witch of the West thus putting an…

“Finish Strong”

2 Timothy 4:6-8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”   Drew Brees is a great quarterback not only because of his physical ability, but because he is a great motivator. He not only knows how to win games, but also…

I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More

“…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks… neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4 I was in my 7th grade English class when the teacher made the dreadful announcement that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.  This alone was heartbreakingly tragic,…

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit,” John 12:20-33 Not long ago I received a call from a bride-to-be who wanted to schedule a wedding at Rayne. She had made the unpardonable sin of setting her date, booking her reception, ordering her invitations,…

Robe of Mercy

“And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him…” Matthew 27:25-31 Maundy Thursday 2012 All four of the Gospel writers tell us that when Jesus was arrested and tried, not only was he stripped and scourged, but he was mocked by soldiers who dressed him up in a…

“Listen to the Heartbeat”

Psalm 104 “O Lord, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creatures!” “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.  If one piece busts, even the smallest piece…the whole universe will get busted…I see that I am…

“You Are the Pepper”

Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth…” When you hear Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth,” you must understand that he is saying you have the power to make a world of difference.   In this great big recipe for life, you may feel overwhelmed,…

Add Water

“O God, my God, my soul thirsts for thee…” Psalm 63:1-8 I have heard that in the Grand Canyon National Park there are signs along the trails that read, “Stop! Drink water! You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.”  In that arid climate, the humidity is so low,…

“Shaken”

Hebrews 12:18-29 “…the removal of what is shaken…in order that what cannot be shaken may remain.” There is an old saying that people of faith are those who can see the invisible, hear the inaudible, believe the incredible, and attempt the impossible.  Down through the centuries, people of faith have…

YES

“All the promises of God find their Yes in him…” 2 Corinthians 1:18-20  I got in trouble once in the 2nd grade when a boy across the room passed a note to me.  Of course, in transit, the note was opened and read by every kid between him and me. …

If You’re Happy and You Know It

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 Jazz Sunday 2015 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…!   Is it okay to be happy in church? or anywhere, for that matter?  A few years ago, in another city, in another church,…

If Jesus is the Door

“My house shall be called a house of prayer… but you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:12-25 This week is the 6th in our series on the I Am Sayings of Jesus. and we are exploring the meaning of “I Am the Door,” or, as it is…

In the Midst of the Mess

The Hanging of the Greens at Christmas 2007 I love Christmas. Except for one thing: it’s such a mess. Bringing real trees that once grew in a forest into the house, with needles falling like rain into your rugs, bringing up boxes from the basement covered with dust, bringing home…

“Rise”

Luke 24:1-12 “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  Remember how he told you…that the Son of man must be crucified, and on the third day rise.” “Rise.” This is the name of a Methodist Church in Virginia pastored by a friend and former classmate of Max’s:  …

What’s This World Coming To?

“Behold, I make all things new!” Revelation 21:5 How do you imagine the unimaginable? How do you comprehend the incomprehensible? How do you express the inexpressible? Is there any language on earth that is big enough to sum up that which infinite, eternal, unbounded—God? I love the story the singer…

Holy Water

“The Spirit of the Lord was moving over the face of the waters…” from Genesis 1 Holy Water is water that has been sanctified, usually by a priest or some other clergy, for the purposes of baptism, purification, for blessing people, places, things, for warding off evil. In the Catholic…

No Hurry, No Worry

“Hurry,” said Carl Jung, “is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” This week I spent two days at a clergywomen’s meeting where we were encouraged by the guest speaker to “hurry less, worry less,” only to return to work on Thursday to face the tyranny of time: two…

Half As Long

One of my favorite movies, adapted from the book by Norman McLean, is  “A River Runs Through It,” the story of a preacher’s two sons growing up in Montana.  A student of scripture will recognize this story as a deft retelling of Jesus’ parable “The Prodigal Son.”  A parent will…

A Deeply Personal God

“You have searched me and known me…such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” from Psalm 139 Years ago, on a trip to Washington D.C., I visited the Air and Space Museum, where I saw the award-winning film “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames.  It began by focusing on…

Broken Wings and Busted Halos

At our annual children’s Christmas pageant,  I was sitting in a front pew among the ranks of little girls dressed in their brand new angel costumes as they waited patiently waited for their cue to go on stage and sing.  (Did I say “patiently”?)  It must have seemed a small…

If Grace is Not Amazing

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:1-10 If you are going to be an addict, I strongly recommend that you be a workaholic. As you know, it is the most socially acceptable addiction…

Flow

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…” 1 Corinthians 12:4-13 “Flow, river flow.” There’s a song about the Spirit of God that goes like that.  I thought about those lyrics driving to Shreveport and back this week, over the Bonnet Carré and Morganza Spillways where the Mississippi…

Imagine God

“…a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth…” Ephesians 1:15-23 The Book of Acts begins with Luke’s account of the ascension of Jesus: “He withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”  Up into heaven.  For many…

To Soften Our Hearts

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…” Isaiah 40, 1-2, 16 “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us…” Luke 1:67-79 Again and again in scripture we are warned about spiritual danger of “hardness of heart”—the closed mind,…

Is God Green?

“The heavens are telling the glory of God…” Psalm 19 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature… has been clearly percieved in the things that have been made…” Romans 1:20 This week not only is Earth Day being observed in various ways across our nation, but so…

Christ the Center

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, in him all things hold together…” Colossians 1:15-20 July 22, 2007 The Reopening of the Sanctuary It was the first day after the storm that business owners were allowed to enter the city, to “look and leave.” …

Alphabet of Grace

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…” Psalm 111 I had not seen this place for 55 years, but last week, coming home from a district preachers’ meeting in Metairie, trying to avoid the interstate, taking a neighborhood route, I drove right by it: the Bridge…

Fraction

“And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body…’” 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 This is my body, this is my blood: these 8 words are from the earliest record we have of the words of Jesus.  They are the heart of the sacrament.  You can…

Attraversiamo

“Tell the people to go forward. Lift up your rod,and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people may go on dry ground through the sea…” Verses from Exodus 14   Attraversiamo.  Some of you will remember this word from bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert,…