Merch in Church

The church where I grew up regularly hosted visiting musical groups. They’d always have their LPs (yes, LPs) and other stuff—their “merch”—to sell, but at our church they weren’t allowed to do this. At least not in the foyer where most people entered.

The rationale came from John 2:13-22 when Jesus cleansed the temple. Jesus clearly didn’t like it when folks hawked their wares around the temple, and therefore we shouldn’t sell stuff around the sanctuary.

To be sure, the place of worship in first-century Israel and the auditorium of a conservative Baptist church in Southern California don’t exactly correspond, but true to Jesus’s words, my church didn’t want the place of worship to be co-opted as a place of commerce. And that much is right.

But is merch in church really the heart of the issue...or is it something more invisible and insidious? 

Cardinal Point

There are cardinal numbers, cardinal directions, cardinal virtues, and Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church. None of which have anything to do with either the bird or the color.

Cardinal is the Latin word for hinge, like a door or a gate turns on.

This week’s Gospel describes a cardinal point in the ministry of Jesus.

From Peter’s perspective, in one brief moment the whole thing takes a turn. And not for the better. 


“WWJD”, wrote Dallas Willard, “is speculative; whereas WDJD is substantive.”

WWJD explains a lot about why most in the modern Western church preferred roses rather than ashes Wednesday.

WDJD, however, explains a lot about why Lent matters.

Patterns versus Particulars

Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark begins with an invitation.

What follows immediately are three short stories I believe Mark presents as a model of the big “G” Gospel. Together, they offer a beautiful and vast invitation to the kingdom.

It’s when we read them together, rather than dissecting them into minute particulars as we so often do, that a pattern emerges...and that ought to grab our attention, because patterns tell a bigger story than particulars.

And living faithfully in today’s world—even the mundane parts—requires a bigger story.

I Like Being Right

There I said it. It gives me great pleasure to be correct and point out the errors of others. Within the household of faith this is especially enjoyable because if the other person is proven wrong and I was correct, then I have surely saved their soul.

The Lectionary this week collides with my proud heart like the arms of a mother scooping up her children before they run into speeding traffic. I might cry about it but one day I'll understand how right she was.

As we will pray in the Collect " our time grant us to be right about everything..."

No. In our time grant us your peace.

One Word

What do work, worship, service, ministry, and the arts all have in common? One word.

Habitual Furniture

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The matter of our story should be part of the habitual furniture of our minds.”

The big stories situate us, and they must be told and retold till they become like the familiar furniture in our home; even in the dark, we can know precisely where we are.

As we look at the year ahead and the everyday work God has given us, we’re going to look again at the big story…the four-chapter story that reminds us, in the dark, where we are.

Minor Characters - Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

As theologian Sam Wells says, discipleship is about learning to be a minor character in someone else’s story.  What strikes us about the beginning of Mark’s gospel is that this was part of Jesus’ own journey in life as well.  Why did he need to be baptized?

Worth Living - John 1:1-18

Our Advent readings were stirring and strange and frightening. God is coming to earth! What could that mean for a people so weak and sinful and defeated? How could we bear it?

Yet God chose to come as a child. Judgement and justice begin to look very different when there is a baby in a crib. Surely he came to change the world and rescue people from their misery, but how this happens is not with pronouncements from flaming mountains.

No, he became flesh and dwelt among us.

Both/And - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Last week a friend asked rhetorically, “Wouldn’t life be simpler if there were just good guys and bad guys?” I had to agree. It would.
Either/Or creates far less tension than Both/And.
When it comes to what salvation means, some Christians would say, “It’s all about saving souls” Others insist, “It’s all about making life on earth better.” Practically speaking, it’s Either/Or.
But the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent would insist it’s not quite that simple.

The Lord's Patience - 2 Peter 3:8-15

Patience has been described as, “The quality you admire in the driver behind you butcan’t stand in the driver in front of you.”

For most of us, patience is hard. But in the time leading up to Advent, and during Advent itself, we’re told over and over again to prepare—and to wait with patience—for the coming of the Lord, both in the past and in the future. 

And so it’s a nice contrast in this Second Week of Advent, that we, along with the original recipients of 2 Peter are strongly encouraged—not to work on our own patience—but to consider instead the gracious patience of the Lord.

Turns out, he’s really good at it.

Waiting... - Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37


Americans are impatient. Or at least I am. Two days on Amazon Prime? Too long!
Wait? The ubiquitous droning message of the commercial world is, Don't. Have it now.
This stands in cultural contrast to Advent: a season of waiting as we look forward to a joyous celebration that begins on Christmas Day—a feast intensified by anticipation.
It’s easy to be impatient for something good, and if you are, you’re in good company. The Prophet Isaiah certainly was.

Christ The King - Matthew 25:31-46

This Sunday we commemorate Christ the King—the culmination of the Church's year.

We followed the drama from the birth of Jesus through his life of teaching and healing to his suffering and death. We rejoiced in his resurrection. We shared the life of the Spirit at Pentecost. We’ve sought to share the Gospel’s staggering implications through all the Ordinary Time of the church in the world.

As we finish the Church year we look to the end, not merely as conclusion, but completion…the perfection, the fulfilment of the purpose toward which all that Jesus said and did was directed. We anticipate the day when his glory and power as King will be fully revealed.

This is something about which to be truly thankful.

Opposites - Matthew 25:14-30

Many assume that the opposite of love is hate, but it’s not. The opposite of love is apathy.
Similarly, the opposite of faith may not be what you assume. And its faith’s opposite that underlies and drives the narrative in this week’s Gospel reading.
Is it driving you, too?

Overwhelming Justice - Amos 5:18-24

"No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Martin Luther King Jr. found inspiration from the prophet Amos as he anticipated a mighty work of God in his generation. Amos wrote a fearsome warning to those who refused to live in God's just and peaceable kingdom, but King saw these words as one who was the victim of injustice and thus found them a triumphant rallying cry. 

It's all about perspective, I suppose. 

We pray each week that God's kingdom would come and his will would be done. The answer to this prayer is certain. Are we ready for it? God's justice will flood the earth, and if we are not careful it might roll over us. Let us therefore learn to follow a righteous King that we may celebrate and not mourn on the great Day of the Lord.

Those blessed Blesseds - Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes are among the literary and religious treasures of the human race. We can savor them, affirm them, meditate on them, and engrave them on plaques to hang on our walls. But a major question remains: How are we supposed to live in response to them?
This isn’t an idle question. Misunderstanding the “blesseds” given by Jesus in Matthew 5 has caused pain and confusion down through the ages that continues today.
Strangely enough, his blesseds have not uniformly been a blessing.
It’ll help us know what to do—and what not to do—with the Beatitudes if we can discover what Jesus himself was doing with them.

Paying Attention - Matthew 22:34-46

Things we hear all the time—even important things—can become so familiar we stop really paying attention. Seriously. Think about the last time you were actually absorbed in what the flight attendant said just before takeoff.

There’s a vital part of Christian liturgy—28 words so important that Jesus said every other word in the Bible hangs from them—the Church has repeated week after week almost without exception. Year after year. Decade after decade. For millennia.

Yada. Yada. Yada.
This week though, we’re gonna pay attention. 

Gotcha! - Matthew 22:15-22


In this week’s Gospel reading, Matthew relates a plan by some really smart people to trap Jesus in a lose/lose situation. Either way he answers them, he gets into trouble.

In today’s political terms, it’s a “gotcha” question.

Ultimately, though, he’s not the one who got gotcha’d.