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

A Very Messy Christmas

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen

Judah is threatened, but King Ahaz, not otherwise known for piety, refuses to test God in his moment of need. God nevertheless renders a sign: Isaiah, who thinks he knows what information a calculating ruler wants to hear, announces that a girl with soon give birth.

Paul writes as a self-described slave to Christians in the imperial capital where he will eventually be executed. Yet, compelled by Christ, he greets his readers with words of grace and peace.

Joseph learns that his fiancée is pregnant with someone else’s child, and looks for a way out. Yet God speaks to him through an angel in a dream and – get this! – Joseph is persuaded to stay. Read more

What Are You Waiting For?

Isaiah 35:1-10

Matthew 11:2-11

I keep being told these days to wait.  In sermons, blog posts, earnest Advent Facebook updates, the message has been, more often than not, “wait.”  Waiting is good.  Waiting trains us in patience, one of the most important virtues we can cultivate.  Advent, however, isn’t the time for it.  As our gospel for this Sunday reminds us—the wait is over, the kingdom has come.

The passage opens with John in prison, a place made for the worst kind of waiting.  He wants to know from Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  This is critical for John because he is about to die and he knows it.  Should he die still praying for the Kingdom for which he has been preparing? Or can he uncork the bootlegged Champaign in celebration of its arrival? Read more