The Risks of Baby Dedication

Luke 2:22-40

Imagine this at your baby’s dedication.  You go up front where the preacher does her blessing; perhaps water is sprinkled or maybe even your baby is baptized in a little font.  Pious prayers are said, God invoked—it’s a routine that happens month by month in the cycle of the church’s life.  Then a man walks in, “led by the Spirit,” and promises that your child is destined “for the rising and falling of many” and that he will be “opposed so vigorously that it will reveal the intentions of many.”  Then this man says that you will find your own soul “pierced by a sword.”  A little blue or pink New Testament would hardly seem an appropriate gift after all of that.

Jesus was certainly no normal child and that was marked by the extraordinary way in which he entered the religious life of his people.  Simeon and Anna saw in Jesus someone who came to save the world but also to disturb it.  They knew from the start that Jesus was going to stir things up and that the forces of death would soon mount up against the power of life.

It would be easy to leave this as a nice story that doesn’t mean much for us.  We can just go on talking about welcoming children into our churches—crayons and a couple of bible themed coloring sheets to keep them quiet.  Read more

Whose You Are

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

While in Divinity school, I went on a travel seminar to the Middle East with thirty-nine other seminary students and lay people. During our time in Jerusalem, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits atop the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

It is a place of immense consequence for the Christian faith, and it’s unsurprising that representatives from multiple denominations are housed inside the church. The description “sharing space” would be too strongly worded and ultimately inaccurate, for these six denominations have partitioned the churches down to the tile. Armenians are only allowed in a certain area, Orthodox in another, Catholics can process in a certain area for a determined amount of time, etc. Our guide recounted stories of garbed priests name-calling and throwing punches because a priest moved a piece of furniture or stepped a couple of tiles too far to the left during a procession.

Despite the fact that these men all follow the Prince of Peace, they’ve allowed their denominational affiliation to supersede their common Christian identity. Centuries of very public bickering and violence is the result. Read more

Seek and you shall…

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:29-42

This week we will let Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) be our exegete. Bono, the frontman for the Dublin-based band U2, wrote two songs that intersect with today’s lectionary passages. Our texts for this reflection will be Psalm 40 and John 1:29-42, and alongside the Biblical text will be “40 (How Long)” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from U2.
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First Psalm 40. This is one of those lovely/troubling imprecatory psalms. “Imprecatory” means “to curse or pray evil upon another,” a definition which makes these passages difficult to preach.

In 1983, U2 wrote their War album. On the last night of recording, they were about to be run off by the studio manager. They needed one more song, so they quickly wrote and recorded a song based on Psalm 40. The whole thing came together in under an hour, and thus their hit “40 (How Long)” was born. A tradition developed around the song during their album tour. At the end of the set, the band would play through the song, during which one by one they would lay their instruments down and leave the stage. The crowd/congregation would then continue to sing the refrain, “how long…to sing this song?”

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The Rupture of Impossibility

The Baptism of the Lord

Acts 10:34-48

Freeze the frame, theologian James Alison instructs, on the moment in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit falls on the surprised gentiles and on the even more astounded circumcised believers. What looks to be a scene from a pentecostal or charismatic rally is, on closer inspection, a “cultural earthquake of immeasurably greater proportions” (Quotes and wording are taken from Alison’s On Being Liked, esp. pp. vii – xvii, and Faith Beyond Resentment).

First, the trance of things vile, repugnant, unclean; animals strictly and expressly forbidden by the purity code. Peter’s visceral response showed that he had been formed by what he had inherited and had always believed to be God’s Law.

Then, the “inwardly perplexed” journey to Caesarea and the entrance into Cornelius’ household. Even to get to this point, Alison says, “Peter had to undergo a stomach-churning disorientation of losing the sense of goodness and holiness which came from being separate.”

Then Peter began to speak. Until then he had assumed that the good news of Jesus was a completely Jewish story. Now he tells the same story to gentiles… and all heaven breaks loose. Read more

Body Matters

Second Sunday of Christmas
Solemnity of the Epiphany

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:1-18


“The Word became flesh and lived among us…”

The deepest of human hopes has taken body, form: there is skin on God. Soft tissues wrap bone, the divine bound willingly in the swaddling clothes of human substance, fibered all through with yearning and will. The creator inhabits created form. There is no room for metaphor here; flesh on God is no parable, no allegory. Make no mistake: this is body, like yours, like mine, mystery as intimate as your own face.

What difference does it make for flesh to mean flesh? How much would it matter if the scriptures said instead, “the Word became soul and lived among us?” Is an enfleshed God just a magnanimous detail for the sake of good story? Read more