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Apocalypse of Love

“Behold,” says the One who sits on the throne, “I make all things new.” God dwells with humanity. Tears, pain and mourning are no more. It sounds wonderful. Sign me up.

“I give you a new commandment,” says Jesus to the Eleven: “love one another…as I have loved you.” What lovely and inspiring words.

Take time, though, to read the fine print: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Loving one another hasn’t been Christianity’s strong suit, however much we talk about it.

There has never been a time in Christian history since Luke wrote Acts where the people were of one heart and mind. Christian divisions have rarely been civil. Many have been deadly. It’s not terribly persuasive to lecture others on the necessity of love when our hands drip fresh blood. Read more

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In Unity We Lift Our Song

 

John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17

One of the many blessings in my life has been the gift of church music.  I grew up in a family who valued music and in a church that valued music. Because I was reared in a high steeple church, I was privileged to be exposed at a young age to string ensembles, handbell choirs, professional singers, and an organist who is a professor of organ music in a prestigious university music program.

When life took me away from home, I got to experience other kinds of church music.  I served a church in North Carolina which had a teenage show choir and a men’s quartet who sang southern gospel music.  I served a church in a small town in West Virginia whose pianist played every hymn in a gleeful, upbeat bluegrass style. I visited a Melkite church in Zababdeh in the West Bank, who sang their entire liturgy a capella. Read more

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Struck Blind on the Damascus Road


Acts 9.1-20

The conversion of Saul provides us with the New Testament example of a conversion experience.  Saul’s transformation from a persecutor of the Lord to an Apostle continues to serve as a word of hope to the sin soaked conscience of those who feel that truly their failings are too great to be forgiven.  The story of Saul’s conversion gives narrative power to the concept of being “born again” from John 3 or becoming a “new creation” from 2 Corinthians 5.

The power of this experience transformed the murderous Saul and immeasurably impacted the Christian faith.  Indeed powerful personal experiences of God have dramatically altered the direction of ‘the Way’ more than once. Remember that Luther shuddered under the righteousness of God until he came to understand the true meaning of the phrase, at which time he said “I felt that I was altogether born again, and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”  We can also call to mind the conversion experience of John Wesley who claimed his heart was strangely warmed and recorded in his journal “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (Italics original) Read more

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Speaking Out

Our readings for this week show both the irrepressible quality of the good news about what God has done for Israel in Jesus Christ (Acts 5) and why that is so—that is the divine origin of the irrepressibility (John 20:19-31).

To begin with the scene in Acts 5:27, the text asks us to imagine a dramatic conflict where the revelation of God comes crashing up against the conventions—ideologies, really—that hold societies in place. “Did you not hear our orders?” asks the High Priest, with the implied further query, “don’t you know it is we who are responsible for common sense and good order around Jerusalem?”  That those representing ideology and good sense are the leaders of the Israel ought to trouble all of us who claim that our Christianity is central to our identity. Read more

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Grounded Hope


Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence; / making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the / faded credulity of earlier ages: / let us walk through the door. (Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike)

John the Evangelist sets the resurrection story in a garden, grounding Easter’s hope in, well, the ground. “The tree of life,” Vigen Guroian observes, “still stands in the midst of the garden.” No pie in the sky here; Easter is earth tended, mended and renewed, and a body alive again. Read more

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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

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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