prayer

They Cried to the Lord

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

“They cried to the Lord, and the Lord answered them” (Psalm 99:6b)

The Psalmist’s words will be the entrance into this week’s Scripture passages. The hope as we gather in our respective places of worship is that the words of the texts will not only say something, but also do something. Paul Simon’s song “Wartime Prayers” helps bridge that divide. Simon, who admits he is as surprised as anyone at how God keeps showing up as the subject of his songs, has the poet’s gift of speaking in image rather than in proposition. He also unashamedly joins the chorus of the needy.

“Show me your glory,” Moses cries to the Lord. His plea is occasioned by God’s command to leave the Mountain, the place of special revelation, for an unknown future. He yearns for certainty. “Show me your glory,” he cries. Read more

crux

Life Threatening

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

The news story reported that the injuries of the accident victims were “serious but not life threatening.”  It struck me that in addition to being a welcome medical diagnosis, that phrase is also a not-so-welcome description of a very prevalent misunderstanding of discipleship.  Serious, earnest, studious?  Certainly.  But life threatening?  That’s just not in our frame of reference.

So what of Jesus’ words about crosses and losing our lives?  The usual reading strategy, most often unspoken, is to assume that Jesus was “a special case,” or that the things Jesus speaks of in this week’s Gospel passage are either historical relics or are addressed to those who live “way over there” in uncivilized places where fanatics run crazy.  Put this interpretation of the Gospel passage with an Epistle reading for the week that one commentary calls “a miscellany of moral exhortations,” and you have a nice little collection of texts suitable for a Sunday in the long sleepy stretch of Ordinary Time.

Craig Hovey will have none of that.  He writes profoundly in To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church that every church is meant to be a martyr-church even though not every Christian’s witness will be a martyr-witness.  The witness of the martyrs “is not only the business of a select few but the shape of the body in which all Christians share” (14).  Hovey argues that since no Christian can know whether she will be killed for her faith until the actual moment of death, martyrdom is an open possibility for every Christian.  If we assume that “we” are not a martyr-church, he charges, “we have ceased to live with a proper and appropriate antagonism to the world in attempts to preclude the possibility that we might die the death of Christ,” thus securing “our own fates as nonmartyrs” (18). Read more

race in church

Passages

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

My friend Stan Dotson claims that texts are called “passages” because they offer us passage. They can take us somewhere.

The culmination of this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one, as we are one,” takes me to a question posed by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: “How do black people and white people become one in Christ Jesus? And what does that look like?” (Free To Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line, p. 61).

Given the demographics of the part of the county where I live in western North Carolina, I could be totally absorbed in congregational life and never even have to consider that question. In fact, by exhorting my flock to become more involved in “church” as it’s commonly understood, I could conceivably make matters worse. As much stress as Baptist polity places on the local congregation, the temptation is ever present to narrow the scope of Jesus’ prayer to internal relationships alone. Read more

broken glass

Break in the Cup

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

David Wilcox calls “Break in the Cup” the “anti-love song,” his protest against the romantic mythology that says all we have to do is find that one person who will make us forever happy, and how hard could that possibly be?

The couple in the song have the dreamy-eyed notion that the nectar of their love should slake every possible thirst. As a result, they drive each other crazy because they fail to recognize that there is “a break in the cup that holds love inside us all.”

I sometimes wonder if by overstressing “personal relationship” in the vocabulary of our faith, we fall prey to a similar kind of romantic mythology, substituting Jesus for that one person who will make us happy. Of course the blessed fellowship of the Trinity overflows instead of leaks out, but such an emphasis on the relationship that always fulfills can make us forget that there is still a break in our cup. Read more

impossible cube

The Rupture of Impossibility

The Baptism of the Lord

Acts 10:34-48

Freeze the frame, theologian James Alison instructs, on the moment in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit falls on the surprised gentiles and on the even more astounded circumcised believers. What looks to be a scene from a pentecostal or charismatic rally is, on closer inspection, a “cultural earthquake of immeasurably greater proportions” (Quotes and wording are taken from Alison’s On Being Liked, esp. pp. vii – xvii, and Faith Beyond Resentment).

First, the trance of things vile, repugnant, unclean; animals strictly and expressly forbidden by the purity code. Peter’s visceral response showed that he had been formed by what he had inherited and had always believed to be God’s Law.

Then, the “inwardly perplexed” journey to Caesarea and the entrance into Cornelius’ household. Even to get to this point, Alison says, “Peter had to undergo a stomach-churning disorientation of losing the sense of goodness and holiness which came from being separate.”

Then Peter began to speak. Until then he had assumed that the good news of Jesus was a completely Jewish story. Now he tells the same story to gentiles… and all heaven breaks loose. Read more