Do Not Be Afraid

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

As the Ekklesia Project Gathering draws near, with its focus on the church as Mission, and following on Timothy’s reflection for last Sunday, we come this Sunday to the last part of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before they are sent out as apostles in the gospel of Matthew.

The sending of the apostles in Matthew differs from the story in Mark and Luke, in that we are not told of their return to Jesus, their telling of the experience, or of a restful retreat afterwards (or at least an attempt to retreat). Because of this, in Matthew’s telling there is the sense that the sending continues, up to and including the present day church. Read more

Mission Trips

Second Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In June church folk scatter to the four winds. Along with vacations, camps, ball games, and camping trips, many go out into the world on mission trips. A few years back, some youth from a friend’s Appalachian church traveled to the dark underbelly of Pittsburgh to shine for Jesus. At a rest stop along the way they bumped into a church group from Pittsburgh headed to help the poor people of Appalachia. Maybe they could have all stayed home? People sometimes travel a long way to accomplish things they wouldn’t dream of doing in their own back yard. Read more

With Us to the End of the Age

Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Talk about God’s authority over all things can make people uneasy. “Authority” sounds like it might be a threat to our freedom, as when, in the movie “The Truman Show,” the director of the reality show that is Truman’s life controls every circumstance in his world. He finally speaks to Truman from the fake clouds in the set’s fake sky: “In my world, you have nothing to fear. I know you better than you know yourself….I’ve been watching you your whole life.” We cheer to see Truman refuse to live as a slave.

That kind of domination is what happens when humans try to be God, to control each other. Read more

The Good Work of the New Humanity

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-35
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
John 20:19-23

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty—the faint surprise of minds incapable of wonder.
– Wendell Berry

We seldom associate Pentecost Sunday with work of any sort, even good work. Perhaps this is because the wild imagery of wind and flame and the strangeness of glossolalia tempts us to see Pentecost as distinctly other-worldly. Or perhaps we have simply assumed that work itself is inherent in the curse passed down from our primordial ancestors, and that the redemptive power unleashed at Pentecost is part of God’s action to release us from that curse—and so from work.

This is a misreading, both of the first chapters of Genesis—the gifts of tilling and keeping the garden were part of God’s instruction to humankind from the beginning—and of the story of Pentecost in its broader theological context as the commencement of the mission of proclaiming the gospel. It tends to obscure the fact that human work of a certain kind is part and parcel of our faithfully embodying our role as icons of the triune God. Read more

Shown, Not Told

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11


“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

-often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but of uncertain origin

The late New Testament scholar, John Pilch, noted that Jesus, as rendered in the Gospel of John, “tends to get a bit long-winded.” All those extended discourses, repetitions, and interlocking phrases stand in stark contrast to Mark’s rustic efficiency, to be sure, and if it seems like Jesus has been saying goodbye to the disciples for weeks now, you’d be right. This is the fourth week in a row in which the lectionary’s gospel reading comes from John – unless you’re celebrating the Ascension this Sunday, in which case you get a synoptic reprieve. And yes, this is the third consecutive week culled from John’s multi-chapter Farewell Discourse.

Those lost in the Johannine word-cloud might be forgiven for missing the clues in today’s gospel that Jesus has stopped talking to the disciples and is now directly addressing the Father. In other words, Jesus is praying, not preaching. Or is that a misleading distinction?

Perhaps a more helpful terminology comes from the first principle of good writing: Show, don’t tell. In what is sometimes called “The Great Intercessory Prayer,” Jesus stops telling his clueless disciples how to serve, love, and live peacefully with one another. He stops telling them that the Father and Son are one in the unity of the Holy Spirit. He stops telling them they must turn from the world’s ways in order to experience true joy. He stops telling them these things, not because the disciples already know and understand – their behavior over the next several days will destroy that illusion – nor does he stop because the lessons no longer apply. He stops telling them in order to show them. Read more

Come and Look

Easter 6, Year A

Acts 17:22-31

John 14:15-21

Do you have a dog and do you walk her?  Or a child?  A walk with a child or a dog can be an exercise in frustration.  Dogs and children don’t walk in straight paths, they meander, zig zag, go up and down, stop and start.  This can be a problem if you have a destination in mind, if you want to get somewhere, but if you want to see?  A walk with a dog or a child can open up whole new modes of perception.

This is the truth that Alexandra Horowitz writes about in her book On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to Observation.  Horowitz, a cognitive scientist by trade, takes walks with eleven experts, each one helping her to see the journey in a different way.  From a geologist and a sound designer, a dog and a child, and a host of other curious observers Horowitz learns to see her Manhattan neighborhood in whole new ways, noticing what she’d long ignored, seeing what she’d never been able to perceive, all because someone came alongside her and showed her what had always been there.

On those walks Horowitz writes: “I would find myself at once alarmed, delighted, and humbled at the limitations of my ordinary looking. My consolation is that this deficiency of mine is quite human. We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.”

Horowitz sounds like the prophet Isaiah when he proclaims the message of God:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’ (6:9) Read more

Look, I See the Heavens Opened

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

 One way of reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is to understand it as a story about theological imagination, and how it is we come to envision the world rightly.

At the center of this story is a nameless child who, being rather remarkable in her imaginative capacities, manages to see beyond the ordinary around her to a world shot through with importance and the work of the Spirit.

In one particularly poignant passage, she’s considering freaks in the freak-show at the fair, and understands them to be martyrs, supposing that what the adult tents contain must be about medicine. She decides she’ll be a doctor, but then reconsiders, thinking she’ll be a saint, but even that doesn’t fit, for she knows her sins. As the story goes,

“She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick. She could stand to be shot but not to be burned in oil. She didn’t know if she could stand to be torn to pieces by lions or not. She began to prepare her martyrdom, seeing herself in a pair of tights in a great arena, lit by the early Christians hanging in cages of fire, making a gold dusty light that fell on her and the lions. The first lion charged forward and fell at her feet, converted. A whole series of lions did the same. The lions liked her so much she even slept with them and finally the Romans were obliged to burn her but to their astonishment she would not burn down and finding she was hard to kill, they finally cut off her head very quickly with a sword and she went immediately to heaven. She rehearsed this several times, returning each time at the entrance of Paradise to the lions.”[1]

This kind of imaginative vision stretches beyond herself to the world around her. Where some see freaks, she sees temples of the Holy Ghost. Read more

Hope for the World

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:24-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

I suspect there will be a lot of sermons this Sunday about sheep. John 10 is the locus of a lot the New Testament’s of sheep imagery. I am basically an urban and suburban person. I’ve little direct experience of sheep. I have a lot of direct experience of sermons that aim to teach me a lot about sheep from people who have no more agricultural experience than I do. I have seen a rabbit herd sheep on YouTube. I’ve had rabbits as pets. Their brains cannot be much bigger than an olive. Instead of focusing on the habits of sheep, I think our attention might be better directed elsewhere. Read more

A Chain of Resurrections

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-42
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Years after he had read Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, C. S. Lewis saw the film version. Lewis’ most vivid memory from the book was a scene near the end in which the heroes were entombed in an underground rock chamber, surrounded by mummified kings, and slowly starving to death. The movie director didn’t think that would play well on the screen, so at that point in the film, a subterranean volcano erupted, followed by an earthquake.

If the intent was sheer excitement, Lewis reasoned, the film version was perfectly understandable. However, what Lewis missed in the movie was “the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death) – the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptered, dead…The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination, the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves” (“On Stories”).

It’s a valid question to ask whether Easter has converted our imagination or merely fluttered our nerves. Read more

Bodily Presence

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

The collect (opening prayer) in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter declares:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect’s focus on the believer’s (those who have been reborn) participation in Christ’s body through their own lived experience and action is readily apparent in all three readings for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Read more