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Thanks, but No Thanks


Job 23: 1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22: 1-15; Hebrews 4: 12-16; Mark 10: 17-31

Around our church some of us have undertaken the simple task of teaching our children basic manners, especially things like speaking clearly, looking a person in the eye, standing straight, and shaking hands with a good firm grip. One 9-year-old boy, who came to church when he was four from an abusive home, used to hide under the chairs when you talked to him and the only way he showed any affection was to come up and hit. We’ve worked with him, been very patient and loving, and we’ve taken the time to give him these basic lessons about social interaction. It has been good to watch him practice these lessons and grow and change.

Good posture, firm handshakes, head held high and eye contact – this is the way we carry ourselves; it is our exterior and physical demeanor. It is an indication of what is going on in our souls.

It shows up in this week’s Gospel reading. Read more

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Visceral Responses


Genesis 2: 18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11 (Catholic); Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 (Revised Common); Mark 10:2-16

Texts like these that make me grateful I’m a pediatrician and not a preacher. Given the diversity of understandings and practices among Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox regarding marriage and remarriage after divorce, and the contemporary fault lines around which these and other marriage-related battles are fought, it’s dangerous to speak before anything but a homogenous congregation. As it happens, the Catholic and Revised Common lectionaries both select from the Letter to the Hebrews for the second reading this Sunday, but the verses barely overlap, so the safe road is out, too.

So, let me make one brief observation and go. The image used for marriage in Genesis and Mark is literally visceral: “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” This language is reserved for the most intimate and important relationships in the Bible: David to the tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3), Christ to humanity (John 1:14), and Christ to those gathered as the Church (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Colossians 3:14-15). This is not the language of a contractual relationship between rights-bearing individuals that the nation-state regulates as part of its interest in property and – rather farther down its list of concerns – child welfare. Read more

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Loving Enemies: A Training Program


Numbers 11: (4-6, 10-16) 24-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6 (Catholic); 5:13-20 (Revised Common); Mark 9:38-50

“Even heretics love God, and burn
convinced that He will love them, too.
Whatever choice, I think that they have failed

to err sufficiently to witness less
than appalling welcome when – just beyond
the sear of that ecstatic blush – they turn.”

– Scott Cairns

My enemy has a portion of the truth. A portion I need. My enemy may have deformed that partial truth into an absolute (Heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “to choose,” is an absolutized partial truth, no longer according to the whole.), but its core remains true. That’s one reason why Christians must love, rather than kill, enemies.

History, of course, demonstrates how difficult the injunction to love one’s enemies is, especially for Christians. Perhaps that’s why we’re assigned less challenging tasks as practice. Perhaps that’s why we rehearse lesser challenges in liturgy. We listen and reflect on the Word (not just the parts that please us), extend signs of peace to those who worship with us (most of whom won’t be on the guest list of our next – or any – house party), and become one Body (understood variously in different traditions) in the breaking of the bread. Read more

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Kids in Church


Mark 9:30-37
(Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Images of Jesus embracing cherub-faced children have been irresistible throughout the centuries. Sentimental art within the last hundred years or so has given us the “sweet Victorian Nanny Jesus” (Philip Yancey’s memorable description), patting boys and girls on the head, admonishing them, one supposes, to eat all their vegetables and be nice to mummy.

It’s hard to set aside such treacly visuals when we hear Mark say, “Then he took a little child and put it among them, and taking it in his arms . . . “ It’s hard not to wax a little sentimental about Jesus, children, the church, and Christianity itself.

The observant preacher, however, will recognize that this week’s passage from Mark’s gospel is not really about children. It’s about misidentified power; it’s about an upside-down kingdom; it’s about the scandal of the cross and the way of discipleship. Read more

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Setting Nature on Fire


James 3:1-12

As a young person growing up in the evangelical church I remember always considering James to be my favorite book of the Bible. In reflecting back on why I found it so important at the time I think what drew me to James was the sort of clarity I seemed to find there. It is certainly no accident that this passage is paired in the lectionary readings with the Proverbs. Among all the books of the New Testament there is a sort of practicality to James—strong vestiges of the Hebrew Wisdom tradition.

Because of this sort of practical approachability James has long been a field ripe for memory verses and nice practical sermons. James’s statements about the tongue have been a particular source of this sort of hortative guidance for many of us. In my days in youth groups and the like it was trotted out regularly to make clear to us younglings why cussing was inexcusable for Christians. Read more