The Vocation of the Vineyard

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:7-15

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

Crying to God for justice in a world of violence.

Recognizing inherited privilege.

Hoping for a future of reconciliation.

We are witnesses of the outcries against racially-charged violence and the reactions of white supremacy to those laments. We hear the longsuffering pleas of “How long?” in the midst of an ongoing pandemic (one that seems destined to get much worse before it gets better), and we sense the faint hope and longing for a future of reconciliation beyond these struggles. We know and experience what these opening lines describe. They are preoccupations that are very familiar to us, yet this description is not drawn from our current crises but from our appointed lectionary texts for this week, speaking to us in powerfully new and relevant ways. Read more

Talking About God

Trinity Sunday

 

 

Genesis 1:1-24a

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday can be exciting and perplexing. For some pastors, it is an occasion to dust off some of their theological knowledge from seminary and maybe stretch laypeople’s intellectual muscles. For others, it is a nerve-wracking time. Knowing all the inadequacies of popular Trinitarian analogies, they are full of concern about having something to say about the Trinity (and having something relevant to say). While the church certainly needs to learn and remember the Trinitarian affirmations found, for instance, in the Athanasian Creed, there is also the need to speak to the moment. This is the tension as we arrive at Trinity Sunday. Read more

Confession, Resistance, and Restoration

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 32

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

 

“Going to confession is hard…. You do not want to make too much of your constant imperfections and venial sins, but you want to drag them out to the light of day as the first step of getting rid of them.”

~Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

 

This week’s Sunday cycle of texts brings with it a change in season, moving from the period of ordinary time after Epiphany to the journey of Lent. Having been reminded of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we now walk with Jesus and the disciples toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaits him there. On that journey this week, we are confronted by the reality of sin and its remedy. Read more

Walking in the Light of the Lord

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

There is a moment before the sun rises when, even though it is still dark, you sense the coming dawn. It is so close that you can feel the new day’s sun bathing the terrain with light. It is so close that your anticipation causes you to scan the horizon for the first thread of light, but it is not here yet. So you wait. You wait for the day to arrive. This is what the experience of Advent is all about, as we can see in our lectionary readings for this week.

We might imagine what this waiting looks like – perhaps sitting on the porch or in your car – staring into the abyss of the last remnant of the night. It is true that Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation, but the images presented to us in these texts are far from motionless, as though we can do nothing but sit in the darkness, something akin to a waiting room at a doctor’s office. Instead, we find these lessons to be full of movement. The vision in Isaiah speaks of a time when Israel and the nations will travel to the mountain of the Lord (2:2-3). This is echoed in Psalm 122, a psalm of ascent sung on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In response to this movement of peoples, instruction and the word of the Lord will go forth (Isaiah 2:3). Romans 13 also draws on the theme of journeying by exhorting readers to “live [literally, walk] honorably” (13:13). This time of waiting is certainly one of expectation, but also one of motion.

In the anticipation ahead of dawn, we become keenly aware of the pervasive darkness that surrounds us, the shroud that will flee when the light finally arrives. Likewise, our Advent anticipation is set in sharp contrast with the characteristics of the world that surrounds us. The Romans text names some of this darkness, and Isaiah mentions the proliferation of swords and spears. Last week, while in Nagasaki, Pope Francis once again called for the abolition of nuclear weapons and decried their capabilities not only for physical destruction but also for cultivating distrust between different countries and peoples.

That war, violence, and animosity grip our world is no secret; we are confronted by this reality every day in the news and even in our communities. That they are tied to the vision of Advent is perhaps a bit more surprising. As the word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem, the people repurpose their swords and spears for creative uses within a renewed cosmos. The divisions brought about by hatred and violence are reconciled so that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). A new reality of peace spreads over the land. As a result, Advent enables us to exercise judgment or discernment about the world around us and to see this darkness in a new way, as the penultimate reality that will soon give way.

Paul tells us “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Romans 13:11). The “now” in focus here is not the result of the clock or calendar changing. Hence, day-and-hour speculation is useless (Matthew 24:36, 44). However, something has changed; the winds have shifted, and something new is emerging. The night will not last forever; the day is coming, and it is very close. In fact, the approaching day brings us closer to the fullness of our salvation.

This moves us to hope – the primary focus of Advent, especially on its first Sunday. As we liturgically anticipate the coming of the Christ child, so too we hope for the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. To live into this hope, however, requires that we keep awake (Matthew 24:42). Otherwise, we will miss the approaching dawn. Even so, this wakefulness is not a static activity either.

We begin Advent journeying toward God’s city. Throughout the Christian tradition, Jerusalem has signified the eschatological destination of the pilgrim church. Here it is no different. Jerusalem, “built as a city that is firmly bound together,” underscores the role of the whole community of the people of God in this hopeful vision. Indeed, we do not walk alone. So let us eagerly await the sunrise and clothe ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14), all the while remembering Isaiah’s encouragement to “walk in the light of the Lord!” (2:5).

Photo Credit: Go Placidly Amidst the Noise and Haste

Where is the Lord?

“Where is the Lord?” When we hear that question, it usually comes from someone who is lamenting the loss of an older practice or custom, such as prayer in public schools or businesses closing on Sundays. There is often a depth of frustration hidden beneath the question, presuming that the Lord is nowhere to be found. In other words, when this question is asked, the speaker sees things going awry. Read more