Seek and you shall…

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:29-42

This week we will let Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) be our exegete. Bono, the frontman for the Dublin-based band U2, wrote two songs that intersect with today’s lectionary passages. Our texts for this reflection will be Psalm 40 and John 1:29-42, and alongside the Biblical text will be “40 (How Long)” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from U2.
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First Psalm 40. This is one of those lovely/troubling imprecatory psalms. “Imprecatory” means “to curse or pray evil upon another,” a definition which makes these passages difficult to preach.

In 1983, U2 wrote their War album. On the last night of recording, they were about to be run off by the studio manager. They needed one more song, so they quickly wrote and recorded a song based on Psalm 40. The whole thing came together in under an hour, and thus their hit “40 (How Long)” was born. A tradition developed around the song during their album tour. At the end of the set, the band would play through the song, during which one by one they would lay their instruments down and leave the stage. The crowd/congregation would then continue to sing the refrain, “how long…to sing this song?”

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King/Fool

Christ the King

2 Samuel 5:1-3 OR Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I spent three years and a lot of money at a good divinity school so I could fit theology into a system. I read a lot of books by dead white guys who tried to accomplish the same project. What is the system that makes sense of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

This Sunday we recognize Christ as king. It is the end of the church year, bringing our story from Advent through Easter and all that ordinary time to a close. But there is nothing about the image of Christ as king that settles my stomach or makes sense of my expectations. Nothing about this coronation service feels like closure or victory.

If Jesus is a king, then his followers are fools. He has no army, no political alliances, no worldly power, no throne, no heir, his bloodline is marred with controversy. It is all wrong. Read more

Treading Silently Near Tender Hearts

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hosea 1:2-10 OR Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

When I was in college I read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, a modern retelling of the book of Hosea. I was terribly curious what all the fuss was about, and was rewarded 400+ pages later with an icky feeling. Either I was supposed to feel like a well-loved slut or this book smelled like kitsch religious patriarchy repackaged in 1850’s stereotypes.

It has been so many years that I almost forgot the book existed, until I came across the readings for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (Year C). There we find Hosea’s prologue staring at us, waiting for a response. I went back and revisited the amazon.com page for Redeeming Love to see how it was currently being received. Of most interest were the one-star ratings, and the reasons given. I naively expected that some sane people would read the book and reject it on the grounds that it denigrated women. I was instead shocked to find that the only people who seemed to hate the book hated it on the grounds that there was too much flesh and sex, which made it dirty and sinful, like a trashy romance novel disguised as Scripture. Read more

“The regime…was just demolished…by…tears.”

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3: 4-14
John 8: 1-11

Lent is a difficult season to live into. 40 days contemplating our frail and fragile condition, giving sadness and heaviness room to breathe. This is particularly true in a culture that values positivity like it were gold. Which leaves little room for tears. Crying is for girls, or babies, not for people who are trying to keep it all together. Yet this week’s psalm is all weepy and emotional.

The psalmist apparently has no regard for good manners or propriety. Psalm 126 reads like the interior of a manic person.

Laughing, shouting, crying, shouting, weeping, shouts of joy.

None of it is ignored, all of the emotions are part of the song, all honored. The psalm cares nothing for the safe center of the emotional spectrum. It does not say: “First we were all a little bummed, but then we felt pretty good.” No. Instead it says: “First we were drenched in tears, then we were shouting for joy.” Read more

Darkness and Light, and My Son’s Need to Know Where the Bad People Go

Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Dallas, my current hometown, is full of huge churches with important pastors. The church where I serve is tiny by comparison, and outside of our little baptist tradition (i.e. not SBC) no one knows or really cares what we are up to week to week. Fine by us, but it is a stark contrast to the giant religious groups flanking us on all sides. And these important pastors have been given access to thousands upon thousands of itching ears each week. They are the arbiters of right and wrong, light and dark, heaven and hell. So when something like a massive school shooting happens, they are armed to the teeth with explanations and remedies.

It should have come as no surprise that the Newtown shooting would elicit such clarity from the pastors. More than one broke it all down with the convenient metaphor of darkness and light. Read more