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The Way the World Works?

First Sunday after Pentecost
Trinity Sunday

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Two of our scripture passages for today – the story of Nicodemus from John 3 and Paul’s admonition to the church in Rome from Romans 8 – wrestle with the nature of spirit and flesh.  Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, interpretation (or mis-interpretation) of passages like these has led many Christians into the sort of gnostic dualism that condemns the flesh and elevates the spirit. In recent years, a subtle sort of Christian Gnosticism – that literary critic Harold Bloom has called “the American Religion” – has tempted us to be careless in our stewardship of our bodies and the creation at large (the “God is going to destroy it anyway” mentality).  In the late 1990s, for instance, one research study found that evangelical Christians tended to be more obese than other sectors of the US population, and more interestingly, that this tendency was even stronger among those Christians who claimed to read the Bible literally.

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The Deep Hope of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34.

What is the new covenant that God has made in Christ and what does it mean for our life in Christ today? This question is an essential one raised by today’s Old Testament text.  The ways in which Christians have answered this question through the centuries have often led to anti-Semitic attitudes and oppression of the Jews.  The gist of the reasoning has been that the Jews screwed up and God had to start over from scratch and now the Christians are the people on whom the blessing of God rests (and, of course, the Jews are outsiders, heretics and the ones who had Jesus crucified, and thus worthy of having all manner of violence inflicted upon them).

Is this really the sort of God, covenant and people that Jeremiah is proclaiming here?  I hope not, but let’s look a little deeper.  Gerhard Lohfink, in his classic work Does God Need the Church?: Toward a Theology of the People of God sheds some light on this passage:

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Out in the Wilderness

Mark 1:4-11

First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel of Mark opens with a brief telling of the story of John the Baptizer. What are we to make of this crazy fellow who lives out in the wilderness, wears clothes made of camel hair and eats locusts and honey? For the first century readers of this Gospel, this language with which Mark describes John conjured up images of Elijah. “Just as a gaunt bearded face and a stovepipe hat would immediately conjure up the image of Abe Lincoln for those socialized into modern American mythology” writes Ched Myers, “so would John’s garb have invoked the great prophet Elijah for Mark’s readers.” John is a prophet in the same vein as Elijah, humble, far removed from the halls of power in his day, and yet God used him to prepare the way for the Messiah through whom all creation would be reconciled.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of John’s story is the place in which we find him, the wilderness.

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Peaches - Brent Aldrich

The Deeper and Richer Life of Gratitude

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.”

Gratitude is at the core of our identity as the people of God.  God has created us and continually provides for us.  Even when times get tough in our broken world, when we’re hungry and thirsty and our soul is fainting within us (v. 5), God hears our cries and delivers us.  The Israelite people certainly knew their share of troubles – being slaves in Egypt, wandering in the desert for forty years, going into exile, and so on – but yet the Psalms, their prayerbook that gave shape to their life together was filled with prayers of thanksgiving like today’s reading from Psalm 107 that celebrate the goodness and the provision of God.

And yet, gratitude is one of the most difficult virtues for us to cultivate in the Western world.  Why is this? Above all, we are extraordinarily wealthy; we have the resources and technologies to take care of almost all our needs, and thus it is easy for us to lose sight of God’s provision. Additionally, we are immersed in a sea of advertising every day that fuels our ingratitude by reminding us of all the things that we don’t have, but that we should want.  We also are so far removed from agriculture that we easily lose sight of God’s providing through creation for our most basic need, food.

So what can we, as Westerners, learn about gratitude from the Israelite people of the Old Testament?

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Embodying God’s Unity in a Fragmented World

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Psalm 133 begins with a refrain that will be familiar to many of our ears: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!,” but it is the powerful imagery of the latter two verses of this brief psalm that drive home the depths of the God’s desire for the people of God to live in unity.  The psalmist flashes two quick, familiar images into the imaginations of his Israelite audience – first the anointing of the priest Aaron, with the precious oil flowing down his head, coursing through the hairs of his beard and dripping down unto his robes, and the second image is that of the dew of God’s blessing falling upon the mountains of Zion – that place that Israel associated with eternal and abundant life.  These vivid images reminded Israel that living together in unity is the life to which God has called them, and indeed calls us as the people of God today.  This deep longing of God for unity is echoed in the prayer with which Jesus leaves his disciples in John 17: “that they may be one, as we are one.” Read more