The Time Has Come

We live in a world that is consumed with time. In our personal lives, this takes the shape of making sure that we have arrived at a particular place at a particular point in time: When does my class begin? When does work shift start? When do I need to pick my kids up from school? When does this appointment or event begin? This is seen in larger systems as well. Trains and buses in large cities arrive and leave at specific times, and we are reminded about this constantly at the platform or the bus stop. In financial transactions, profits are often earned through the precise timing of buying and selling commodities, with any minor variation effectively ruining such gains. In many parts of the world this past week, we were confronted by time by adding one hour to our clocks. Through all of this, we discover that our lives are dominated by timetables, schedules, and appointments, some of which are posted on office doors or recorded in daily planners, and some of which are simply inscribed in our daily habits. Read more

Draining the Swamp?

I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Our willingness to read Scripture and to be read by Scripture is a sign of humility that we take our place as small players in a huge story, the general shape of which can’t be determined or ruined by us.
—Sam Wells

It is difficult to hear this week’s Gospel reading without the current catchphrase “drain the swamp” ringing in our ears. For me, that phrase has a face. Bob Murray is the CEO of Murray Energy Corporation. In a recent televised interview, he spat out his contempt for EPA employees while celebrating the appointment of Scott Pruett as head of EPA and rejoicing over his own newfound influence to roll back environmental regulations. “This is a wonderful victory,” he beamed. Narrowing his eyes at the interviewer, he continued, “I have fought this fight every day. And now I’m going to bury the sons of bitches.” Read more

Human Things and Divine Things

Second Sunday of Lent

If you’re reading this blog in preparation to preach this Sunday, then maybe you’re asking the same question I found myself asking this week: How many more of these sermons will we write? There was the Orlando sermon. And the Las Vegas sermon. The Charleston sermon and the Texas sermon. The Newtown sermon. And if you’ve been at this preaching thing long enough, there were the Virginia Tech and Columbine sermons too. And here we are again, in a sickeningly familiar cycle, wondering what to say this time in the Parkland, Florida sermon. Read more

Developing the Negatives

Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9:2-9

I am just old enough to remember photography before the digital age.

As a teen I used to save up my $8 of allowance, which came every two weeks, to buy rolls of off-brand 35mm film. These I would load into the back of my camera, which was a little too large to fit comfortably in my pocket, and then I would have exactly 24 chances to get the photo shot I was hoping for. After the film was used, I would take it out of the camera, snap it back into the film canister case it came in, and take it to the local department store photo center – in my case, Walmart. And then I’d wait. Read more

No Ground for Boasting

We’re currently in the midst of one of our most enduring cultural liturgies—awards season. With the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, the Grammys this past Sunday, and the Oscars on the horizon, along with a slew of other, less publicized events, this is the time of year when the titans of the entertainment industry gather to honor the achievements of their peers. They will gather for lavish meals. They will hand out trophies. They will make speeches. They will tell inside jokes and laugh loudly at one another’s scripted attempts at humor. They will raise their glasses to their fellow artists and smile insincerely when their colleagues win an honor that they themselves were passed over for.

While we may be somewhat used to this annual ritual, I think that if an spaceship were to land outside of such an awards ceremony, and a group of aliens were able to look in on what was transpiring, it would probably strike them as fairly odd. For all the glitz and glamour and emotion that seems to be bound up in these events, for all the ink spilled by critics and entertainment journalists about who should and shouldn’t win these awards, these shows are ultimately an opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back. Each ceremony is little more than a roomful of beautiful and wealthy people telling one another what a great job they’re doing. And this year, with the spate of revelations about the predatory misuses of power and influence among the upper echelons of Hollywood, these opportunities for self-congratulation seem a bit awkward, if not completely hollow. Read more

Authority and the Madness of Love

It’s tempting to want to know just what exactly Jesus said at this synagogue in Capernaum. What does this “teaching with authority” sound like?

Often I hear people try to fill in that gap with some explanation about Jesus’s style or content. But the evangelist’s silence on this point is important. He did not just forget to mention what Jesus said or overlook our interest in his tone of voice, gestures, rhetorical tools. He didn’t include those details because they are not what we need to know. What we need to know about Jesus is that he is, as the unclean spirit says, the Holy One of God. Jesus teaches with authority because he is the authority, Emmanuel, God with us.

So the question we should ask when Mark writes that people heard Jesus’ teaching to be “with authority” is not “How did he do it?” but “Who is he?” Read more

Yes and No

“I pay attention to what I do so I’ll know what I really believe.”
–Sister Helen Prejean

If you only read chapter 3 of the book of Jonah, you’d learn quite a bit about the heart of Jonah’s God, but very little about the heart of the man God has called as his prophet. Though the story of Jonah is likely well known to many who sit in pews listening to sermons this third week of Epiphany, the Sunday School version of Jonah’s story is generally truncated, omitting a key part of this story–that even after outwardly obeying the command of God to go and prophesy to the Ninevites, Jonah remains bitter and cynical and alone. He is unable to receive the salvation of Ninevah as good news, despite the fact that his very life depends upon a God of second chances. Jonah’s “no” to God and God’s grace in this story makes this little book of Scripture a tragedy, ultimately. Through it all, God is always and everywhere showing Godself as who and what the Hebrew Scriptures have said God is: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (4:2). With closed hands and a closed heart, Jonah’s fate is left to readers’ imaginations. Read more