Desperate and Joyful

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17

Reading the book of Revelation always takes me back to the years my family and I spent down south. In the mountains of east Tennessee, we were fed a steady apocalyptic diet just driving around town. Revelation showed up on homemade county highway signs warning, “Repent! Jesus is coming back! Get right…or get left!” complete with little hand-painted flames at the bottom. After nearly twenty years living up north, I miss those signs more than I ever knew I would. Maybe not the flames so much, but the announcement that there’s another reality out there—something beyond our culture, our country, something beyond ourselves. There’s something more to hope for, and God is responsible for it. And that something is so big, it belongs on a billboard in giant red letters. Read more

The Case for Emptiness

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 6.1-8 (9-13)
Luke 5.1-11

I love it when a lectionary text comes with parentheses. It’s a sign, a hint, code for “preach at your own risk.” As in, “Do you want the good news, or (the bad news)?” Or, “These first few verses are okay, but (these verses) are liable to get you in trouble.” This week’s reading from Isaiah is one such example. The first eight verses tell the tale of Isaiah’s calling, which unfolds in a dramatic scene of burning coals and six-winged seraphim. In the vision, the voice of God fills the air, “Whom shall I send?” To which Isaiah responds with unclean, yet very brave lips, “Here I am; send me!”

According to the parentheses, we could stop there. And likely as not, we would have a pretty good shot at a pretty good sermon. After all, we probably know a thing or two about preaching the word with unclean lips. But speaking of sermons, that’s actually what those parenthetical verses are all about; a summary of what the Lord has in mind for Isaiah’s first prophecy:
• Preach a word the people can’t hear, can’t see, and can’t understand (6.9)
• Preach a word that precludes hope and delays healing (6.10)
And keep preaching, God instructs, until the cities are desolate, the houses are vacant, and the fields are fallow (6.11); in short, keep preaching until “vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.” (6.12) So no wonder these verses get the parenthetical treatment this week. I mean, that’s some assignment for Homiletics 101. Read more

Something is About to Happen

Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 2.1-10
Mark 13.1-8

Something is about to happen. That’s the word this week. And it starts with Hannah. An ancient Israelite, Hannah was married, but according to the scriptures, was unable to have children. The text tells us that her husband loved her, and was especially devoted to her. And yet while her future was secure, her heart was broken. She could not bear a child, and she was tormented, belittled and broken. In the story, she calls out to God, pours out her heart and desire for a child. God hears her. She becomes pregnant. And Hannah sings:

My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. There is no Holy One like the LORD…there is no Rock like our God…the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil…The LORD…raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

Hannah takes what God is doing in her and sees the deepest of truths: if God has rescued me from barrenness, then anything is possible. Might and power will no longer count for everything. The rich will be brought low. The hungry will eat their fill. Something is about to happen. Read more

Solomon: Unedited and Uncut

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.3-14

And the Academy Award for Selective Biblical Editing goes to…the architects behind today’s assigned reading from 1 Kings! The lectionary for this Sunday instructs us to read three spare verses of chapter two, followed by twelve more carefully curated verses from chapter three. From these selections, we are introduced to young King Solomon as son of David, builder of the great Jerusalem Temple, and the very embodiment of wisdom, as evidenced by his prudent, faithful, and selfless prayer in chapter three: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” Pleased by Solomon’s request for wisdom, God responds with this promise to seal the deal: Because you have asked this… I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. (1 Kings 3.11-12) Read more

Not As You Suppose

Pentecost
Acts 2.1-21

One Friday night I was working late at church, when a young boy wandered in among the pews. He was there for a Scout dinner in the other room, but excited to see the sanctuary doors open, he ducked in to have a look. I invited him on in, along with his mom. They were hushed and reverent as they gazed around, but I did manage to overhear his parting words. Looking at the wall at the front of the sanctuary, he pointed to the cross hanging there and said with grave solemnity and great awe, “Look! They have a giant lowercase t.” Read more