A Hard, Simple Truth

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

For the past few weeks my wife, 9 month old daughter, and I have been on the road.  Somehow or other it worked out that September was a month where we had several out of town engagements and we decided that rather than travel back and forth we’d make one month long trip of it, visiting friends along the way, and making a quick beach trip in between engagements.  Traveling is one of those tricky things that depends on your perspective.  On the one hand it can be an incredible experience of seeing new places, embracing the beauty of creation, and catching up with old friends.  On the other it can be a painful disruption of sacred routines, full of stress filled hours finding ones way in unknown places with a crying baby and hours of hellish interstate.  I alternate back and forth, but lately I’ve been on the grumpy side, missing the hard fought routine I’d carved out back home.

We’ve been at the beach for the last few days and while my wife and daughter relax by the ocean, I mostly sit in a coffee shop working—writing, catching up on emails, etc.  The other night, after a day of trying to fit in my writing, feeling stressed over completing a task list without my regular routine, I went for a run on the beach.  I was working hard, pounding out the miles for an upcoming race I’m training for.  I felt tired, my body a little overworked and I started to mourn the bad eating I’d done earlier in the day.  I didn’t feel as fast as I wanted and began to wonder whether I’d be able to really finish the race or achieve the respectable time I had my sights set on.  When I got back to the beach where my wife and daughter were enjoying the wind and waves and sea gulls, my wife said, “God loves us!  Look around at all of this,” she said pointing to the crashing waves, a gathering storm in the distance, the wind whipping across the shore, “We are small in all of this.  God loves us!”

Read more

Being Church: Reflections on How to Live as the People of God

Ragan Sutterfield reviews John Alexander’s book for the Englewood Review of Books:

“The job of the church, the most significant work we have to do, is to love one another, celebrate and welcome one another’s gifts, and be Christ’s body in the world. Of course we all know that most churches are nothing like this…Why is it so hard for us to be church?”

Read the full review.

Rebuked

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 1: 20-33
Mark 8: 27-38

Ah, it has finally begun to cool off where we live. There is a hint of autumn crispness in the air. The new school supplies are bought and our son has begun grade four. In the lectionary we have been learning too – what might be new things about Jesus for us, if we have been paying attention in class. Like how even Jesus is a little surprised to find himself debating with a Gentile woman, who is seeking healing for her daughter, and opening the hearing and speaking of a Greek man. A Jesus surprised about the direction his mission is taking may not be what we are used to envisioning.

We get yelled at this week. Yelled at by both Wisdom and Jesus. In public. Read more

Hearing and Obeying

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35:4-7A
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

My mother – who, while alive, would have been mortified to be called a saint – often told us how God spoke to her in her prayers. She said so without irony or apparent metaphor, nor did she claim special standing, privilege, or insight. In fact, she gave no reason to believe her experience wasn’t available to every praying person. Furthermore, she never claimed to speak for God to others and, as far as I could tell, God’s speaking to her was more important than the words themselves, if indeed what she understood herself to hear were words. In truth, I’ve never understood quite what she meant. Her experience was not mine, though I’ve never doubted she had profound encounters with real presence. Read more

The Heart of the Matter

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Pharisees have travelled from Jerusalem out to the region of Lake Galilee to find Jesus, but this is not a spiritual pilgrimage. We quickly discover they have come to find fault: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Isn’t it interesting that the accusation is not leveled at Jesus himself, whom we might assume was performing all of the rituals the Pharisees were so focused on?

But, before we get to Jesus’ response, we need to pause and really hear the Pharisees. Read more

The Eucharist and the Hollow Place

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
John 6:56-69

At the center of Christian worship is, and always has been, a meal – the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the times coalesce: at the moment of communion, salvation history and future hope meet in the holy now. Those who take this meal, who eat this flesh and drink this blood, take in a meal at once like and unlike the meals of their ancestors. It is bread, it is wine, yet it is somehow so much more, for as Christ himself says, it is also eternal life. At the center of Christian worship is this meal, and this meal is the future hope of eternal life.

Yet at the center of common human experience is not now, nor has it ever been, anything remotely like eternal life. For much of the world, human life is short and brutish, ugly and bleak. In a worldwide family fractured over religious, political, economic, and racial lines, humankind’s ecumenism is rooted in our shared experience of death, of suffering, of pain. These are our common heritage, our familiar burden.

And this presents a problem for any who would eat and drink – and truly believe in – this holy meal. Read more

Choose Wisely; Remember Well

Thanks to a campaign organized by Mennonite pastors, there’s reason for those of us in the United States to look forward to November 6 as something more than the official end of a nasty and dispiriting secular political cycle: whatever you choose to do on Election Day in the US, take time to consciously celebrate the unifying communion of and in the Body of Christ. Among the goals of this Election Day Communion Campaign is “…to build unity in Christ despite theological, political, and denominational differences.” Read more

Reading Around the text

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6: 51-58

The Lectionary is a mixed bag. No preacher wants to rely on the tyranny of the urgent to choose a text. No one wants to close their eyes, flip open the Bible and point a trembling finger to the page, praying that they do not land on Hebrews or Paul’s words for women in worship. The Lectionary mitigates that risk, and a host of other dangerous tendencies, by laying out readings in coherent and thoughtful units. But sometimes the preacher must interrogate the given pericopes, always watching the edges for things that have fallen away.

In the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter a cluster of texts that converge around the idea of Wisdom. The Psalm says that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10a). The epistle warns the reader to live as the wise and not the foolish (Ephesians 5:15). And at the head of the images for wisdom stands Solomon, the king who had the good sense to ask God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 2:9). The presentation of King Solomon is so simple and straightforward, only a fool would go looking for nuance where the Lectionary has provided clarity.

So let us chase a fool’s errand. Read more

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more

There is No They

Author and blogger J.R. Daniel Kirk brings this helpful reminder to the church:

When you are part of a church, especially in leadership (but not only then), there is no “they” who will or will not do something.

In those moments when what needs to be done butts up against the policy, or when what they’ve done embarrasses us, deferring to “them” is not going to convince the person in front of you that you are not part of that “them.” That person will only be convinced that you are different when you act, when you do what is right.

Read the full post.