Helpless Before the Throne

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38: 1-7 (34-41)
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

“We will have so much winning. We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning. Believe me, I agree, you’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored. We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning big on trade. Militarily, we’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” -Donald Trump, September 2015

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee. Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” – Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

In last Sunday’s epistle lesson from Hebrews we were reminded that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joint from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If the gospel lessons of the past few weeks have been any indication the power of God’s word to cut deeply into our lives, this week’s gospel conversation between Jesus, James, and John leaves no doubt that the Word made Flesh will not rest until everything that separates us from God has been sliced away with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel.

Last week this “Good Teacher” cut into our idolatry of possessions. This week it gets even more personal. Placing ourselves in this story we realize that our sinfulness, like that of James and John, is not just caused by external forces like wealth (or Mammon), but by forces dwelling deep within us, like envy, pride, ego, and the illusion of grandeur. Read more


Dream or Deliverance?

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of the American Dream. It’s the illusion of a utopian consumerist life that can be achieved when one has a big house in the safety of the suburbs, an SUV or two, money for a Disney vacation, fashionable clothes, a beautiful family (with approximately 2.5 kids and a dog) who attend all the best schools. I was recently informed that in 2015, the American Dream costs $130,000 a year to attain.

If you’re feeling left out, you’re in good company. Seven of eight American households don’t make enough to live this “ideal” life. And yet, that seems to be precisely the point. It’s a dream that is by and large unattainable. Even the folks who have that kind of money will tell you that hitting the mark didn’t give them fulfillment, but only made them hungry for more. It’s a dream that is sustained by politicians and marketeers who help further distort our desires and then use them to their own advantage. It’s a dream that is and has been built on the backs of black and poor Americans by those with power and wealth.* Read more


Rejecting the God Who Is

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Mark 3:20-35

Even those sympathetic to the cause of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were a bit shocked by the brazenness of the young organizer. President Johnson, the same president who would later sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, asked King to tone down the spectacle a bit—there were, after all, elections to be won and constituencies to satisfy.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain strength through the tactics of non-violent resistance, the establishment grew increasingly uncomfortable. White pastors across the South, in an attempt to keep the peace, appealed to King to be patient. Those with less sympathy to the cause of Civil Rights were quick to vilify and attack the calling and character of the preacher-King.

The great irony of all this was that it was taking place in the South, in the midst of one of America’s most deeply religious landscapes. In a time and place where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say ‘God is our King,’ or ‘Jesus is our Lord,’ the man whose life so clearly sought to resemble that Lord and King was vilified and ultimately silenced. Read more


Easter People

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

“Easter people, raise your voices,
sounds of heaven in earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices;
heavenly music, let it ring.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Easter people, let us sing.”

– William James, Easter People, Raise Your Voices, UMH #304

“What is a ‘Easter people’?”

That was the question that a 4-year old child in my congregation asked me on the way out the door on Easter Sunday just a few days ago. We had just sung one of my favorite Easter hymns and the unfamiliar expression in the song caught his attention. Kneeling down beside him I told him that “Easter people” are people who lived their lives as if the story we just told about Jesus being raised from the dead was really true. Then I stood up, rubbed his bright red buzzed head, and told him that we’d have the next few weeks to figure out what it means together. Read more


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