Kramskoi_Christ_dans_le_désert

Descent Into Life

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Having Descended to the Heart

Once you have grown used to the incessant
prayer the pulse insists upon, and once
that throbbing din grows less diverting

if undiminished, you’ll surely want
to look around—which is when you’ll likely
apprehend that you can’t see a thing.

Terror sometimes sports an up side, this time
serves as tender, hauling you to port.
What’s most apparent in the dark is how

the heart’s embrace, if manifestly
intermittent, is really quite
reliable, and very nearly bides

as if another sought to join you there.

-Scott Cairns, from Philokalia

I’ve often wondered what thoughts ran through Noah’s head as he stood at the door of the ark and prepared to disembark. When he surveyed the scene, did a holy expletive escape from his lips as he took in the devastation? As he took his first steps onto the dry ground, the din of animals and family in the background, was he overcome by the deafening silence of a planet whose slate had been wiped clean? Did the loneliness and isolation terrify him? What did he think of the God whose divine power and jealous anger had caused such chaos?

Alone in the wilderness, with only wild animals for company, it strikes me that Jesus, too, knew something about deafening silence and loneliness. Mark’s sparse storytelling doesn’t give us any of the details that Matthew or Luke’s gospels offer. There is no reported conversation with his adversary. There is no transport to the Temple mount. We are left to fill in the blanks for ourselves about the battle raging in Jesus’ head during those long days and nights. Read more

eyes

Eyes to See

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

In an era with a six billion dollar election cycle and more than 90% of elections won by the candidate with the most money, these understated stories of anointed shepherd kings and mustard shrub kingdoms make little sense to our calloused senses. The prophet Isaiah warned, and Mark quotes just prior to the telling of these parables, that people would “look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand” (Mark 4:12). Read more

fishing nets

The Far End of the Net

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jonah 3:1-5,10
Mark 1:14-20

Only one time in each three-year lectionary cycle do we get a chance to read the prophet Jonah (twice if you’re Episcopal or Catholic and following the lectionary). The entire story takes only 48 verses to tell, but by the time it’s done the reader has been taken on a whirlwind tour of the ancient world, explored the character of God, watched Israel wrestle with its calling to be a conduit of God’s grace for all of the nations rather than its terminus, and felt both sympathy and anger towards a self-centered prophet more concerned with his public standing as a prophet than with the destiny of an entire nation. Read more

row of shovels

Jesus is Coming – Look Busy

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Judges 4:1-7 OR Proverbs 31:10-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

With the attention demanded by All Saints, Christ the King, and the First Sunday of Advent this month, the preacher has little time to spend with this last so-called Ordinary Sunday of the Church year. In my own United Methodist tradition this also happens to be the time of year when Finance committees are urgently preparing 2012 budgets and pastors are nervously writing stewardship sermons in hopes of funding those budgets. This weekend’s gospel text seems to play right into this pattern with a pre-packaged message about stewardship lined up for the occasion. Investing our time, talents, and even money for the up-building of the Kingdom of God might well be a legitimate reading of this text, but could likely fall on deaf ears this time of year. Who, while readying themselves to enter the bustle of this season of the year, wants to be told they’re not already doing enough for the Kingdom of God? Read more

Peter crucified

Follow the Leader

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:21-28

“We believe that the truth of the gospel cannot be separated from the kind of lives required for the recognition of that truth” -Stanley Hauerwas

“Our instinct to embrace Jesus’ exemplary goodness while avoiding the blood of the cross is a “stumbling block” to God’s mission in the world.” -Charles Hambrick-Stowe

At some point in my growing up years I remember seeing, on the bookshelf in our living room, the spine of a book whose title was Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Even at a young age, I can clearly remember sensing the irony and nonsense of that phrase. Who makes war to get peace? Now I understand why its author would have suggested that the dominant ethos of our time is the notion of perpetual war for perpetual peace. Now I see why the world is so easy to believe that the means for achieving peace in the world need not match the ends. Why? We do it all the time. Read more