The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, March 27, 2017

Who sinned: this man or his parents?

Grace and Peace
Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents?
There was a man born blind
In two small verses, John tells us how Jesus took dust, spat on it, and put this on his eyes.

That’s 2 verses. The other 38 verses of this story are a trial to determine whose sin is most present.

The miracle takes up this much type.
The inquisition of sin takes up the rest.

It makes you wonder if this gospel is the prototype for our newspapers.
This much good news, this much of crime, revenge, and problems.
Let this be a note- if your gospel, the one you write every day has this much good news, and this much bad news, you need a new editor!

As we editorialize this text together, let us take notice that the miracle is considered an insignificant subject for discussion.

Everyone wants to know who sinned- this man or his parents.
As in, he is blind, therefore someone must have done something to make God angry and strike him blind.
And, since he was born that way, either his parents made God angry or the boy somehow ticked off the man upstairs while still in his mother’s womb.
And what gets to me is who asks this question- the disciples.

Who sinned? Them or him?
Now the pastor in me wants to tell you that your children cannot suffer from your sins. Your sins are wiped clean through the blood of the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. You are forgiven and that is that. Your sins do not transfer to your next of kin, period.
But the preacher in me can’t stop there.

Your sins are forgiven, but not forgotten on this earth. Our children inherit or sins and will have to pay for them.

Biologists have discovered that changes in behavior in our lifetime works on our genetic code and can affect the DNA that we pass along to our children. That means if we are angry or addicted it changes the owner’s manual in our body that gets passed along to our children’s children. We have abused our bodies and pushed them over the limit of what is healthy.

Other than ourselves, we give our children this Earth. Except our sins of greed and selfishness have made the planet arguably worse than when we got here. We’ve used up a lot of natural resources. We’ve made the air and water quality harder to sustain life. We’ve cut down the rainforest to raise more cattle for our inflated diets. And reports are coming out now that we waste over half of the food we produce. 

Which is curious since over half the world goes hungry. We’ve taken the oil, diamonds and gold and killed each other over it

We’ve used nuclear bombs other warfare that has harmed the land and the people in it.

Other than ourselves, and the world we inherited, we leave them our debts.

Think let’s imagine that you make 100k a year, imagine that you owe 108k, and growing every year.  The government- which really means us and our children- have a rising debt so much that every now and then we have to vote to borrow more money to pay the bills of the money we already owe. 

Somebody call Dave Ramsey.

Our kids are on the hook for our spending. For the sins of their parents.

It’s a good thing we didn’t leave them anything else, like racism, sexism, classism, distrust of leadership, insolvent social security, homophobia, Islamaphobia, rising sea levels, a shrinking church, or reality television, because that would be too much if we left those things behind as well. 

Oh wait, we left them all that too?


They might not thank us for what we have bequeathed them. They might not want to pay for the sins of previous generations.
But they will. Because of the sins of their parents, they will pay.

So today we have a message that isn’t one thing or the other. We might have to sit in the uncomfortable place of both/and. Are sins have been forgiven. We have been saved. But who will save our children?

These questions keep Ashley and Me up at night sometimes.

We wanted to bring our children into a world full of possibility and hope.
Not a world full of sin, selfishness, and social anxiety.
But you can’t have one without the other, can you?

I find myself more and more talking to our confirmation students about how the world desperately needs them to be faith leaders, to be world formers, to be equality fighters.

Ultimately, the story of the man born blind isn’t about the miracle, but the conversation about sin, where the word ‘sin’ shows up 8 times in these 40 verses.
The question the boy’s sin, the parent’s sin, Jesus sin for healing on the Sabbath.
And as goes the nature of sin, each character- including the boy’s parents- point the finger at the next character in a sort of witch-hunt for the sinner.

He did it- ask him.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone thinks a person is born blind because of sin.

Yet, doesn’t Jesus say if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, for it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into “Hell”, or if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, so that your whole body doesn’t burn.

How many of us could raise our right hand- raise it high if you’ve not sinned with it. Yeah, that's what I thought. 

Does God really want us to lose our eyes and hands because of our sins? Does God want us to pay?

Or maybe, what God wants most, if for us to become aware of our sin.
Maybe God’s purpose for that statement regarding our eyes, is so we open them to see the beauty and miracle of what God has done in this world. That we find the gospel in the two verses, in the newspaper, in our schools, and in our children. Maybe the point of the miracle is that those who were blind can now see.
And maybe God’s purpose for the statement regarding our hands, is not to cut them off, but to open them. To extend a hand up to those in need. To greet our enemies and make peace with them. To hold those who need to be held and pat on the back those who need encouragement.
We should not be surprised by the presence of sin in our world. And nor should we ignore it.

The first story of Adam and Eve is one where God created them out of clay. He breathed into them and they became animated, in his image.
But the problem with being mortal is worshipping mortality.

Trusting in ourselves instead of God.

We worship our mortality when we use up the world’s resources at an alarming rate.
We worship our mortality when we take what is ours with little thought to who we took it from
We worship our mortality when we’d rather go to war than live on less
We worship our mortality when we give our children problems because we are too busy or proud to solve them
We worship our mortality when we are willing to waste the food that fall from our table while others deal with empty bellies
We worship our mortality when we make weapons to destroy the planet and threaten others to do the same
We worship our mortality when we pass the buck, point the finger, blame the next person for sin.

It has never been God’s plan for us to worship our mortal life. The slivers of gospel that we receive give us a hope that does not disappoint.

I met probably the coolest Lutheran pastor I’ll ever meet this last week in California.
He tan, preaches at the beaches, and teaches surf camp, all in San Diego.

Pastor Dave told me that he has seen an uptick in young adults from the area that show up for Ash Wednesday for the past few years. He says he thinks it is because people like to remember that their lives are but an instant, and then we go back to dust.

So it should come to no surprise then, that Jesus uses mud, dust mixed with water, to heal the man, and then sends him on his way, a common scene in John for someone who has been given new life.

Jesus sends away the blind man the same what he did the Woman at the Well, with fire in their hearts and hope in their eyes. He sends them with the promise of Eternal life.

We worship eternal life when we give just as easily as we receive
We worship eternal life when we consider the consequences of our actions and change our behavior
We worship eternal life when we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves
We worship eternal life when we take the long road, the high road, the road less traveled
We worship eternal life when we stand up for the needs of others instead of standing on our foolish pride
We worship eternal life when we acknowledge God’s great abundance instead of our lie of scarcity
We worship eternal life when we take two lines of text and let the miracle make the headline.

We worship eternal life when we take God’s work in our world seriously, God’ forgiveness seriously, when we take God seriously.

We must remember that we are dust, we started out as dust, and without God’s breath, we are nothing but dust. And to dust we shall return.

Sisters and brothers. Our world desperately needs you to care about the sins of our time.
We cannot continue to walk in darkness when we have seen a great light.
God has done great things for us that we need to pass on to our children and our children’s children.

Let us pass on the faith, not just our fears.

Rather than asking who else sinned, this man or his parents, let us confess our own.

Let us walk and talk in the promise of eternal life.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that only God can help us deal with it.

Tis grace that brought us safe this far, and grace will lead us home. Amen.

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Children's Christmas Play, "On this Dirt"

On This Dirt

A New-Age Christmas Program

By Rev. Daniel Pugh Jr

Setting: The land of Bethlehem.

Luke: tour guide
Matthew: tour guide
Isaiah: Wise owner of the land

14 kings
7 sons
King 1
King 2
King 3

Luke: Travelers, tourists and parents who are here to take video of their adorable children that you will never watch again, everyone gather around. Welcome to Bethlehem. My name Luke and I am an official tour guide to this dirt. 

Matthew: I thought we agreed to not call ourselves 'official'.

Luke: No, I agreed that you are not official. I tell an orderly account of the facts, which makes me official. You, Matthew, tell the story all wrong. 

Matthew:  There are lots of people who prefer my version of this dirt better. Ever heard of Godspell? If you get to be the official tour guide of this dirt, then I'll ask that you kindly refer to me as Saint Matthew, the expert. 

Luke: Yeah, like anybody is ever going to call you a saint for what you stole from Mark. Saint Matthew, patron saint of plagiarism.

Matthew: How about we let these people decide. 

Luke: Decide what? 

Matthew: Decide whose story is better. My story about Kings, family, royalty, and attempted murder. 

Luke: Or my story, about underdogs, Angels, shepherds and a star so bright

Matthew: It all started with-

Luke: It all started with-

Matthew and Luke: HEY!

Isaiah: What is going on here? What are you two squabbling about on MY dirt?

Matthew: I’m sorry, Mr. Isaiah, we didn’t mean to disturb you, we are grateful that you let us bring tours to your dirt. We were just fighting because we were both giving a tour at the same time.

Isaiah: Well, it’s fine, kids, I’m not in it for the profit. Get it? Isaiah, not in it for the profit?

Luke and Matthew stare at each other.

Isaiah: You’re too young. So, both of you are trying to tell the same story, but differently, is that what I understand? Well, how’s this. I happen to know a lot about the story of this dirt. It is, after all, my family’s dirt and I was writing about this dirt for 300 years before you two were born. And I predicted what would happen. So you, Matthew, you have a good Jewish name, I’ll let you go first.

Matthew: Well, the story of this dirt begins with Abraham. Abraham begat Issac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brothers. Judah begat Perez.

Luke: How long is this going to take?

Matthew: The story takes 28 generations. (14 kids line up wearing hats, then switch to crowns.)14 generations from Abraham to David, and 14 from David to Jesus.

Luke: Boring!

Matthew: These are leaders and Kings, and it all happened here.. Abraham lived on this dirt and Issac and David and Joseph and Mary.  You see, Jesus was born here, too, and he descended from Kings….

Sing “What Child is This” (2 verses)

Luke: Thanks for the history lesson, Professor. Now here’s a story about David that you left out. David started out with humble beginnings. Before he was a king he was a runt.

Matthew: A runt?

Luke: A runt, the youngest of 8 sons of Jesse. One day the prophet Samuel came by Jesse’s house to find the next King.

Isaiah: I know that prophet Samuel, great guy. We play racketball together on Thursdays. He is a good honest man who listens to God’s voice.  

Luke: So Samuel comes to visit Jesse because God told him to. And Jesse lines up his oldest 7 sons (7 kids line up in order of height, Jesse stands proudly by him. Samuel checks them out) Samuel examined each one and determined that God was not calling any of them. Samuel asks Jesse- Do you have any more sons?

Samuel: Jesse, do you have any more sons.

Luke: And Jesse says, not really. I have my son David, but he is outside with the sheep.

Jesse: Not really, I have my son David, but he is outside with the sheep.
(David stands petting someone dressed as a sheep)

Luke: He is the smallest of my sons and he smells.

Jesse: He is the smallest of my sons and he smells.

Matthew: Objection, King David did not smell.
Isaiah: If the boy slept with the sheep, he probably smelled. I’ll allow it.
Luke: And Samuel called the boy over (David leaves the sheep and goes over to Samuel) and looked him up and down. Then he took out his oil and anointed the boy. And he said, the Lord expects great things from you.
Samuel: The Lord expects great things from you!
Luke: And that story took place on this same dirt. You see, Mary and Joseph had to come back to this place because there was a census.
Matthew: A census? What is that?
Luke: A census is when all the people are counted from where they are from. So everyone had to go back to their home town, including Joseph and Mary. And their son, Jesus, was a decendent of David, the shepherd, so it was actually perfect that he was born on the same dirt. It’s like the family tree was underground and under this dirt it lie dormant. But some day, the prophesy said that a new branch shall come out of the roots of Jesse.
Matthew: You’re making that up. Who said that?
Isaiah: I SAID THAT!  A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
The young girl will give birth and he will be called, Emmanuel, God with us.

Sing: “O COME, O COME, Emmanuel.” (2 verses)

Matthew: You said all that? You mean, you predicted that a messiah would come to save us?

Isaiah: You didn’t think yours is the only story of this dirt, did you?

Luke: I guess I hadn’t thought about it.

Isaiah: We Jews have been telling stories of this dirt for over a thousand years. God has been faithful to our people Israel even though we didn’t always listen to him or his messengers.

Luke: Like angels?

Isaiah: Yes, like his angels.

Matthew: So it’s my turn. When Mary and Joseph got to this dirt, an Angel came to visit Joseph (An angel and Joseph come on stage, joseph sits in the chair, the angel behind him.

Luke:  What? The angel came to Mary, not Joseph.

Matthew: You’re crazy.

Isaiah: Children, children, if it’s Gabriel we’re talking about, he probably visited both. He leaves no stone unturned.

Luke: It was Gabriel! How did you know?

Isaiah: He is the one who was prophesied to herald in the Messiah, and the one who will declare that the end of the world. Let me ask you this, did he tell you to fear not?

Luke: Yes, like every time.

Isaiah: That’s because Daniel prophesied that he would show up at the end of the world.

Matthew: Let me guess, Daniel is another prophet like you and Samuel?

Isaiah: Yes. Great guy, Daniel. We play in a band together on Fridays. He can really blow that horn.

Matthew: So back to my story. Joseph was confused because he and Mary weren’t married and he didn’t know if he was ready to be a dad. But the Angel said to Joseph- You will be a great dad.

Angel: You will be a great dad.

Matthew: And he explained that his son will be the King of Kings, just like his ancestor, KING David. And when Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Glory to the Newborn King”


Luke: I am beginning to see that our stories are very similar, but told a different way. In my version of the story the angel doesn’t go to Joseph, because the story is really about Mary. (Joseph gets out of the chair and Mary sits down) And the angel Gabriel comes to tell her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Angel: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God

Luke: You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jesus,

Angel: You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jeuss.

Luke: And he will be called the son of the Most High.

Angel: And he will be called the son of the Most High.

Luke: And Mary wondered, How can this be?

Mary: How can this be?

Luke: And the Angel said- The spirit of the Lord is upon you

Angel: The spirit of the Lord is upon you

Isaiah: That sounds familiar.

Luke: Have you heard that before?

Isaiah: I should think so. I wrote it.

Luke: I had no idea!

Isaiah: It’s OK, it’s flattering.

Luke:  And just like the angel foretold, Mary did have a baby boy and named him Jesus. And the angels began singing.

Sing “Angels we have heard on High” (2 verses)

Luke: So, after the prophesy, Mary and Joseph headed to Bethlehem, they need a place to sleep.
(Mary and Joseph not on the door and the innkeeper answers)
Joseph asks- Is there any room in the Inn?

Joseph: Is there any room in the inn?
(Innkeeper shakes head, points to a barn.)

Luke: But there was no room. So they settle into a barn, where the animials sleep, because the animals were out in the fields, with the shepherds. And while they were there, it came time for Mary to give birth. And on that night, a star appeared over the stable where the baby was born. And guess who saw it- the shepherds!

Matthew: SHEPHERDS! You’re going to let smelly old shepherds into the story of the birth of a king! That night a star appeared so bright that KINGS saw it from a long way off and it took two years for them to get there.

Luke: Shepherds saw the star because David was a shepherd.

Matthew: David was a king!

Isaiah: Children, children. Why do you insist on fighting? Can’t both be there. In a 100 years, you watch, no one will care that Luke talks about shepherds and Matthew talks about Kings. I bet in a 100 years, people will forget which is which and just have a story of all of them together.

Matthew: All of them together? Kings and shepherds? No way!

Luke: That will never happen, Isaiah. People won’t want to just make up another story of Christmas, like it’s a pageant. They will always remember who wrote what.

Isaiah: This is coming from two children who have been using my words in their stories without even knowing it! Children, it is ok if people put your stories together sometimes. They are both good stories. Now, let me hear about the shepherds from you, Luke, and then you, Matthew, can tell me about Kings.

Luke: So the Shepherds are watching their flock by night (Shepherds, sheep, and angel take the stage opposite Mary and Joseph) when the angel Gabriel comes to them. And when they see him, and the glory of the Lord shines around them, and they are terrified.

Shepherds: We are Terrified!

Luke: But the angel Gabriel says- Fear not!

Angel: FEAR NOT!

Luke: For I bring you good tidings of great joy

Angel: For I bring you good tidings of great joy

Luke: For unto you, in the city of David, a savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.

Angel: For unto you- what he said!

Luke:  So the shepherds took their sheep and went to see the baby, and sure enough, they found him in a manger, which reminds us that Jesus will grow up to feed people by the thousands, and his last supper will show us the way of communion, which reminds us that our sins are forgiven. And after the shepherds meet the baby they go out telling everyone- that Jesus Christ is born.

Sing “Go tell it on the mountain” (2 verses)

Isaiah: That is a good story about this dirt, from David on down to Mary, and Gabriel, and the Shepherds. Thank you, Luke, for telling it. You are an excellent tour guide. Now Matthew, you have been waiting patiently. Tell me about the kings.

Matthew: I’d be happy to. So there was an evil king named Herod, and he wanted to hurt Jesus. So the three kings from the Orient came and followed the star to Bethlehem, (the kings enter on the side opposite the shepherds and Mary and Joseph) and they brought him gifts they had reserved for the king. They said these are gifts for a king

King 1: These are gifts for a king

Matthew: We didn’t give them to Herod

King 2: We didn’t give to Herod.

Matthew: You are the true king, the one who was prophesied.

King 3: You are the true king, the one who was prophesied.

Matthew: We brought you gold

King 1: We brought you gold

Matthew: Frankincense

King 2: Frankincense

Matthew: And Myrrh

King 3: And Myrrh.

Matthew: Gold was a traditional gift for a king. Frankincense was for a king to make his house smell nice, and myrrh was a gift that could be used as medicine. All three gifts were the best gifts that could have been given for that first Christmas. Gifts from kings to the King of Kings

Sing “WE THREE KINGS” (2 verses)
Isaiah: Matthew, thank you for your story of this dirt- of the family line from Abraham to King David to Jesus. You told the story of how the Kings from far away came to this place, and how they went past the bad king Herod in order to find their one, true king. So this Jesus, does he ever become king?

Matthew: Yes, but in a new way, he is still the king of us all.

Isaiah: And does he ever become a shepherd?

Luke: Yes, but in a new way, he is the Good Shepherd of us all.  

Isaiah: Well, let us celebrate the stories of this dirt, and the God of us all. I am excited to see what God will do next. You all who are here today, on this tour, bear witness to God’s great and abundant mercy. Let us all search in our own lives, for the one whom I have prophesied will come,

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the kingdom will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And all God’s people say, AMEN!

Sing “JOY TO THE WORLD” (2 verses)