One of the interpretations of this text that I have favored in recent years is that Jesus resisted temptation to do even things that have good results. If he turns stones into bread, he can feed the hungry people in the whole world. If he gives his allegiance to the devil, the whole world will belong to Jesus in an instant. If he jumps from the temple pinnacle, God will perform a flashy miracle, which could show people who Jesus really is. This interpretation has served me well in the last few years, as I am person who is tempted to commit to or engage in too many things—especially endeavors that will produce good results. Read more
Though it is not my regularly scheduled week to share a lectionary reflection with you, I was struck with some thoughts this morning while I prepared for Sunday’s sermon. Charles L. Aaron, writing in this month’s Lectionary Homiletics on the gospel text for Advent 4C, takes the two Lukan pericopes as they come in Luke, one after the other, rather than separating them into the Visitation (to be read as the gospel lesson) and the Magnificat (to be read as the Psalter or the Canticle for the day).
In doing so, he contrasts the innocence of the girl who is to give birth to Jesus with the political ramifications of that birth. Taking verses 39-46 and 47-55 together, he says, “gives the preacher abundant material for preaching that critiques the sentimentality of the Christmas season. God speaks through simple, humble people in out of the way locations. The birth of Jesus has implications for our interior spirituality as the opening lines of the Magnificat indicate but also demands change in politics, economics, and use of power. This passage calls for deeper spirituality but also for the church to hold accountable politicians and all who exercise power. It reaffirms God’s continuing use of synagogue and church.” Read more
The second most popular Advent question asked in the United Methodist Churches I’ve served is “Why is there one pink candle on the Advent wreath?” (THE most popular question has of course been “When can we start singing Christmas carols?”)
The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent because since the 10th century, that day has been recognized by the catholic church as Gaudete, or Joy, Sunday. (See one history here.) As early as the fifth century, Christians prepared for Christmas with a forty-day fast. The weeks prior to Christmas were a season of penitence, much in the way that Lent functions in relation to Easter. One can see how the lectionary texts in the first couple weeks of Advent issue calls to reflection and penitence: “The Kingdom is at hand! Know how to read the signs! Repent!” My Greek Orthodox friends observe two fasts prior to and during Advent, increasing in severity and restriction, as a way of preparing for the coming of Christ. They understand that preparation for the coming of Christ entails self-examination and sacrifice. Read more
Where I live, remembering and honoring the dead is celebrated annually in May. Over Memorial Day weekend, families flock to cemeteries, flowers in hand, to decorate the graves of loved ones who have passed. In many cases out-of-town relatives come in for this ritual. It’s a pretty big deal.
The church remembers the dead at an entirely different time of year. In Protestant churches, on either November 1st or the first Sunday in November, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. In the churches I’ve served, we remember and name the members of the congregation who have died since All Saints’ Day the year before.
What prevents the Church’s practices on All Saints’ Day from turning into ancestor worship, and what makes those practices different from the practice of decorating graves? Read more
Ouch. James must have been visiting churches in North America, where in addition to race, the other great divider on Sunday morning is class. He upbraids the congregation for gatekeeping by the way they treat visitors at their worship services. They give preferential treatment to rich visitors and fling spiritual platitudes toward poor visitors. “We’ll pray for you,” we good Christians say, without much regard to which of their physical needs we can meet.
After working last fall in a small village in the West Bank, I became friends with a Melkite Palestinian priest there. I was surprised to discover he held many of the convictions shared by we Ekklesia Project folk: beliefs that liturgy forms us, that liturgy should take us outside the four walls of the church, that we ought to stand in solidarity with the poor.
He once expressed his skepticism of the church hierarchy. He said, “I do not like the Bishops in general because they do not daily meet with the poor. They see the world secretly from behind dark glass.” Read more