One of the interpretations of this text that I have favored in recent years is that Jesus resisted temptation to do even things that have good results. If he turns stones into bread, he can feed the hungry people in the whole world. If he gives his allegiance to the devil, the whole world will belong to Jesus in an instant. If he jumps from the temple pinnacle, God will perform a flashy miracle, which could show people who Jesus really is. This interpretation has served me well in the last few years, as I am person who is tempted to commit to or engage in too many things—especially endeavors that will produce good results. Read more
On this Sunday before Lent, when Christian traditions have every reason to be on the same page (the Orthodox, too, begin the Great Lent this coming week) it seems the lectionaries are going in different directions. The Revised Common Lectionary reads Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, while Catholics read Luke’s rendering of the Beatitudes.
Yet these two very different stories – one strangely apocalyptic, the other a pastoral exhortation – both speak to a reality of lived Christianity: the tension between a Kingdom already here and (for all appearances) not yet, between promise and pleroma. Read more
The sixth chapter of Isaiah concludes the opening section of the book with a vision of God and the calling of a prophet. In the year that King Uzziah died Isaiah is gifted with a vision of God in the Temple. The vision offers relatively few details of God’s appearance. All we are told is that the Lord was sitting on a throne, high and lofty and that the hem of his robe filed the Temple. The understated nature of this vision of God (compared to Revelation 1:12-16 for example), displays the challenge of describing God’s ineffable majesty.
Where Isaiah fails (rightly) to describe God, the text devotes more than three times as much space to God’s attendants, the Seraphs. The Seraphs are six winged angelic beings, likely serpentine in form, who eternally proclaim God’s holiness. Their only appearance in the Bible is here in Isaiah chapter six (although similar angelic attendants appear in Revelation 4:8). As servants of the holy God their other worldly appearance proclaims bodily what they also proclaim with their song; all who follow the triune God are called be holy as he is holy. The amount of space given to the description of the Seraphs should alert us to their importance for the preaching of this text. Read more
I have never found it easy to move from scripture to theological concepts like virtue when I am teaching. A gap seems to grow up within the flow of my thinking. Kenneth Kirk, a former Anglican bishop of Oxford, noted in a work on the Christian moral life that “from the Bible alone we can choose any one of innumerable different passages or pictures as a groundwork…” He names parts of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the “hymn of love” (1 Cor. 13) as good choices. “Yet it is to be noticed… that Western theology, at all events… has on the whole chosen to base its picture of the Christian ideal not on any one of these scriptural foundations, but upon a pagan classification of virtue.” I find solace in Bishop Kirk’s ability to move beyond this paradox to discuss the cardinal virtues. He does so, however, emphasizing that, though they remain recognizable as the pagan virtues, they also undergo a transformation in Christian usage. Read more
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Not acceptable to me,
not acceptable to us,
not acceptable to others.
Acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
Because the words may very well, if faithful, make us weep in remembrance of who we have been and who we really are. Because they may at first be sweet as honey, but later bitter to the point of making us want to try to pitch Christ off the nearest cliff.
We have such rich texts to host this week in anticipation of Sunday’s liturgy. In the middle of Nehemiah, which can sometimes read like a campaign for re-election, sits this gem, chapter 8. There has been a great build up, literally, to this point. Nehemiah, made governor of Judah by King Artaxerxes of Persia, has heard of the vulnerability and trouble of those Israelites left behind when the elite and learned of Judah were all carted off to Babylon. Nehemiah’s heart is powerfully moved. He roots out corruption and unites the people in the rebuilding of the wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The culmination of this comes when all the people gather together into the square before the Water Gate. They tell Ezra, priest and scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Now, anticipation builds. The book sits above the people, when it is opened the people stand, the LORD is blessed and worshipped. The book is read from for the entire morning. The words read in Hebrew and interpreted into Aramaic, so the people might understand – something not done in Jerusalem since the exile to Babylon. The people weep. Bittersweet tears? For what they have endured; for the reminder of who they are: Read more