Sibiu Cathedral (Jesus washes Peter's feet)

Power Politics and the Politics of Weakness

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

In this election year, the headlong scramble for power is front and center. Candidates, political parties, and super PACs climb over one another to gain access to the levers of power.

Could it be that the church is little different in its craving for potency? Waning influence in American culture, declining membership, or just the plain desire for some kind of noticeable impact on our communities makes us long for the capacity to make stuff happen. If only we had more money, more influence, more people, more resources, our congregations could really execute on our mandate to be the church.

At first glance, Jesus’ ministry looks emblematic of the kind of ministry we wish we could have. Jesus exercises the kind of power that changes lives. Jesus heals the sick and liberates the demonized. He “gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:2-4).

And people stand up and take notice. Mark tells us that “the whole city was gathered around the door”—something we wish could happen in our ministries. If only we had that kind of “juice”, we could really make a difference.

Read more

Ravenna Christ

The Holy One of God

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I Corinthians 8:1-13 OR I Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

Here we are, halfway through this Epiphany season. In perusing through some of the Revised Common lectionary texts I noticed for the first time that we, the church, spend nearly this entire seven week season of Epiphany in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. For a gospel that is very much about being on the move – forty times in sixteen chapters the Greek word for immediately/at once/then occurs – this seems counterintuitive.

It is not, though, if we consider that Epiphany is the season for the church to try and get its head and heart and life around just who Jesus is and what is the good news he heralds and (spoiler alert!) is. It’s all there in the first chapter of Mark, so it is here we sit and ponder for a while. Read more

fishing nets

The Far End of the Net

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jonah 3:1-5,10
Mark 1:14-20

Only one time in each three-year lectionary cycle do we get a chance to read the prophet Jonah (twice if you’re Episcopal or Catholic and following the lectionary). The entire story takes only 48 verses to tell, but by the time it’s done the reader has been taken on a whirlwind tour of the ancient world, explored the character of God, watched Israel wrestle with its calling to be a conduit of God’s grace for all of the nations rather than its terminus, and felt both sympathy and anger towards a self-centered prophet more concerned with his public standing as a prophet than with the destiny of an entire nation. Read more

Goon Priest

The Goon Priest

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:1-20
John 1:43-51

I wonder what a rewrite of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad would look like if the setting shifted from punk rock and public relations to church and public witness. What if someone could draw the unforgettable characters in ecclesial matters that Egan does with musicians? (They might have to tone down the bohemian debauchery a little bit). Read more

195px-Hieronymus_Bosch_090

Out in the Wilderness

Mark 1:4-11

First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel of Mark opens with a brief telling of the story of John the Baptizer. What are we to make of this crazy fellow who lives out in the wilderness, wears clothes made of camel hair and eats locusts and honey? For the first century readers of this Gospel, this language with which Mark describes John conjured up images of Elijah. “Just as a gaunt bearded face and a stovepipe hat would immediately conjure up the image of Abe Lincoln for those socialized into modern American mythology” writes Ched Myers, “so would John’s garb have invoked the great prophet Elijah for Mark’s readers.” John is a prophet in the same vein as Elijah, humble, far removed from the halls of power in his day, and yet God used him to prepare the way for the Messiah through whom all creation would be reconciled.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of John’s story is the place in which we find him, the wilderness.

Read more