the+taking+of+Christ

Insurrection Sunday

Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Luke 22:14-23:56

“For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.”

These verses from Psalm 31 are a proper preface to Palm Sunday. This is the Sunday not so much of children waving palms with hosannas as it is the beginning of a drama that will end in execution, murder, and suicide. This is the beginning of the end of the key conflict between the kingdom of God and the empire of the world.

The crowd has it right when they proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” But we should not take from this that Christ is coming in peace, at least not of the kind maintained by the empire until its legitimacy is threatened—the peace of stasis, peace without conflict. Christ is entering Jerusalem for peace, and violence, unrest and insurrection are the sure signs that the kingdom of peace is threatening a world bent on coercion and injustice. Christ’s response to this violence is to take the downward path toward death—the path of humiliation for the sake of righteousness. Read more

The+Prodigal

Celebrate!

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

To see as God sees.

I have had the delight this Lent to have always before me the picture of Charles McCollough’s sculpture, “The Return of the Prodigal.” (pictured*)

It has led me to contemplate not only the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents but also the suffering of God over the lost, the dead, the unrepentant. Perhaps it is parents who best glimpse this pain as we ache, grieve and pray for our children, at times tempted to shout out, as in Psalm 32, “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” As loving parent to the whole world and all its messy brokenness, oh, how God must suffer. Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking reflects that “…Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and sees us whole…The worst sentence Love can pass is that we behold the suffering which Love endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one.” Read more

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Sooner or Later

Luke 13: 1-9

Many years ago I heard Walter Brueggemann say to a room full of preachers, “We must always hold before our people God’s commands to obedience.  Always.  But we must also always be patient with one another as we fail to heed those commands.  Always.”

The readings for this Sunday are all about God’s commands to obey and our failure to obey.  According to Luke, Jesus found himself in a conversation about some current tragedies, the gist of which had everyone wondering if the people who suffered the tragedies had it coming or not.  Perhaps bad things happened to these people because they were bad.  Jesus says, “No. These people were no worse than anybody else.  But I tell you, this is a reminder that everyone had better change their ways.  Sooner or later there is an accounting.” Read more

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Enduring Desire


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Having passed through the devil’s testing in the wilderness in last week’s lectionary text from Luke, Jesus contends next with testing that takes on a decidedly more human and communal face.

Some friendly Pharisees counsel Jesus to get out of Dodge before the menacing Herod devours him. That villain has already imprisoned and executed Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, and even the not-so astute can foresee that Jesus will share a similar fate should he linger within Herod’s jurisdiction. Discretion is the better part of valor, says conventional wisdom. Dodge the threat, and live to preach another day. 

Jesus himself can see that Jerusalem, the axis around which all of Israel and world history revolves, has turned its back on him and that a prophet’s death awaits him should he complete his journey to the center. Self-preservation dictates that he pull up short of the city and ward off the rejection of those who ought most to receive him. Read more

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How Well Do We Let Scripture Claim Us?

Luke 4:1-13

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

ash+wednesday

Unrealistic Stories and Beginning…Again

Transfiguration Sunday (Revised Common Lectionary): Luke 9:28-36, (37-43); Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Catholic Lectionary): Luke 6:17, 20-26

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

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And Now, Please Rise…

Andy Alexis-Baker at Jesus Radicals calls our attention to a disappointing change in policy at Goshen College. Please consider Andy’s suggested responses in the concluding update.

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On Becoming a Seraph

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

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Love and Virtue

I Corinthians 13:1-13

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

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Let’s Talk About Haiti

 

As I wrote in our monthly newsletter, I’m confident we are already praying for the Haitian church and people “with our hands and feet, our sweat and tears, our time and money.” This way of putting things, and deep wisdom about natural disaster, are found in Debra Dean Murphy’s eloquent blog.

With agrarians like Norman Wirzba and Ragan Sutterfield in our midst, I’ve been mindful that Haiti’s crisis was made over centuries of political and economic injustice, culminating in decades of ecological devastation. Things didn’t first go wrong when the earth shook last week, but in the last few decades as deforestation made the soil slide down the mountains and as the best arable land was expropriated to service foreign debt. For now the earthquake is the crisis of the moment, and we must pray and care with immediacy and focus. But Haiti needs more than triage for a sudden crisis. Let our praying and caring have enough perspective to see the larger ecological and economic problems in Haiti, and enough patience to stay engaged long after the Red Cross has moved to the next emergency.

I suggested Prichard’s article (in the Evangelicals for Social Action newsletter) for some perspective, and because it links to an organization, Plant with Purpose, which has been attending to Haiti’s ecology for quite a while. Endorser Andy Johnson writes that his Sunday School class has been sponsoring a village in Haiti through Florestra, a Christian non-profit which works to reverse deforestation and poverty. So let’s talk about Haiti. Are there other organizations you would recommend to your fellow EPers? Have you a story or a website to share?