Mercy

It Can’t Come Soon Enough

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

In the undergraduate Christian Ethics course I teach just about every semester, we are talking this week about a notion many of my students seem to regard as quaint, if not downright archaic, namely sin. Among the more important points I have tried to highlight is one well-worn in many strands of Christian tradition; sin is self-destructive, in that it separates us from our true ultimate end and therefore from the possibility of genuine flourishing as women and men made in the image and likeness of the Triune God. Insofar as it is self-destructive, moreover, sin is by and large its own punishment, for it entails forever restlessly seeking happiness in places it doesn’t exist, except as the palest simulacra, which are bound always to disappoint. Read more

Godot in Sarajevo

Looking for the Redemption of Jerusalem

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Over against the spectacle that Christmas in America has long since become – the kitschy sentimentality of front lawns unselfconsciously strewn with inflatable reindeer and snowmen alongside crèches populated by conspicuously Caucasian renditions of the Holy Family; the collective credit card induced hangover that invariably follows our annual orgy of consumerism; and our habitual rush always to look ahead to whatever’s next (there’s New Year’s Eve revelry to be planned, after all) – this week’s texts invite us to linger for a moment, and maybe take seriously the character and magnitude of what God has done and (believe it or not) continues to do through the Word made flesh. Read more

saints

Do As They Say, Not As They Do

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23: 1-12

Apart from a somewhat odd convergence of occurrences over the past few days, I would have been clueless as to how to write about this week’s lectionary readings. To be honest, my first couple passes at them left me mostly flat and uninspired. And then, as sometimes happens, things became just a bit clearer.

I was first awakened to the possibilities offered by the texts when I read Kyle Childress’s bLogos post from last week, which focused on that week’s epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, the verses immediately preceding today’s epistle lesson). Serendipitously for Kyle, and by extension, for me, this passage from Paul’s earliest extant letter was the text which our mutual friend Stanley Hauerwas had preached several years ago at a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Kyle’s pastorate at Austin Heights Baptist Church down in east Texas.

Kyle channels Stanley in noting the outrageousness of Paul’s words for those of us who, having been thoroughly formed, first by certain strands of Protestantism and then by modernity and its emphasis on the autonomy of the individual, to think of our relationship to God as pretty much our own private business, mediated neither by community nor priest nor pastor. Read more

three monkeys

Minding Our Own Business

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-17
Psalm 119
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

The students whose work I evaluate would probably disagree, but it’s my disposition, both by nature and upbringing, to be averse to conflict. The very thought of confrontation puts me ill at ease, and I will go out of my way to avoid saying or doing anything that might hurt another’s feelings or create an unhappy tension between us. I am far too captive to and dependent upon the esteem of others. I want not just to be respected, but liked – by just about everyone.

My past is strewn with occasions where I allowed another’s offense against me or someone else to slide simply because I didn’t care to suffer the discomfort of confronting them. Imagine my consternation, then, when I read this week’s lectionary texts, two of which address in a disturbingly direct manner not just the importance, but the absolute necessity of confronting and speaking truthfully to wrongdoers. Both are absolutely clear about what is at stake: compassionate truth telling is often nothing less than a matter of life and death. Read more