End Times

First Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.

From Mark Strand’s “The Seven Last Words”

Christianity makes the brazen claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the end of history, and the double-entendre is deliberate.

On the one hand, the consummation that Christ’s resurrection makes possible cannot be an event in history, enclosed by history, any more than creation can be an event enfolded in time. On the other hand, the life, death, and resurrection of this first-century crucified Jew is the telos, the goal, the realized hope of all human (and non-human) existence. Jesus of Nazareth is history’s end.

In other words, the crucified and risen Christ not only completes history but ruptures it. Precisely in and through the historical contingencies of first-century Palestine—this specific set of laws and customs, that particular Roman procurator—the future, God’s good future, begins. In a backwater province of Empire, the truth of the triune God breaks history open not through political coercion or insurrection but with a revolution of forgiving, reconciling love. As John Howard Yoder put it:

The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think—true as that is . . . It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. Read more

The Hell of Loneliness

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

This week’s texts present the preacher with a dilemma that is perhaps all too common: How to find new life in old words: familiar admonitions in the Epistle lesson, a well-known parable in the Gospel of Luke.

Preoccupied with the problem that money presents for kingdom living, Luke begins this week’s story as he did last week’s: “There was a rich man.” The tradition has named him “Dives” (Latin for “rich man,” first used by St. Jerome in the fourth century) and his life is one of prodigal extravagance and a callous disregard for his poor neighbor, Lazarus. The suffering Lazarus, who knew no peace in his earthly existence, rests, in death, in the arms of Abraham. Dives, no surprise, is consigned to the torments of hell.

The story’s description of the “great chasm” between these two men might tempt us toward an analysis of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in today’s global economy. And we wouldn’t be wrong to see the parallels between the scene Jesus describes in the parable and the realities of our troubled world.

But that temptation can keep us at the level of abstract analysis. We find ourselves talking about “the poor” in deeply sympathetic ways, all the while realizing that we hardly know any poor people.

So what is there to say? Read more

The Happiness Market

 

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

When I was a child, the adult members of Pittsburgh society adverted to the Bible unreasonably often. What arcana! Why did they spread this scandalous document before our eyes? If they had read it, I thought, they would have hid it. They did not recognize the lively danger that we would, through repeated exposure, catch a dose of its virulent opposition to their world. Instead they bade us study great chunks of it, and think about those chunks, and commit them to memory, and ignore them. By dipping us children in the Bible so often, they hoped, I think, to give our lives a serious tint, and to provide us with quaintly magnificent snatches of prayer to produce as charms while, say, being mugged for our cash or jewels.

Annie Dillard, “The Book of Luke,” The Annie Dillard Reader, 276

By the twelfth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we get it: Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurates turn everything upside down. The proud are scattered, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent away empty, the poor find good news, the captives are released, the blind recover their sight, the oppressed go free. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep; woe to the rich, the full-bellied, and those who are laughing now.

These words of justice and compassion stir us, move us, inspire us. Occupying a place somewhere between the destitute poor and the obscenely wealthy, we want what Jesus wants. Preach it, Jesus. Read more

Ascension and Embrace

The Feast of the Ascension
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24: 44-53

Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.                 

                                                                            John Donne, Ascension

I was puzzling over what to write here when across my Facebook newsfeed came the story of a New Englander (a “Yale grad” the headline noted) who has offered a burial plot for the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Three weeks after Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police, and with no cemetery willing to receive his remains, Douglas Keene of Vermont made the offer to Tsarnaev’s family on the condition that it be done

in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to ‘love thine enemy.’

It is surprising how surprising Keene’s simple, straightforward gesture seems. But it strikes me that part of its beauty is that it invites us to remember what crucifixion-resurrection-ascension make possible:  the overcoming of our violence and our need to scapegoat and exclude. In Jesus’ living and dying, in his rising from death and his ascension into heaven, a new social order is opened up to us–God’s new creation–in which enemies are loved and we are free to relinquish the cherished fiction of our innocence.

Read more

A Healing Word

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

 

Revised Common Lectionary:                                  Lectionary for Mass:
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                                                Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27                                                                       Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1                                                   Philippians 3:17-4:1 (or 3:20-4:1)
Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36                               Luke 9:28-36

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1

The gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Lent differs significantly for Protestants and Catholics. The Revised Common Lectionary appoints four pithy verses from Luke 13 which reveal a rather astonishing range of reactions in Jesus as he reckons with both his imperial pursuers and his faithless kinsmen.

To Rome’s proxy ruler, Herod, he sends a message of combative confidence (“go and tell that fox for me . . .”). To Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he speaks with surprising, maternal tenderness:

“How often have I desired to gather you children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings . . . “

The fox and the hen. Herod the stealthy predator; Jesus the protective mother.  Power versus vulnerability. And we know where this confrontation is headed . . . . Read more