Finding Our Voice

Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10: 11-18

“If our practice of the gospel is easy, it may be that we have not quite understood the obedience to which we are called” Walter Brueggemann, Gift and Task (143)

My children are eight and ten years old. They are sponges with ears. They hear and absorb everything, whether it be snippets of news stories on the radio or the ruminations of fellow third and fourth graders on the playground. Times being what they are, our “making sense of the world” dinner conversations of late have been a test of my ability to recall 9th grade civics. Read more

Yes and No

“I pay attention to what I do so I’ll know what I really believe.”
–Sister Helen Prejean

If you only read chapter 3 of the book of Jonah, you’d learn quite a bit about the heart of Jonah’s God, but very little about the heart of the man God has called as his prophet. Though the story of Jonah is likely well known to many who sit in pews listening to sermons this third week of Epiphany, the Sunday School version of Jonah’s story is generally truncated, omitting a key part of this story–that even after outwardly obeying the command of God to go and prophesy to the Ninevites, Jonah remains bitter and cynical and alone. He is unable to receive the salvation of Ninevah as good news, despite the fact that his very life depends upon a God of second chances. Jonah’s “no” to God and God’s grace in this story makes this little book of Scripture a tragedy, ultimately. Through it all, God is always and everywhere showing Godself as who and what the Hebrew Scriptures have said God is: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (4:2). With closed hands and a closed heart, Jonah’s fate is left to readers’ imaginations. Read more

There’s a New Kid / King In Town

First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Sweet little Jesus Boy —
They made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child —
Didn’t know who you was.
Didn’t know you’d come to save us, Lord;
To take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see,
We didn’t know who you was.

-Robert MacGimsey, Sweet Little Jesus Boy (1934)

One of my favorite Christmas Eve memories from childhood is sitting in the dim light of the sanctuary at my grandparent’s Methodist church in Richmond, VA. Every year the same heavy set man with the deep baritone voice would sit on a stool in the middle of the chancel area with his guitar and sing an acoustic solo of Robert MacGimsey’s 1934 Christmas tune, Sweet Little Jesus Boy.

Reading the gospel lesson for this first Sunday after Christmas this year, I’m not sure that I agree anymore. Herod, it seems, knew exactly who Jesus was…and he was afraid. Jesus, born King of the Jews, threatens this puppet king installed by Rome to maintain order in Judea. Read more

Fear of Beggars

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 OR Amos 6:1-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

When I served as the pastor of a local church I often had folks in my office who wanted to know what to do about the guy on the street corner flying a sign. I’ve been part of churches who have made “blessing bags” to keep in their cars, full of items like bottled water and socks, to avoid passing cash to the homeless that live on the streets of our town. (Because, you know, drugs and stuff). I have had folks confess to me that the only reason they give money to the man or woman they pass on the corner is out of guilt, but they know deep down that their $5 bill is more about them feeling good than helping the poor. I suspect that you go to church with folks who are wrestling with many of these same questions. You might even be asking these questions yourself. Read more

New Endings, New Beginnings

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 8:1-12
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

My father and I often respond to absurd news reports shared by text message or email forward with the tongue in cheek response: “A sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us.” In the past few weeks I have not been sure if that’s an appropriate joke to make. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and violence and death plague every news cycle. My cries have been “Come, Lord Jesus” more often than they’ve been jokes or hashtags.

When I read the Old Testament lesson appointed for this coming weekend and hear Amos’ denunciation of 8th century Judean social, economic, and religious practices, it sounds so familiar. Income inequality, corrupt business practices that benefit the wealthy, religion that’s nothing more than form without substance. It was bad news for Judah. Amos told them it was the end of the line.

This weekend I’ll be mounting the pulpit in a comfortably wealthy, white, mainline church. Are there ways in which Judah’s bad news needs to become our bad news as well? Read more