The Banquets of Two Kingdoms

Proper 10 (B)

Mark 6:14-29

Psalm 85:8-13

This is what repentance is about.  It is a call to renewal—turning from the fallen, petty kingdoms East of Eden to the love, peace, and abundance of the Kingdom of God.  This is a reality that we can begin to live into now, but to do so we must switch our allegiances and become members of another kingdom—the Kingdom of Life against the Empire of Death.

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Believe It or Not

Acts 8:26-40

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

Monday evening as I was sitting down to read the lectionary for this Fifth Sunday in Easter, NPR carried a story that has haunted me since.  It was the testimony of a Methodist pastor, Teresa MacBain who found that she could no longer believe in God.  Her reasons were classic—the problem of evil, etc.  For a time she continued in her role as a minister—albeit a faithless one.  The cognitive dissonance eventually led her to “come out” as an atheist at convention of non-believers.  The video of her coming out went viral on the internet and soon enough her congregation found out, in the way of many an internet age breakup, through social media.   Read more

Plastic Minds and Magic Eyes

Last Sunday After Epiphany (Year B) RCL

2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Not long ago my nephew was forcing me to find Waldo in page after page of busy scenes where somewhere there was a goofy guy in red and white stripes.  “Where’s Waldo”, “Magic Eye”–we love seeing games where we must pick out an image from visual confusion.  Perhaps this love comes from our history as hunters and gathers, when we had to unmask the camouflage of animals in order to gain our daily food.  Whatever it is, we love seeing what was invisible made suddenly apparent.

The ability to see beyond the obvious is a skill and we have to develop it.  I know people who have never been able to make a “magic eye” picture work for them, but most of us, after we see one “magic eye” image can see any “magic eye” image.  Once we learn how to see, we are able to see everything and anything anew.

Seeing is the common thread of The Revised Common Lectionary readings for this last Sunday of Epiphany.  Elisha must see Elijah taken up into heaven in order to have his double spirit, in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of “the god of this world”  blinding “the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” and finally in the Gospel reading we have the recounting of the transfiguration where Peter, James and John see Christ glorified in an apocalyptic meeting with Moses and Elijah. Read more

The Church as Highway Department

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Luke 1:46-55

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Not long ago I heard a program on NPR about the use of satellite images by human rights groups as a way of tracking atrocities in South Sudan.  Using before and after images human rights workers are able to track changes in the landscape that might indicate a mass grave or the razing of a village.  The satellite images also offer a chance, in some cases, of heading off attacks because preceding a major advance the Janjaweed militias will have to clear trees and build roads to allow their forces to move heavy artillery.  In another recent NPR story about the history of the American interstate system, the author of a book on the subject talked about how Eisenhower, with his military background, liked the idea of long, broad highways that would allow for quick military deployment in the event of an attack.

These NPR stories came to mind when I read Isaiah 40:3, the passage of scripture John the Baptist quotes as he explains to the official religious authorities who exactly he is: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way o f the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3b).  There is a military sensibility at work in this proclamation that certainly wouldn’t be lost on John or Isaiah’s hearers.  God is making an advance; God is coming to attack the world of robbery, greed and enslavement that have plagued God’s people.  This is not an advance of violence, but rather of liberation and restoration—“good news to the oppressed…liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Read more

Let Others Decide

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

I call myself a gardener. I’ve even written how-to articles on growing things. But anyone who took a look at the burned-over mess in my front yard this year would have their doubts. Whatever my thoughts about myself, whatever a byline might state, this summer I failed to live up to that title. I failed, in my distractions and the particular demands of this drought season, to carry out the disciplines necessary to be a gardener. I was glad to claim the title “gardener” and not suffer the heat, time and sweat that would really make me one.

Because of this experience, I can understand some of what the Pharisees must have felt as they heard Jesus’ parable—they were God’s people, the rightful inhabitants of the promise-land, the keepers of the Law. “To be God’s people”: that was how they defined themselves, particularly among their pagan neighbors and occupiers. But Jesus calls into question that identity. It is not the status of place or people that matter; it is the fruit, the outcomes, the actions. In this way Jesus is something of a pragmatist: what matters are not abstract realities or truths; we may call things true only when they actually make a difference. Read more