Found in Translation

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-61

“My 1865 Webster’s defines translation as ‘being conveyed from one place to another; removed to heaven without dying.’ We must have an art that translates, conveys us to the heaven of that deepest reality which otherwise ‘we may die without ever having known’; that transmits us there, not in the sense of bringing information to the receiver but of putting the receiver in the place of the event – alive.” — Denise Levertov, “Great Possessions”

“The Translation of Elijah” has always seemed to me a strange title for the chariot of fire scene. “Translation,” I thought, was merely a matter of substituting words in one language for words in another language. At this crucial juncture in the Elijah story, however, translation is a fiery threshold, the means by which Elisha receives a double portion of the Spirit that animates the Prophet Elijah’s life. Not the spirit that animated Ahab and Jezebel. Not the spirit that animated the whole religious industry that had made its peace with Ahab in order to ensure its success. “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha prays of Elijah.

This story occurs in the book of the Bible entitled “Kings,” but the main characters are prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. The book title is tongue-in-cheek irony. Beyond the headline stealing royal pretensions and exploits, there is an alternate history going on, seen clearly, spoken obediently, and lived courageously by those animated by the prophetic spirit. Read more


When the Wars Are Done

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19

The start of baseball season brings the usual acknowledgement of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 breaking of the color line in Major League Baseball. The pleasant plaudits often mask the upheaval, furor, and continuing effects of that event in history.

In his acclaimed elegy to the 1950’s Brooklyn Dodgers, sports journalist Roger Kahn, writing from the perspective of 20 year-hindsight, says,

That time seems simpler than today, but mostly because the past always seems simpler when the wars are done. Jackie Robinson was a focus. At big, dark Number 42, forces converged: white hatred for his black pride, for his prophetic defiance and simply for his color, contested with black hope, the same black hope which Southern whites said did not exist (Boys of Summer, emphasis mine).

“The past always seems simpler when the wars are done.” Read more


Stranded on Olympus

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Mark 7:24-37

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17


The appropriate response to the depiction of Christ’s suffering and broken flesh is not empathy leading to philanthropic action or political activism on behalf of the less fortunate other.  Rather, it is meant to provoke repentance and conversion.                                                                

                                             Luke Bretherton

There are two kinds of people in the world, the saying goes – those who divide people into two kinds and those who don’t.  The saying is, of course, tongue-in-cheek; a satire of, say, candidates who draw dishonestly simplistic false dichotomies for political gain, or of “experts” who presume a perspective from which they omnisciently categorize the world.  At best these folks are pretentious.  At worst, they are the ones who make “distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4).

The lectionary readings unabashedly speak of two kinds of people – the poor and the rich.  Far from making a false dichotomy, the texts shine light on what is perhaps the primordial divide.  Read more


Abiding Fruit

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

While admiring a tree in full bloom, Joseph Parker, a Congregational minister in Victorian England, noticed that under the wide-spreading branches there was a huge limb of the tree withering away. He realized that “the same sun that created the blossom was causing the tree branch to wither.”

To the living tree whose roots were struck into the earth the sun was giving life, but to the branch cut away, having nothing but itself to live upon, the sun was pouring down arrows of destruction. The great sun, so hospitably full of light, kind, friendly, was feeding, like a mother-nurse, the living tree, and was killing with pitiless fire the sundered branch.

“As is the double effect of light,” Parker says, “so is the double effect of truth” (Apostolic Life, vol. 1, p. 167).

Parker burns away any sentimentality in what is at stake in “abiding,” and in what “removal” and “pruning” entail. The purpose, after all, is fruit-bearing, which in John’s Gospel is described in Jesus’ response to the Gentiles’ request to see him: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). Read more


What Sort of Greeting?

Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38


The Christmas story has its own vocabulary. This week’s Gospel passage has been called the Annunciation, which means ‘announcement.’ Not in the sense of ‘before we get started, let me share a few announcements,’ but more like ‘we interrupt this program to bring you an important announcement.’

A mysterious messenger breaks into the life of a young, poor, unmarried woman, telling her she will have a baby. About the baby, Gabriel said, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Read more