When I was a child, getting “grounded” was a form of discipline imposed on me by my parents. From my perspective then, it was something to try to avoid. However, both the book of Sirach (which Jesus, son of Eleazar, says was written by his grandfather Jesus Ben Sira) and the Gospel of Luke emphasize the importance of being “grounded,” though admittedly in another sense of the word. That is, as New Testament scholar Barbara E. Reid, O.P. has noted, these two readings convey proverbial wisdom about the virtue of humility, which is “earthy” or “grounded” wisdom (humility is derived from the Latin humilis, which is derived from humus). During dinner at the house of “a leader of the Pharisees,” Jesus noted the seating arrangements whereby persons occupied “the places of honor, which is the opposite of what they ought to do. “But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place…. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (14:10-11). Here Jesus echoes Sirach, “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself…” (3:18). Rather than endeavoring to climb the social ladder by sitting with people of higher status, it is better to be grounded by spending time with “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13), seeing from their perspective and identifying with them. Read more
The processional hymn for my wedding eight years ago was “Gather Us In,” written by Saint Louis Jesuit Marty Haugen. It’s always been a favorite for my wife and me. “Gather us in, the lost and forsaken; gather us in, the blind and the lame.”
E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) originally was a central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. According to scholar Gerhard Lohfink, the “gathering” of the scattered is a key biblical term for the event of salvation. As Depaul University theologian William T. Cavanaugh puts it, “Salvation in the Old Testament is not about individuals trying to gain admittance to a place called heaven after death; it is about gathering people in communion, thereby restoring the good creation that sin and violence have torn apart…, [and the] theme of gathering does not change in the New Testament; the only change is that the promises of the Old Testament are said to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” Read more
God is on the move in the texts for this coming Sunday. In Jeremiah we find God calling, commanding, reassuring. In Hebrews there is a whole lot of shaking going on, “so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Luke finds Jesus healing and shaming. We are about half way through the longest season of our Christian year, the Season After Pentecost. It is the season when the church, having marked the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and its calling by the gift of the Holy Spirit – we have now, in other words, all that we need to be Christ’s Body in and for the world – is to be about its ever deepening discipleship. This part of this long season, however, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, coincides with the dog days of summer. Perhaps the wake up call in these texts is perfect timing. God will do what God will do. God is up to what God is up to. Read more
“So let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late.”
– From “All Along the Watchtower,” by Bob Dylan
Christendom’s demise is a gift to the church. No longer responsible for underwriting the ruling entities of the world, nor longer required to “make nice” with the principalities, no longer dutifully excusing the violence of power politics, the church can at long last resume the serious business of being the church.
Playing church is, of course, far easier than being it. But, barring a powerfully rejuvenated alliance of accommodated Christianity and American nationalism, reasons to pretend should grow increasingly rare. The benefits of claiming default Christian identity have disappeared in many parts of the United States. Even the assumed American requirement that Presidents endorse “strong beliefs vaguely held or vague beliefs strongly held,” has nearly run its course.
The wall of the vineyard is broken; the hedge is devoured. Read more
Moral theology, which is also known today as Christian or theological ethics, seeks to help Christians answer two fundamental questions: 1) Who ought we as a community and as individual Christians be? 2) What ought we as a community and individuals do? The first question has to do with the kind of character and virtues we ought to have; the second has to do with how we ought to make decisions and ought to act.
Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Corinth says, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). Catholic ethicists Russell B. Connors, Jr. and Patrick T. McCormick note that this theological claim is the heart of our faith, which “affirms that we have experienced redemption as embodied spirits, and that the power of God’s redemptive grace permeates every dimension of our lives….” Read more
The gospel writer, Luke, has a habit of prefacing good news with the exhortation “Do not be afraid.” This seems a bit odd since we’re more likely to think that it’s the delivery of bad news which requires a little no-fear pep talk. But over and over Luke’s pronouncements about God’s generous ways of working in the world—about the good news of the kingdom—are preceded by the words “Do not be afraid”:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”
In this week’s reading from Luke 12, it’s Jesus, not an angel, who says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Why tell your hearers not to be afraid when the news is so happy? Read more
Craig Watts is pastor of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida and co-moderator for the Disciples Peace Fellowship.
In a recent conversation about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I found myself echoing the words often spoken by antiwar folk: “I oppose the war but I support the troops.” My conversation partner was quick to respond, “You really don’t.” I replied, “So, you don’t think it’s possible to be supportive of the troops and stand against the way that are being misused in this war?” He answered, “Perhaps that’s possible for some people. But you’re a pacifist. Even in the best of circumstances you don’t support the troops. You may support the soldiers as men and women but not as troops.”
I had to concede his point. I don’t support the troops as troops. Since I oppose, not just the war in Iraq but war altogether, I oppose the very purpose of the troops. While I do believe they are being abused as troops by placing them in an unjust war, I believe they are being abused as people – and abusive of people – when fighting any war. I simply can’t square the purpose of troops with the purpose of Christians as taught by Jesus, and so I believe no Christian should be part of the troops. Read more
I heard a lecture by the philosopher Dallas Willard once in which he said that he believes that God wants to fulfill all of our desires and give us everything we want. Of course, he said, there must be much work of transformation on the wanter before this can happen. I am reminded of this as I read the Gospel for this week in which Jesus gives his disciples a prayer that will come to define their way of life and tells them, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
This is a radical opening for relationship, a possibility for fulfillment and actualization beyond anything else. And what is it that is given for this asking? The parallel passage to Luke 11:5-13 in Matthew 7:9-11 says that our Father in heaven will “give good things to those who ask him.” But Luke doesn’t say that the gift awaiting the asker will be “good things,” but rather the Holy Spirit. Read more
Luke tells us that Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha. They welcome him into their home and Martha gets busy doing the many things a good hostess does: preparing food, setting the table, straightening the room, picking up the newspapers that have piled up, and on and on. Meanwhile sister Mary sits in front of Jesus listening to what he has to say. Martha, understandably frustrated says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister just sits there while I do all the work? Tell her to get up and help!” Jesus replies, “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part …”
Several years ago I attended a national meeting of about two hundred clergy from around the country and representing various church traditions across the ecumenical spectrum. In preparation we were asked to name what we considered the major obstacles to our church members’ growth as disciples. Without a close second, church members’ busy-ness was easily agreed upon by clergy as the number one problem keeping them from growing in Christ. Read more
In late summer 2004, I was approached by the Chair of the Democractic Party in the county in which I lived to offer a prayer at an upcoming appearance of John Edwards, then-Vice-Presidential candidate and pre-fall media darling. I received this phone call just weeks after returning to full-time pastoral ministry from maternity leave. I hemmed and hawed in response to her invitation, explaining that I was still trying to figure out each day how to get a shower, tend to pastoral duties, and be my son’s main food source. She was shocked at my lack of enthusiasm. Even though we had never met and she did not know me, she exclaimed, “I thought you would be honored to do it!” Truth be told, I faced the prospect with dread. The maternity issues were only part of my concerns. I knew I would have to speak the truth.