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.

Discerning What Displeases the Lord

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13a

Our Old Testament lesson brings us to one of the most dramatic moments in this extraordinary narrative of David when he is confronted by Nathan the prophet. It is high drama in this narrative and it is a high drama in the history of prophetic speaking truth to power.

David stole Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, and then when it was discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he used his power to have Uriah killed by the Ammonites. The last sentence of chapter 11 says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” The next sentence, which begins chapter 12, says, “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.”

My question is “how does the church come up with Nathans?” Read more

Between the Narrative and the Psalm

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15 , Psalms

“I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic… I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I had a liaison with another woman. I was painfully honest with my family and I asked my wife’s forgiveness. I have been stripped bare….”

– John Edwards, August, 2008

“I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. There is no one else responsible for my sins. I am responsible…. I don’t think God is through with me. I really believe he thinks there are still some good things I can do, and whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward, what I’m hopeful about is all those kids I’ve seen…in the poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places in the world that I can help them in whatever way I’m still capable of helping them.

– John Edwards, May 2012

In the summer of 2008 I departed from the lectionary to preach a sermon series on David. That was the summer the scandal involving then presidential candidate John Edwards broke. The David story is among the readings for this summer’s lectionary cycle, coinciding with the news of Edwards’ trial that filled North Carolina media.

Like it or not, I wonder how to read one story in the light of the other. Do we pass off Edwards as just another politician doing religious things? Do his emotional confessions stem from political expediency or from refiner’s fire? Are they expressions of hand-in-the-cookie-jar panic or scalpel-in-the-heart contrition? And if we hear John Edwards’ words with nothing but suspicion, can we hear the David story with anything other than the hermeneutic of suspicion? Read more

The Shepherd Who Feeds Us

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is striking beauty in the appointed texts for this weekend.

And there are shepherds.

And the shepherds are beautiful.

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jer. 23:4).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

. . . and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk. 6:34b)

The lesson from Ephesians does not mention shepherds but its images and metaphors are equally beautiful, and shepherd-like:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)

When one reads these four lessons together, going back and forth among them, savoring their beauty, noting their obvious (and not so obvious) connections, it is difficult to reconcile the vision they cast of the shalom of God with much of what constitutes ecclesial life in our time. Especially in this season of denominational gatherings in which the worst of ourselves, individually and corporately, is often on display: the petty bickering; the refusal to really listen to each other; the lack of charity and humility in our dealings with those we disagree with.  Read more

Our Weak God

From a recent sermon preached by EP endorser Matt Morin, in keeping with our Slow Church theme . . . .

Mark 6:1-13; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Milwaukee Mennonite Church
July 8, 2012

The scene in today’s gospel passage begins with Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. According to Mark, this is not the first time that Jesus has attempted to teach in the synagogue. In Mark 1, Jesus does so, but his teaching is interrupted by a demonic spirit. In Mark 3, Jesus’s actions in the synagogue anger some of his rivals, who in turn begin plotting ways to kill him. And, as you just heard in today’s scripture reading, Jesus’s third attempt to teach in the synagogue is met with scorn by members of his own hometown.

So, three times, Jesus enters the synagogue to teach, and three times, he is met with some resistance or rejection: first from evil spirits, then from his political adversaries, and finally from his own people.

It is clear, then, that the synagogue is not going to be the site where the good news is received and shared. In fact, this is the final time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus will enter a synagogue at all. Following this final rejection, he begins a new strategy for sharing the good news.

We’ll take a closer look at that strategy in a moment, but first let us give greater attention to the rejection Jesus experienced in Nazareth. “Where did this man get all this,” the people ask in verse two. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Isn’t this the carpenter? And they took offense at him.”

It is odd that the people would reject Jesus because he spoke with wisdom and worked deeds of power. We would understand if the passage said, “What is this man blabbering about? Why is he going on and on about nothing? He hasn’t done anything, he hasn’t said anything…. BOORRRING.”

To read the rest click here.

The Banquets of Two Kingdoms

Proper 10 (B)

Mark 6:14-29

Psalm 85:8-13

This is what repentance is about.  It is a call to renewal—turning from the fallen, petty kingdoms East of Eden to the love, peace, and abundance of the Kingdom of God.  This is a reality that we can begin to live into now, but to do so we must switch our allegiances and become members of another kingdom—the Kingdom of Life against the Empire of Death.

Read more

Amazing Jesus

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
Mark 6: 1-13

Things move quickly in the gospel of Mark. There is hardly enough time to even grab a bite to eat (3:20, 6:31). Reading from Mark now, with its piling up of events one upon the other, is perhaps counter-intuitive to our summer in the Northern Hemisphere when we try to slow our lives down to take advantage of the (hopefully) more pleasant weather. Read more

Rethinking “Rethink Church”

“You have to include the story of Christ for being in a Christian community to result in any kind of personal conversion into Christian discipleship. Church has to be more than just “making a difference” and “finding a place where you fit.” When you make church inoffensive by cutting out the story of Jesus that makes church what is, you have also made church uncompelling as a result.”

Morgan Guyton, Rethinking “Rethink Church”.

The Anguish of Imperfect Communion

by Julia Smucker

For about the past five years, I have been a participant in the Mennonite/Catholic ecumenical movement known as Bridgefolk – first as a Mennonite drawn toward communion with the Catholic Church but also strongly connected to my ecclesial heritage, and now as a Catholic seeking to maintain that connection with the church that formed me.  I had agonized over the choice I was presented with in the unavoidable reality that joining with one communion would mean breaking with another, and wondered whether I could do so without it being tantamount to a rejection, a cutting off of my roots.  And then I discovered a group of people who had been agonizing over this division for years before me.  In the many honest and in-depth discussions I’ve been a part of since, it’s been clear that these people who are doing their best to bridge two Christian traditions share a deep longing for a fuller communion than we are as yet able to have, as well as an acute awareness that what we long for cannot be attained quickly or easily.  Read more.

The Encounter More Than the Cure

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24 OR 2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
Psalm 30 OR Psalm 130
2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15
Mark 5:21-43

Last year, the British Humanist Association (which lately has become, among other things, a cheer squad for Richard Dawkins) began an ad campaign on city buses in UK with signs declaring, “There probably is no God, so relax and enjoy your life.” This led, as the BHA no doubt intended, to a torrent of unhelpful comments from an array of sources – pro, con, and otherwise – claiming to have special insight on the matter. One observation, however, stuck with me: namely that signs about relaxing and enjoying one’s life were somewhat more persuasive on a bus in London, the wealthy capital of a military-industrial nation state, than they might be on a bus in the slums of Calcutta or Port au Prince.

Vic Chesnutt, the late singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia, made a much more interesting atheist than Dawkins or his BHA public relations team ever will. Read more