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Three Funerals and a Wedding

Maple syrup has no business running off my pancakes into the sausage links. Sweet and spicy don’t belong together. It’s a violation of the natural order of things.

This was my settled culinary worldview until something unexpected happened on a visit to Mexico City. At the mercado, my family ordered a heaping cup of sweet, succulent mango. But because we had crossed the border, the mango slices came with a liberal dusting of chili powder. Mango with chili sounded like an unnatural combination. But after we tried it, we couldn’t get enough of it. The union of spicy and sweet created something new and beautiful: a bold, vibrant flavor standing out from the drab palette of tastes we were accustomed to.

We’re used to Paul speaking of the cross as the center of his theology: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….” The cross has become conventional for us, our theological “meat and potatoes.” But what we may not be used to is the bold and vibrant way that Paul speaks of the cross intersecting with realities we would normally keep separate. Read more

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Freedom and Obedience


Galatians 5:1, 13-26

In Bound to be Free: Evangelical Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism Reinhard Hütter notes that speech about freedom often confuses different types of freedom. The freedom of autonomy differs from political freedom which differs still from Christian freedom. Hütter structures his book around three different modes of being free: free to be Church, free to live with God, and free to speak ecumenically. This week, as the congregation hears Paul proclaim “For freedom Christ has set us free” the preacher will do well to help the congregation discover that Paul is boasting of the freedom to be Church. Read more

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Zealous for the Lord

I admit to admiration for Elijah’s zeal for the LORD, though perhaps not always for his methods. His dedication to Yahweh is absolute. He is on the run for his life now because of it, feeling alone and exhausted; tired of the compromises with idols, evil and the powers that be which Israel continues to make. But Yahweh, thank God, has not given up on us yet…

In my life of service in and for the church thus far, I have come to a profound appreciation for Baptism. The renunciations and vows are deep and powerful and grace filled and not to be taken lightly. There is the much needed reminder that we are one in, and only in, Christ Jesus and not a collection of individuals. This is God on God’s terms, not my own. I have recently begun to make Baptism books for the persons baptized in our congregation. The books contain a page for those witnesses present to sign, a place for photos taken, the Apostle’s Creed, the vows undertaken (I will, with God’s help) and a quote from the Galatians text for this coming Sunday: Read more

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Wrath and Mercy, Law and Grace

Third Sunday After Pentecost – 13 June 2010
1 Kings 21:1-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3 (Revised Common Lectionary)

The readings for this Sunday, taken all together, create some unsettling tensions.

The passage from 1 Kings recounts the refusal of Naboth the Jezreelite to sell his vineyard to his neighbor, King Ahab. When the king goes home to sulk about this, his wife Jezebel takes charge and soon enough a property dispute has led to a crime scene: Naboth is wrongly defamed and summarily executed. Ahab gets his vineyard after all.

Psalm 5 reads something like Naboth’s own prayer from beyond the grave in which he petitions Yahweh to “give heed to my sighing . . . for you are not a God who delights in wickedness . . . you destroy those who speak lies” (vv. 1, 4, 6). Back in 1 Kings, the shocking story does indeed conclude with a chilling warning delivered to Ahab by the prophet Elijah: “I will bring disaster on you” (v. 21a). Read more

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All Things Shining

Revised Common Lectionary, Second Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 17: 8-16, 17-24; Luke 7:11-17 / Catholic Lectionary, Feast of Corpus Christi: Genesis 14:18-20, Luke 9:11-17

Ordinary time. Words not crafted to stir the soul. “Ordinary” here, of course, refers to the numbering of Sundays outside of festal and penitential seasons, but that’s far too abstract to make up for its dull connotations. Even in times of sadness, we may feel new life in Easter season. It’s far more difficult when spring is past.

The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green. Green for life, growth, renewal. Focusing on the ordinary, the Humean predicament of “one damn thing after another,” it’s easy – perhaps inevitable – to miss how life’s greenness marks our lives as cottonwoods in the desert line a river or tap an aquifer.

I suspect it’s always been the case, but steady bad news makes it difficult to ignore the mess we’ve made of the ordinary. No longer content merely to sacrifice the lives of our children or the tops of mountains for the material comforts of a fossil-fueled economy, we lay waste oceans – over an already designated “dead zone” – in ways our words have yet to capture. Less a “spill” than a “spew,” less an “accident” than a predictable event, the baleful consequences of extractive science are made, not for the first or last time, visible. Read more

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Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

I must admit, I am not very comfortable with spirits. God the Father, God the Son—these are concrete realities that show up on mountaintops, write on stone tablets, and die on wooden crosses. But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom? I have a hard time understanding.

Thankfully I don’t have to understand—the Spirit itself brings that. As Jesus says in the Gospel reading, the Spirit “will guide you in all truth.” But as he goes on to say, this truth is not a truth that the Spirit has on its own—it is a truth that comes from the Father and the Son—it is a truth held in the consensus and community of the Trinity that we worship.

I find it striking that in all three of our readings for this Sunday—Proverbs, Romans, John—the Spirit comes to a community. In Proverbs the Spirit of Wisdom cries out “To you, o people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” In Romans, Paul speaks of faith by which “we are justified” and speaks of the love of God having been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Read more

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Soldiers of Conscience


Whatever your stance on war, here are some contemporary voices to consider, voices much closer to the reality of killing than most of us. For those who wish to learn more about the documentary, visit the website.

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Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

St. Augustine considered the Feast of the Ascension the crown of all Christian festivals. Today we may give it an obligatory nod as we make our way liturgically from Easter to Pentecost, but we’re often not quite sure what to do with it exegetically, theologically, pastorally. The clunky literalism routinely inspired by the Luke-Acts vision of the ascension—Jesus rocketing upward into space—is not a little perplexing.

Whatever historical event lies behind the Luke-Acts narratives of Jesus’ ascension into heaven—and the fact that the two accounts differ in important ways might be a clue that a surface-literal reading is not what the author had in mind—a couple of things stand out: the centrality of worship and the reimagining of “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”
Tom Wright points out that Luke’s gospel ends, as it began, in the Temple at Jerusalem. “Worship of the living God,” Wright says, “is at the heart of Luke’s vision of the Christian life.” Jesus’ ascension into heaven, then, is not “beam me up, Scotty” science fiction, but rather that which makes possible the Church’s existence. Because Jesus is not here, the Church can be, must be—the Church is constituted as and empowered to be his worshiping, witnessing body here and now. (Douglas Farrow makes this point by insisting that the Church exists “by its mysterious union with one whose life, though lived for the world, involves a genuine break with it.”) Read more

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:20-26

[Two lectionary posts this week: one for the Seventh Sunday of Easter and one for Ascension Sunday (reposted from May 2009)] 

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (John 17:20-21a).

It seems there’s not much talk of ecumenism these days—not in books, not on blogs, not even in and among churches.  Maybe that’s because forty years of dogged efforts at dialogue and mutual understanding have borne some real fruit: Calvinists are far less suspicious of Catholics than they used to be and vice versa; Methodists and Lutherans are now in full communion with one another.

Of course, the ecclesial traditions most vested in the ecumenical movement are now among those experiencing significant decline, and the growing churches—Pentecostal, non-denominational, “emergent” of this or that variety—don’t seem to place the same high premium on bridge-building and cross-over conversations. So maybe it’s too soon to say “mission accomplished” when it comes to Church unity.

Of course it is. Jesus’ prayer in this week’s Gospel reading is a stinging reminder of his Body’s continued disunity. But what can and should be said about this obstinate, obvious reality? How does one preach this familiar text in ways that signal urgency but not despair, that convey the gravity of the situation while also offering a word of hope? I have no idea. Read more

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Courage to be Whole

Jesus is in Jerusalem and he goes by the Pool of Bethesda. This pool, fed by an underground spring, is down, off of the street, and is surrounded by porticoes offering some shade and shelter. Legend said that on occasion an angel would trouble the waters of the pool and the first person into the water would be healed. Hence, the pool and the surrounding area had become the gathering place for anyone and everyone with some sort of sickness, but especially the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. All gathered watching the surface of the water for the smallest sign of the rippling of the waves. A small bubbling from the underground spring or even a slight breeze could cause a stampede of invalids trying to be the first into the water.

And Jesus asks this man lying over to one side, “Do you want to be made whole?”

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here, so thanks all the same, Jesus but I’ll just lie here.” Read more