The Next Step in the Churches

First Sunday After Christmas
Galatians 4:4-7
In these days following the joyous birth of Christ, we consider the world’s response and, in some cases, its terrible pushback. In many traditions, this week’s daily Bible readings focus on Stephen (Deacon and Martyr), John (Apostle and Exile), and The Holy Innocents (Martyrs).
Jesus’ entrance into the world provokes intense reactions. Read more

Dreams and Nightmares

Chapters 12-50 of Genesis contain the stories of four generations of ancestors: Abraham/Sarah (chapters 12-24); Isaac/Rebekah (25-26); Jacob/Rachel and Leah (27-36); and Joseph (37-50). Walter Brueggemann raises a startling, but obvious question: given the four sets of ancestral stories in Genesis, why is God revealed, for example, in Exodus 3 as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? Why does the shorter version, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” remain throughout the Scriptures as Israel’s theological summary? Where is Joseph in this list? Read more

A Chain of Resurrections

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-42
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Years after he had read Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, C. S. Lewis saw the film version. Lewis’ most vivid memory from the book was a scene near the end in which the heroes were entombed in an underground rock chamber, surrounded by mummified kings, and slowly starving to death. The movie director didn’t think that would play well on the screen, so at that point in the film, a subterranean volcano erupted, followed by an earthquake.

If the intent was sheer excitement, Lewis reasoned, the film version was perfectly understandable. However, what Lewis missed in the movie was “the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death) – the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptered, dead…The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination, the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves” (“On Stories”).

It’s a valid question to ask whether Easter has converted our imagination or merely fluttered our nerves. Read more

The Day the Circus Left Town

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward [human beings]. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years” Read more

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