The Transfiguration

Plastic Minds and Magic Eyes

Last Sunday After Epiphany (Year B) RCL

2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Not long ago my nephew was forcing me to find Waldo in page after page of busy scenes where somewhere there was a goofy guy in red and white stripes.  “Where’s Waldo”, “Magic Eye”–we love seeing games where we must pick out an image from visual confusion.  Perhaps this love comes from our history as hunters and gathers, when we had to unmask the camouflage of animals in order to gain our daily food.  Whatever it is, we love seeing what was invisible made suddenly apparent.

The ability to see beyond the obvious is a skill and we have to develop it.  I know people who have never been able to make a “magic eye” picture work for them, but most of us, after we see one “magic eye” image can see any “magic eye” image.  Once we learn how to see, we are able to see everything and anything anew.

Seeing is the common thread of The Revised Common Lectionary readings for this last Sunday of Epiphany.  Elisha must see Elijah taken up into heaven in order to have his double spirit, in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of “the god of this world”  blinding “the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” and finally in the Gospel reading we have the recounting of the transfiguration where Peter, James and John see Christ glorified in an apocalyptic meeting with Moses and Elijah. Read more

Wade in the Water

6th week of Epiphany

Feb. 12, 2012

2 Kings 5:1-14

Psalm 30

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Mark 1:40-45

 Eighteen years ago, the Mississippi Annual Conference planted the next “mega church” in a small but rapidly growing community just outside of the state capital of Jackson.  The congregation started with an average worship attendance of around 90, a number that has dropped slowly but consistently over the years.  When I was appointed there 4 years ago we averaged about 35 on a Sunday morning.  This past Sunday we had eight.  As a worshiping community, it is getting harder and harder for us to have hope for our future, not to mention paying our utility bills. 

In an effort to encourage our struggling church our District Superintendent assured us that if there was even one family who could say that they were genuinely called by God to continue to worship and witness as New Covenant UMC then he would do everything he could to help us stay open and pursue that calling.  So it is that in the last few weeks, we have begun to ask each other very seriously and very concretely “What is God calling you to do?  What is God calling us to do as a Church body? Who is God calling us to be?” 

“Now Naaman was a commander…” Read more

Sibiu Cathedral (Jesus washes Peter's feet)

Power Politics and the Politics of Weakness

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

In this election year, the headlong scramble for power is front and center. Candidates, political parties, and super PACs climb over one another to gain access to the levers of power.

Could it be that the church is little different in its craving for potency? Waning influence in American culture, declining membership, or just the plain desire for some kind of noticeable impact on our communities makes us long for the capacity to make stuff happen. If only we had more money, more influence, more people, more resources, our congregations could really execute on our mandate to be the church.

At first glance, Jesus’ ministry looks emblematic of the kind of ministry we wish we could have. Jesus exercises the kind of power that changes lives. Jesus heals the sick and liberates the demonized. He “gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:2-4).

And people stand up and take notice. Mark tells us that “the whole city was gathered around the door”—something we wish could happen in our ministries. If only we had that kind of “juice”, we could really make a difference.

Read more

Ravenna Christ

The Holy One of God

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I Corinthians 8:1-13 OR I Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

Here we are, halfway through this Epiphany season. In perusing through some of the Revised Common lectionary texts I noticed for the first time that we, the church, spend nearly this entire seven week season of Epiphany in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. For a gospel that is very much about being on the move – forty times in sixteen chapters the Greek word for immediately/at once/then occurs – this seems counterintuitive.

It is not, though, if we consider that Epiphany is the season for the church to try and get its head and heart and life around just who Jesus is and what is the good news he heralds and (spoiler alert!) is. It’s all there in the first chapter of Mark, so it is here we sit and ponder for a while. Read more

fishing nets

The Far End of the Net

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jonah 3:1-5,10
Mark 1:14-20

Only one time in each three-year lectionary cycle do we get a chance to read the prophet Jonah (twice if you’re Episcopal or Catholic and following the lectionary). The entire story takes only 48 verses to tell, but by the time it’s done the reader has been taken on a whirlwind tour of the ancient world, explored the character of God, watched Israel wrestle with its calling to be a conduit of God’s grace for all of the nations rather than its terminus, and felt both sympathy and anger towards a self-centered prophet more concerned with his public standing as a prophet than with the destiny of an entire nation. Read more

Goon Priest

The Goon Priest

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:1-20
John 1:43-51

I wonder what a rewrite of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad would look like if the setting shifted from punk rock and public relations to church and public witness. What if someone could draw the unforgettable characters in ecclesial matters that Egan does with musicians? (They might have to tone down the bohemian debauchery a little bit). Read more


Out in the Wilderness

Mark 1:4-11

First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel of Mark opens with a brief telling of the story of John the Baptizer. What are we to make of this crazy fellow who lives out in the wilderness, wears clothes made of camel hair and eats locusts and honey? For the first century readers of this Gospel, this language with which Mark describes John conjured up images of Elijah. “Just as a gaunt bearded face and a stovepipe hat would immediately conjure up the image of Abe Lincoln for those socialized into modern American mythology” writes Ched Myers, “so would John’s garb have invoked the great prophet Elijah for Mark’s readers.” John is a prophet in the same vein as Elijah, humble, far removed from the halls of power in his day, and yet God used him to prepare the way for the Messiah through whom all creation would be reconciled.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of John’s story is the place in which we find him, the wilderness.

Read more


To ponder in our hearts

Numbers 6: 22-27
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

Caro cardo salutis
(The body is the hinge of salvation)
– Tertullian

The tragically divided trinitarian churches find it difficult to definitively name this Sunday. The Orthodox, as well as some Anglican and Lutheran churches, celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision. So did Catholics until the 1960s, when the day transformed into the Octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Those using the Revised Common Lectionary celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus or the First Sunday after Christmas Day.

Perhaps the kindest way to understand this confusion is that the mystery of the Incarnation is far too vast for human comprehension. After celebrating, as best we can, its totality on Christmas Day, we who stand on this side of the grave enter the abyssal mystery further only through glimpses and reflections, hoping not to absolutize any partial vision, lest we fall into heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “a choice.”

All these glimpses lead into a paradox that borders on the monstrous: that the Creator of the Universe enters into Creation as a one of us, decisively bridging the gap between spirit and matter we so desperately struggle to maintain. The fulcrum upon which this mystery pivots is the body, and the visions celebrated on this day all emphasize that saving carnality. Read more


The Logic of the Incarnation


Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-14

“The Ancient of Days has become an infant.”
John Chrysostom, 4th century

On Christmas Eve we read Luke’s dramatic account of the birth of Jesus. On the first Sunday of Christmas (or, as it happens this year, Christmas Day) we read the prologue from John’s gospel. At first glance these texts seem to offer two very different perspectives on the coming of Christ into our world: Luke’s is earthy and political, conveying the historical contingencies (and palpable dangers) that attended the first Advent; John’s is meditative and philosophical, written in academic Greek, locating the “Word made flesh” not in the provincial politics of first-century Palestine but boldly and unapologetically in the sweeping history of the cosmos.

But despite the differences there is, I suggest, an affinity, a necessary and even urgent correspondence, between these two traditional Christmas narratives. And perhaps especially this year, as liturgically we read and hear them only hours apart, this affinity is worthy of deeper exploration.

In Luke, we glimpse what the tyranny of the imperium romanum meant for its subjects, especially those on the margins of empire geographically, ethnically, and religiously. In verses 1 through 5 it is clear that the events leading up to Jesus’ birth were no picnic – nothing like the familiar, beatific stuff of greeting-card sentimentality. Rather, despots and oligarchs populate the scene and the treacherous journey to the stable – labor pains upon labor pains – includes refugees on the run, authorities asking for papers, and risky border crossings.

Read more


And it was sufficient

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1: 26-38

I love the way Luke and Matthew begin their Gospels. Both tell us of these plain, ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, who obeyed God, and through whom God begins the extraordinary work of salvation for all people.

Traditionally, the church has called Mary the first disciple. She was the first to believe and obey. And even though Luke tells her story with a bit more drama than Matthew’s telling of Joseph’s, we still get the message that here was an ordinary young woman – really a teenage girl – who embodied extraordinary courage and faith in God to be able to say, “Let it be to me according to your will.” Or to put it more mundanely, Mary said yes. Read more