Shrubs and Kingdoms

a divided line drawing. On the left, a person plants a seed. On the right, birds in a large shrub. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” — Matthew 13:31-33

It has often been pointed out that when Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a shrub, he is having a bit of fun with us. But finding the humor in the Bible isn’t something we overly-serious modern readers are very good at. We’re more likely to treat parables like this one as if they were folk-wisdom formulas for personal or group success. Think about sermons you’ve heard on finances (“your small gift, sown in faith, will produce a big return!”) or church growth (“if we’re faithful, God will make us grow!”). Read more

Imagining the Road We Share

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. — Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

“I’ve been to conferences on race and racism before, but this is different,” I was told several times at this summer’s Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago. I agree. There was far less nonsense and posturing than I’ve endured at previous, allegedly “frank” discussions of race. We spoke, sang and worshiped together, without the “It’s a Small World After All,” ceremonies that suggest a few up-tempo songs will make restitution for centuries of bad theology and worse ecclesiology. The mood steered a difficult course between penitential and determined. Read more

Behold, How Good and Pleasant

If you mourn the splintering of Christianity, if you pray that all may be one as Christ and the Father are one, and especially if you, in whatever Christian tradition you worship, yearn for a strong ecumenism in which Christians speak from the heart as the Holy Spirit guides them, refusing to merely paper over substantive differences, then there’s something you must hear. Read more

The Full Gospel Anthem

In Jesus Christ we have faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen God. In the incarnation we learn of the love of God for His creation; in the crucifixion we learn of the judgment of God upon all flesh; and in the resurrection we learn of God’s will for a new world. There could be no greater error than to tear these elements apart; for each of them comprises the whole. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

That early evening in Dillsboro was the kind that makes Smokey Mountain summer dusks famous. It was 1974 and I was singing with a resort ministry group. We had just finished an unforgettable feast of trout and country ham at the Jarrett House. Now the little church across the street was pleasantly filled to hear us. The evening could not have been more perfect. Read more

Coming To Our Senses

This year our Lenten journey through the wilderness is not one that we walk alone. The persons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospel of John on the Sundays in Lent are our traveling companions. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, even Lazarus, all have a place on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. From Sunday to Sunday while each of these persons experiences Jesus in individual ways, collectively they reveal to us the fullness of who we are as well as our total emptiness before Jesus. Read more