Ascension and Embrace

The Feast of the Ascension
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24: 44-53

Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.                 

                                                                            John Donne, Ascension

I was puzzling over what to write here when across my Facebook newsfeed came the story of a New Englander (a “Yale grad” the headline noted) who has offered a burial plot for the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Three weeks after Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police, and with no cemetery willing to receive his remains, Douglas Keene of Vermont made the offer to Tsarnaev’s family on the condition that it be done

in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to ‘love thine enemy.’

It is surprising how surprising Keene’s simple, straightforward gesture seems. But it strikes me that part of its beauty is that it invites us to remember what crucifixion-resurrection-ascension make possible:  the overcoming of our violence and our need to scapegoat and exclude. In Jesus’ living and dying, in his rising from death and his ascension into heaven, a new social order is opened up to us–God’s new creation–in which enemies are loved and we are free to relinquish the cherished fiction of our innocence.

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Our Place Redeemed

Sixth Sunday in Easter

John 14:23-29
Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

In our contemporary world, it is difficult to belong. We are so busy and on the move, it seems to be better to keep commitments to a minimum. 20% to 30% of all Americans move each year and the average American moves fourteen times over a lifetime. Poet, essayist, and editor of Poetry magazine Christian Wiman remembers that when he was thirty-six years old, he had moved forty times in fifteen years. He said he owned nothing that would not fit easily into his car. When talking about this with some friends, all of whom were in their twenties and thirties, all smart, well-educated and upwardly mobile, they compared notes and realized that between them they had lived in every state and dozens of foreign countries. Not one person lived near where they were born and raised and none of them ever asked anyone else where they’re from, “skirting the question as if it were either too intimate or, more likely, too involved to broach.”

We are a society that believes in being mobile – people with no sense of belonging to a place or to anyone else but themselves and who can pick up and move whenever the corporation, the job, the career demands it. Read more

Believing and Proclaiming

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Sharing a household with beloved in-laws who watch TV regularly and don’t hear as well as I do, I have learned to turn away from a blasting televisions, as it strives to capture my attention with its show of urgency or of overwhelming sensation. Yesterday afternoon was somewhat of an exception. When my dear mother in law instructed me in a whisper to ‘turn on the TV’—she was on the phone at the time—I felt a sense of foreboding. As I pondered the clicker, I felt caught between my habit of flatly refusing such invitations to be informed—a habit rooted in a general distrust that what the TV anchors would express as urgent truly was—and a nagging sense that I could be neglecting a civic duty by not paying attention to the story. I turned it on long enough to get the gist of what happened at the Boston marathon, before turning my attention back to playing with my five year old daughter. Read more

Do You Love Me?

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 9: 1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5: 11-14
John 21: 1-19

What a gift the Great Fifty Days are for the church! Time to celebrate. Time to ponder. Celebrate and ponder the stupefying wonder that is the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Here we are on the third Sunday of Easter and the disciples still aren’t getting it. Their continued bafflement speaks volumes to the shock of what has taken place. Thousands of years later the ripples of that decisive Act of God can continue to confound us; the church is still in need of this gift of time to yearly reorient ourselves to what God is up to.

Unexpected, startling, the Resurrection of Jesus has left the disciples at loose ends, unsure of what the implications are and of what they are to do with themselves. “I am going fishing.” says Simon Peter in this Sunday’s text from John. This is the first hint in John’s gospel that some of the disciples are former fishermen. When confronted with something surprisingly new, it seems to be human nature to fall back on old ways. The others, lacking for any better ideas of what to do, decide to join him. They hang out the “Gone Fishing” sign and head for the boat, though their efforts prove fruitless. It all seems a bit anticlimactic and even a little lame after everything that’s happened. Perhaps the real miracle is that the church was birthed at all! Read more

Rejoice! Our Work Has Just Begun!

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43
Ps 118
Col 3:1-4 OR 1 Cor 5:6-8 OR 1 Cor 15:19-26
Jn 20:1-9
OR Lk 24:1-12

We didn’t expect this. No matter how many times we’re told the story, we never do. Like Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, most of us shout to the world through our attitudes and actions – if not necessarily with words – that, “I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” Read more