Pain and Hope

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 42
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Eternal God, lead me now out of the familiar setting of my doubts and fears, beyond my pride and my need to be secure, into a strange and graceful ease with my true proportions and with yours; that in boundless silence I may grow strong enough to endure and flexible enough to share your grace. Amen.
–Guerillas of Grace, 28

These are tough days for those who mount pulpits to proclaim the Word of God. Sitting, as I am, on this Monday before Sunday, wondering how to write faithfully about these appointed texts for the week, I find my thoughts repeatedly drifting to my newsfeed. These stories cry out for the preacher to say a word about them, too.

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston. Is there a word from the Lord for those who yet grieve the daily violence and injustice perpetrated against the black community in this country? Is there a word from the Lord for young women in the pews who watch these same newsfeeds in fear and disgust as a rapist walks away from his crimes with not much more than a slap on the wrist and we are all reminded of the power of privilege–or is it the privilege of power? Is there a word from the Lord for members of the LGBTQ community whose fragile (if they had it at all) sense of security was shattered yesterday when a gunman walked into a nightclub and perpetrated the largest mass shooting in US history? A word for those who might use this tragedy to pit this one vulnerable population against an equally vulnerable Muslim population? Is there a word from the Lord on days when the demons that threaten to break us are Legion and their names are racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious extremism? Is there a word from the Lord on days like these when there are simply no words at all? Read more

Photographer: Brad Coy (CC 2.0 License)

What We Owe

Luke 7:36-8:3 (Proper 6:Year C)

At one time I taught at a Christian high school where most kids were relatively well off and for the years I taught there I always worked in a discussion on privilege. The students would assure me that they were not privileged and that their parents weren’t either. “My dad built his business from scratch,” they’d say, or “my parents have worked hard for everything they’ve got.” The lines, rehearsed and repeated, were the same every time.

I’d lead them through a series of exercises and thought experiments that would help most, in the end, see their advantages—the head start, however hard the work, they had over many others from different backgrounds and races than their own. But I’d always leave a little sad, because since this was a Christian school it should have been one saturated in gratitude. These children had been firmly raised in the belief that salvation comes from Jesus, but they’d also been taught that everything else comes from hard work and the beneficence of the free market.

I thought of that time when I read the Gospel for this Sunday. It is a passage about gratitude and the hospitality that comes from it; about debt and the jubilee release of all debts. It is a profound study in vulnerability and knowing the truth about our selves.

Simon doesn’t know that he’s in debt. He enters the scene as someone confident that he is not a sinner, wondering in his mind how Jesus could not immediately know that this woman was someone who owes a debt to God and to society. Read more


A Morsel From Your Hand

Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8-24

As I lifted my eyes from the letter I was writing seated in the bookstore café, I searched for a thought while I watched a woman ride in the door on a Walmart motorized cart. My son, across from me, was lost in the pages of a fantasy novel. I looked back down, pen to the paper to finish my sentence, and when I looked up a moment later, she was next to our table, had come straight to us.

She said, “hello,” then looked away, fighting the words and gearing up for rejection. Half through her explanation, feeling awkward and wanting to end her humiliation, I gently cut her off and said, “Do you need money?” Her answer was, “Yes, $26,” an amount so exact, so without explanation, and so more than what I was expecting and yet still modest, that I startled.

As I looked in my bag to see what I had, she said, “and also I really need a ride just over there,” gesturing toward the distance. Before I could gather words, my twelve year old said, “We can give you a ride.” Then seeing my face, which must have been processing the moment poorly, he followed with, “Or… we can, right?” Read more


Trinity Sunday

The Ekklesia Project Lectionary Reflections archive is deep and wide, so when we don’t have a new post for a week, it is not difficult to go back and find a previous post that is still rich and relevant. For Trinity Sunday of 2016, we have chosen three posts for you to re-discover.

2008 from Debra Dean Murphy

2010 from Ragan Sutterfield

2014 from Anna MacDonald Dobbs


What Wishes Pentecost to Be?

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34
John 14:8-17

The UMC Lectionary Calendar suggests a framing question for Pentecost, which curiously doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit at all: What can you do to make Pentecost the day that you as a congregation witness about Jesus Christ to your neighbors who do not yet know his saving love?

The question is not without merit, but it may be getting ahead of itself. Among the dangers in approaching Pentecost with a question that directs us to focus on what we do to a subset of other people is the assumption that we can identify the needy neighbor. Once you’ve pegged somebody who “needs,” it’s remarkably easy to fall into the us-versus-them trap of thinking that we, the God-knowers, “have” God to offer, that we mediate God to the world.

This week’s lectionary passages, which all highlight the Spirit as a person of what Richard Rohr calls the “eternal flow” of the Trinity, speaks otherwise. Read more