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The Advocacy of the Spirit

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Although this piece is about Pentecost, I am writing it on the Feast of the Ascension. This fact along with the Pentecost reading from Acts 2 brings Elijah to mind. Like Jesus, Elijah ascends into heaven. Unlike Jesus, he does not conquer death prior to his ascension. Like the followers of Jesus, Elijah has powerful experience of the Lord’s presence.

In 1Kings 19 Elijah has just accomplished the most powerful act of his prophetic ministry. On behalf of the one true God, Elijah has challenged the prophets of Baal, who enjoyed the favor of the king and queen. God vindicates Elijah’s bold fidelity and Elijah purges the prophets of Baal. Ahaz and Jezebel vow revenge; Elijah flees. He is now a fugitive from royal justice. This is an incredible reversal of fortune. This is not at all what Elijah anticipated or what he thought God had in store for him. Read more

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Two Christianities

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the Devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?” She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?”

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday mornings, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80 to 100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack into a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards. Read more

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What Is Love?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (15:17)

Love, love, love. All you need is love. Warm fuzzies! What is this longing in our hearts for togetherness? Is it not the sweetest flower? Love!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (15:12)

Um. As I have loved you?

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (15:13).

Ohhhhhhhh.That.

John reminds us that the kind of love Christians are called to embody takes a particular, cruciform shape. Read more

grapes

Abiding Fruit

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

While admiring a tree in full bloom, Joseph Parker, a Congregational minister in Victorian England, noticed that under the wide-spreading branches there was a huge limb of the tree withering away. He realized that “the same sun that created the blossom was causing the tree branch to wither.”

To the living tree whose roots were struck into the earth the sun was giving life, but to the branch cut away, having nothing but itself to live upon, the sun was pouring down arrows of destruction. The great sun, so hospitably full of light, kind, friendly, was feeding, like a mother-nurse, the living tree, and was killing with pitiless fire the sundered branch.

“As is the double effect of light,” Parker says, “so is the double effect of truth” (Apostolic Life, vol. 1, p. 167).

Parker burns away any sentimentality in what is at stake in “abiding,” and in what “removal” and “pruning” entail. The purpose, after all, is fruit-bearing, which in John’s Gospel is described in Jesus’ response to the Gentiles’ request to see him: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). Read more

Good Shepherd

No Weapon But Grace

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

One morning, when my daughter was about four years old and deep in another “Daddy is Doo-Doo” phase during which my wife’s presence was infinitely preferable to mine, she called for her mother from the comfort of her own bed. My wife was in the shower and unable to answer, and the tone of my daughter’s voice quickly escalated from polite request to imperious demand. Even today, when I think of my now nineteen year-old daughter, I hear Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying, “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

I stepped to the threshold of her room and peeked in to reassure myself that my daughter wasn’t in distress, but that was too much for her. She sat bolt upright from her pillow, glared at me with what I recognized as her “evil stare of death,” and bellowed, “Not you again!”

I took it on the chin that morning – at least verbally – but my daughter and I laugh about that encounter now. She’s an accomplished young woman with astonishing emotional intelligence, and if she hasn’t lost her knack for tactical ferocity, she knows I’m on her side and rarely, if ever, bares her teeth in my presence.

I thought of that morning as I read this week’s readings and said, less emphatically than my daughter, “Not sheep again!” I’ve shared my feelings about sheep here before, drawing on memories of my days on the Navajo Nation. I don’t begrudge the little critters their place on earth, though they’d likely vanish as a species without humans forever saving them from peril. For this week’s readings, however, I attended less to the dumbness of the lambs than the witness of the shepherd. Read more