Engaging Jesus

John 4:5-42

How long does it take to know someone truly? A year, a decade, a lifetime? Whether working alongside someone, putting in the hard work of committed friendship, or sharing the blessings and labors of marriage, we can be confident that we can know a person’s identity, aims, and motivations with the passage of time.

Yet after two millennia, can we be so certain that we know Jesus? Read more

Still the Crucified

Isaiah 58:1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Paul’s description of his preaching is enough to stop any preacher in her or his tracks.
It is certainly enough to stop this one.

What do I regard as essential in my preaching? Do I rely on sounding scholarly or worldly wise? Do I trust in having something new and captivating to say? Read more

The Politics of Hope: American and Apocalyptic

Isaiah 11:1-10Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12

It wasn’t surprising on that November night two years ago when people poured out onto the streets of our San Francisco neighborhood cheering and beating pots and pans after the media called the election for Barack Obama. What was surprising was the way that Obama’s election resounded in many corners of the country far less blue than this Left Coast City. Not since the 1960s had both Virginia and North Carolina gone Democratic.

No matter one’s view of Obama then or now, the fact of his election revealed a welling up of desire for the healing of centuries-old divides in race and politics. It highlighted the longing of many Americans for someone who could transcend the politics of entrenched despair and usher in a different way of relating, a politics of hope. Read more

Redeeming Shrewdness

Eugene Peterson observes that the story of the dishonest manager ranks as our least favorite of Jesus’ parables. What is there to cozy up to in a story where cheating goes unpunished and cunning is seemingly commended? Are we to use money to buy friends the way we buy objects for consumption?

Can Jesus truly be recommending such scandalous behavior?

But the scandal we hate in this story is precisely the scandal we love in the immediately preceding parable. Artificially separated by a chapter divide, the parable of the dishonest manager is actually meant to be heard alongside the parable of the lost son, most beloved of all the parables. Read more

Three Funerals and a Wedding

Maple syrup has no business running off my pancakes into the sausage links. Sweet and spicy don’t belong together. It’s a violation of the natural order of things.

This was my settled culinary worldview until something unexpected happened on a visit to Mexico City. At the mercado, my family ordered a heaping cup of sweet, succulent mango. But because we had crossed the border, the mango slices came with a liberal dusting of chili powder. Mango with chili sounded like an unnatural combination. But after we tried it, we couldn’t get enough of it. The union of spicy and sweet created something new and beautiful: a bold, vibrant flavor standing out from the drab palette of tastes we were accustomed to.

We’re used to Paul speaking of the cross as the center of his theology: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….” The cross has become conventional for us, our theological “meat and potatoes.” But what we may not be used to is the bold and vibrant way that Paul speaks of the cross intersecting with realities we would normally keep separate. Read more