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In Unity We Lift Our Song

 

John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17

One of the many blessings in my life has been the gift of church music.  I grew up in a family who valued music and in a church that valued music. Because I was reared in a high steeple church, I was privileged to be exposed at a young age to string ensembles, handbell choirs, professional singers, and an organist who is a professor of organ music in a prestigious university music program.

When life took me away from home, I got to experience other kinds of church music.  I served a church in North Carolina which had a teenage show choir and a men’s quartet who sang southern gospel music.  I served a church in a small town in West Virginia whose pianist played every hymn in a gleeful, upbeat bluegrass style. I visited a Melkite church in Zababdeh in the West Bank, who sang their entire liturgy a capella. Read more

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Struck Blind on the Damascus Road


Acts 9.1-20

The conversion of Saul provides us with the New Testament example of a conversion experience.  Saul’s transformation from a persecutor of the Lord to an Apostle continues to serve as a word of hope to the sin soaked conscience of those who feel that truly their failings are too great to be forgiven.  The story of Saul’s conversion gives narrative power to the concept of being “born again” from John 3 or becoming a “new creation” from 2 Corinthians 5.

The power of this experience transformed the murderous Saul and immeasurably impacted the Christian faith.  Indeed powerful personal experiences of God have dramatically altered the direction of ‘the Way’ more than once. Remember that Luther shuddered under the righteousness of God until he came to understand the true meaning of the phrase, at which time he said “I felt that I was altogether born again, and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”  We can also call to mind the conversion experience of John Wesley who claimed his heart was strangely warmed and recorded in his journal “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (Italics original) Read more

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Speaking Out

Our readings for this week show both the irrepressible quality of the good news about what God has done for Israel in Jesus Christ (Acts 5) and why that is so—that is the divine origin of the irrepressibility (John 20:19-31).

To begin with the scene in Acts 5:27, the text asks us to imagine a dramatic conflict where the revelation of God comes crashing up against the conventions—ideologies, really—that hold societies in place. “Did you not hear our orders?” asks the High Priest, with the implied further query, “don’t you know it is we who are responsible for common sense and good order around Jerusalem?”  That those representing ideology and good sense are the leaders of the Israel ought to trouble all of us who claim that our Christianity is central to our identity. Read more

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Grounded Hope


Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence; / making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the / faded credulity of earlier ages: / let us walk through the door. (Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike)

John the Evangelist sets the resurrection story in a garden, grounding Easter’s hope in, well, the ground. “The tree of life,” Vigen Guroian observes, “still stands in the midst of the garden.” No pie in the sky here; Easter is earth tended, mended and renewed, and a body alive again. Read more

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Insurrection Sunday

Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Luke 22:14-23:56

“For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.”

These verses from Psalm 31 are a proper preface to Palm Sunday. This is the Sunday not so much of children waving palms with hosannas as it is the beginning of a drama that will end in execution, murder, and suicide. This is the beginning of the end of the key conflict between the kingdom of God and the empire of the world.

The crowd has it right when they proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” But we should not take from this that Christ is coming in peace, at least not of the kind maintained by the empire until its legitimacy is threatened—the peace of stasis, peace without conflict. Christ is entering Jerusalem for peace, and violence, unrest and insurrection are the sure signs that the kingdom of peace is threatening a world bent on coercion and injustice. Christ’s response to this violence is to take the downward path toward death—the path of humiliation for the sake of righteousness. Read more