bLOGOS

WHAT IS bLOGOS?

The Ekklesia Project “bLogos” seeks to bring together relevant theological commentary from our contributing editors and from the wider electronic world.  It regularly reflects on the news of the day from an EP perspective, asking what the news we are offered might look like from an angle that is God-centered, church-centered, peace-centered and political.  In so doing, we hope that our commentary helps members of the church to think more critically and theologically, and to see daily events and ideas in new ways.

And we invite you who read to join the conversation by leaving a comment on our posts.

t48blow

Slavery and the Cost of Discipleship

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Philemon 1:1-21

Tradition supplies a backstory for the short book Philemon: the slave Onesimus had run away from his owner, seeking refuge in the anonymity of Rome. But there he encountered Paul and was converted. In fact, from the text, we know very little about what how Onesimus ended up with Paul and less about what followed. Still the letter continues to speak to us about power and the cost of discipleship, a cost spelled out in no uncertain terms in today’s gospel.

Paul’s “dear friend and co-worker” Philemon, a believer whose faith Paul praises, had a slave. It shocks us now to realize that the early Christian communities included not only slaves but also slave-owners. Being baptized did not automatically mean that a slave-owner would free his or her slaves. And this is not because ancient slavery was a humane institution. Slavery meant then as now that a person is property. If an owner decided to beat a slave or to use a slave for sex, that slave had no right to resist. While a slave might have a family, the owner was under no obligation to honor those ties.

Perhaps Philemon was not cruel to Onesimus. But in the ancient world, even though a slave might be well-fed, educated, and even able to wield some of the owner’s power, slavery meant shame, because it meant being unable to demand respect. Philemon has power. Onesimus has none. Read more

Fuld-modell-frankfurt

God Calls People

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

I know, I know. There’s no one that pastoral types like me distrust more than someone who declares they are called by God to do this or that. Self-proclaimed prophets and preachers in church are a dime a dozen. Believe me, I am one! In an election year we have to make do with narcissists who tell us they are God’s answers to the nation’s pressing issues. Yet if you pressed me on the matter, I would be forced to admit that I too have been called by God. Read more

Illustration from the 1980s showing the elements of a Peacekeeper missile. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A Deeper Communion

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 5:1-7
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” Jesus asks his disciples. “No, I tell you, but rather division.”

At first glance, Jesus’ proclamation seems to resonate profoundly with our current cultural moment, which has a surplus of division and a deficit of peace. The faction-based rhetoric clogging our airwaves and the vitriol that plagues our social media sites seems just the sort of thing that divides “father against son” and “mother against daughter.”

We have elevated divisiveness to an art form, so that not just households, but communities, classrooms, and congregations bear the marks of estrangement. Even among followers of Christ, virtues like gentleness and kindness are dismissed as “political correctness,” and a willingness to offend is worn as a badge of honor.

It’s not hard to see why this Jesus found in Luke chapter 12 might excite some readers. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” it seems, has been replaced by a tough-talking firebrand who tells it like it is and who isn’t afraid to burn bridges and upset apple carts.

Imagine this Jesus on Twitter, taking no prisoners as he drops truth bombs, 140 characters at a time. At first glance, this is a Messiah tailor-made for our times. But a first glance, at this biblical passage or any other, hardly makes for a responsible or faithful reading of God’s word. We have to ask whether Jesus is really laying out the kind of iconoclastic vision that animates our political rallies and fills our Facebook pages, or if, when he informs his disciples not to anticipate that he will bring peace, he might be getting at something deeper. Read more

MB_Rising_Above_sign

What Are You Preparing For?

 

Proper 14 (C)
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

If you’re planning on buying a winter place in Miami Beach, I wouldn’t advise it. It’s an island and the only thing on the rise there is the sea level. As Elizabeth Kolbert chronicled last fall in the New Yorker, when a super tide comes crashing in it floods the the lawns of million dollar homes and soaks sports cars in corrosive salt water. This is happening more and more. It will keep happening more and more.

The city of Miami Beach is, of course, working to correct the problem. They are looking to levees and pumps and all sorts of feats of modern engineering to keep business going and insurers from declaring the place uninsurable.

With enough pumps running, enough machines working, enough ingenuity and the sheer verve of the human spirit they will be able to beat this thing and keep going as they’ve been going. Unless, the water keeps rising. Unless, they’ve been basing their plans on a lie all along.

Those who want to save Miami Beach through more building and more pumps are like the people of Judah when Isaiah came to warn them of their ways. The fundamentals of their society had been corrupted and was unraveling as a result, but they kept on sacrificing in the temple, pretending that everything was just fine, God would keep them just as God always had. They had ceased to be in relationship with a living God, responsive and adaptive, and had become instead engineers of the sacred. As such, they had become idolaters, more interested in controlling the holy than in living in reverence of it. Read more

(White_onion)

The Beginning of a Heavenly Sowing

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 12:13-21

“Imitate the earth, O mortal. Bear fruit as it does; do not show yourself inferior to inanimate soil. After all, the earth does not nurture fruit for its own enjoyment, but for your benefit… Let the end of your harvesting be the beginning of a heavenly sowing.”
-St. Basil the Great, “On Social Justice.”

I arrived at the community garden early one morning, and followed the voices to the greenhouse at the back edge of the property. As I stepped through the door into the humidity, I was overwhelmed by the pungent aroma of soil and onions. Instead of the usual black trays of infant plants getting a good start on growth, before me were long rows of drying tables, heaped with onions – such an abundance that the metal tables had begun to tip and sink into the ground from the weight.

Soon I was told the story: the garden interns, knowing this planting of onions would soon rot in the ground, had pulled them all the day before. But the harvest they expected and the harvest they received were very different. Considering the yields from the prior year and what they’d already harvested, the garden director imagined they might pull a flat-bed trailer’s worth from the onion beds up at the nearby farm.

Instead, they filled the trailer two and a half times, plus an enclosed pickup truck bed. It was an incredible number of onions! Read more

199_foot_cross_in_Louisiana

The Last Word

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Hosea 1:2-10
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

This week’s lectionary readings invite a nuanced continuation of the theme developed last week by Jessie Larkins, who juxtaposed God’s blistering and apparently final judgment upon Judah from Amos 8 (vv. 1-12) with the very different message of Colossians 1:15-28, where judgment is leveled not so much against a people as an idolatrous way of life that the Cross of Jesus makes it possible to abandon. Again this week we are offered a word of prophetic judgment (from Hosea) and a reiteration of the author of Colossians’ account of what transpires in the cross. However, in both texts we discover a delightful comedic turn that opens to us the possibility of seeing ourselves and our world in surprising new ways.

The passage from Hosea is the familiar story of the prophet’s commissioning. Hosea is told by the LORD to marry a prostitute and have children with her; their marriage is to be a metaphor for Israel’s relationship to God, inasmuch as “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

The names given to the three children made by the marriage are all indicative of God’s impending judgment on Israel: The name of the first son, Jezreel (“God sows”), is evocative of God’s judgment on the house of Ahab and Jezebel, which came in the form of an extremely bloody coup d’etat which began in the valley of Jezreel. The second child, a daughter named Lo-ruhamah (“not pitied”) suggests God’s mercy toward Israel is being withdrawn. This is affirmed when another son, Lo-ammi (“not my people”) is born; this name portends not simply the LORD’s withdrawal of mercy, but his outright abandonment of the covenant—“for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Judgment, however, is not the last word in the passage. Read more

No_Through_Road_sign

New Endings, New Beginnings

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 8:1-12
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

My father and I often respond to absurd news reports shared by text message or email forward with the tongue in cheek response: “A sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us.” In the past few weeks I have not been sure if that’s an appropriate joke to make. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and violence and death plague every news cycle. My cries have been “Come, Lord Jesus” more often than they’ve been jokes or hashtags.

When I read the Old Testament lesson appointed for this coming weekend and hear Amos’ denunciation of 8th century Judean social, economic, and religious practices, it sounds so familiar. Income inequality, corrupt business practices that benefit the wealthy, religion that’s nothing more than form without substance. It was bad news for Judah. Amos told them it was the end of the line.

This weekend I’ll be mounting the pulpit in a comfortably wealthy, white, mainline church. Are there ways in which Judah’s bad news needs to become our bad news as well? Read more

Ana_Bondžić,_Do_not_cross_do_not

Neighboring

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 10:25-37

Our gospel reading for this week contains the story of the Good Samaritan. The story is so well-known that the phrase Good Samaritan has made its way into everyday English usage. We use it to refer to someone who unexpectedly and out of the blue does a generous or even heroic act for someone in trouble. Unfortunately, the past month has given us far too many opportunities to point out good Samaritans.

The phrase made its way into our everyday discourse from our Gospel reading for this Sunday. Our familiarity with this story and our conventional use of the term Good Samaritan might lead us to miss some of the more interesting details of this story from Luke’s gospel. Read more

Paintings. Netherlandish. 15th Century, ca. 1425-30
campin, Robert (ca. 1375-1444), and Assistant
The Annunciation Triptych. (Merode Triptych)
Oil on Wood.
Central Panel: H. 25-1/4 in W. 24-7/8 in. (64.1x63.2 cm.)
Each Wing H. 24-3/6 in. W. 10-3/4 in. (64.5x27.3 cm.)
Photography by MMA1996, transparency 2AD
scanned by film and media (jn) 1-07-05

Snaring Satan

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 5:1-14 OR Isaiah 66:10-14
Galatians 6:7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“The cross of the Lord was the devil’s mousetrap. The bait by which he was caught was the Lord’s death”
– St. Augustine, Sermon 263

The modern mind doesn’t know what to do with the idea of “Satan,” and, try as I might to make it otherwise, I have a modern mind. Like many others, I don’t know if the Hebrew, S-t-n, “the adversary or accuser,” or the Greek, diabolos, “the slanderer,” can still be understood a personal, superhuman enemy of God Rather than catalogue modern answers to that question, I’ll pose a riddle: “Is Satan’s first deception persuading us that he exists or that he doesn’t?” Read more

Ilia_chariot

Found in Translation

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-61

“My 1865 Webster’s defines translation as ‘being conveyed from one place to another; removed to heaven without dying.’ We must have an art that translates, conveys us to the heaven of that deepest reality which otherwise ‘we may die without ever having known’; that transmits us there, not in the sense of bringing information to the receiver but of putting the receiver in the place of the event – alive.” — Denise Levertov, “Great Possessions”

“The Translation of Elijah” has always seemed to me a strange title for the chariot of fire scene. “Translation,” I thought, was merely a matter of substituting words in one language for words in another language. At this crucial juncture in the Elijah story, however, translation is a fiery threshold, the means by which Elisha receives a double portion of the Spirit that animates the Prophet Elijah’s life. Not the spirit that animated Ahab and Jezebel. Not the spirit that animated the whole religious industry that had made its peace with Ahab in order to ensure its success. “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha prays of Elijah.

This story occurs in the book of the Bible entitled “Kings,” but the main characters are prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. The book title is tongue-in-cheek irony. Beyond the headline stealing royal pretensions and exploits, there is an alternate history going on, seen clearly, spoken obediently, and lived courageously by those animated by the prophetic spirit. Read more