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The Unknowable Shape of Things to Come


Is 53:4-12; Heb 4:14-16 (Catholic), 5:1-10 (Revised Common); Mark 10:35-45

Do we ever truly know what we’re getting into? If young couples truly knew what pledges of lifelong fidelity require, would anyone marry? If humans truly knew what children demand of parents, would the species continue? If any of us truly knew how often grief is the final evidence of earthly love, would anyone choose to love?

Zebedee’s boys have no idea what they’re asking. Not that they weren’t warned. The verses immediately preceding today’s gospel are another prediction of Jesus suffering and death in Jerusalem. James and John must not have been paying attention. Perhaps they were thinking of the view from either side of the throne of glory.

By the shape of our lives, most of us make plain we prefer arriving at Easter without first negotiating Good Friday. Many of us imagine that, if we lived in another time, we’d help fleeing slaves along the Underground Railroad or hide Jews and gypsies from Nazi thugs. Nearly all of us imagine our good intentions are discernible, if not to others, then at least to God. Read more

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Thanks, but No Thanks


Job 23: 1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22: 1-15; Hebrews 4: 12-16; Mark 10: 17-31

Around our church some of us have undertaken the simple task of teaching our children basic manners, especially things like speaking clearly, looking a person in the eye, standing straight, and shaking hands with a good firm grip. One 9-year-old boy, who came to church when he was four from an abusive home, used to hide under the chairs when you talked to him and the only way he showed any affection was to come up and hit. We’ve worked with him, been very patient and loving, and we’ve taken the time to give him these basic lessons about social interaction. It has been good to watch him practice these lessons and grow and change.

Good posture, firm handshakes, head held high and eye contact – this is the way we carry ourselves; it is our exterior and physical demeanor. It is an indication of what is going on in our souls.

It shows up in this week’s Gospel reading. Read more

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Some Pastoral Reflections on Planning (and Its Opposite)

Some Christians are reluctant to talk about the future. While there may be ‘biblical’ reasons for it, that reluctance can have a destructive effect on our life together in Christ as the Church.

Whether it is the cumulative effect of misreading numerous Scriptures or an over-reaction to those who plan in arrogance and rigidity, the simple fact is that planning is an important part of all sustained work. Too many read Jesus’ words “..do not be anxious about tomorrow” as “anti-planning” Scriptures, when Jesus was simply teaching that in God’s kingdom we can trust in God’s ultimate provision. Or, anti-planners like to reference James 4:13-17, which is more a cautionary note for those who trust in their wealth and their ability to produce wealth. Read more

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Visceral Responses


Genesis 2: 18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11 (Catholic); Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 (Revised Common); Mark 10:2-16

Texts like these that make me grateful I’m a pediatrician and not a preacher. Given the diversity of understandings and practices among Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox regarding marriage and remarriage after divorce, and the contemporary fault lines around which these and other marriage-related battles are fought, it’s dangerous to speak before anything but a homogenous congregation. As it happens, the Catholic and Revised Common lectionaries both select from the Letter to the Hebrews for the second reading this Sunday, but the verses barely overlap, so the safe road is out, too.

So, let me make one brief observation and go. The image used for marriage in Genesis and Mark is literally visceral: “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” This language is reserved for the most intimate and important relationships in the Bible: David to the tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3), Christ to humanity (John 1:14), and Christ to those gathered as the Church (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Colossians 3:14-15). This is not the language of a contractual relationship between rights-bearing individuals that the nation-state regulates as part of its interest in property and – rather farther down its list of concerns – child welfare. Read more

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The Koinonia Story in a Nutshell

Thanks to Church of the Servant King in Eugene, Oregon Koinonia Farm Director Bren Dubay and Ekklesia Project Director Brent Laytham met during Pentecost 2008. Bren was visiting the folks in Eugene to learn how another community shares life together. Brent was there as a guest speaker celebrating the birth of the church with Church of the Servant King. Inspired by Brent’s teaching, Bren promised she’d attend the 2008 Gathering. This led to her coming back in 2009 and co-presenting a workshop, “Doing Business for the Kingdom or the Empire,” with Chi-Ming Chien of Dayspring Technologies.

Many of those involved in the Ekklesia Project know of Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan. Clarence, his wife Florence and their friends Mabel and Martin England founded Koinonia (Greek for loving community) in 1942. Inspired by the Book of Acts, they wanted to live in an intentional Christian community and live out their deeply held beliefs drawn from Jesus’ teachings: peacemaking, radical sharing, and brother/ sisterhood among all people. Read more

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Loving Enemies: A Training Program


Numbers 11: (4-6, 10-16) 24-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6 (Catholic); 5:13-20 (Revised Common); Mark 9:38-50

“Even heretics love God, and burn
convinced that He will love them, too.
Whatever choice, I think that they have failed

to err sufficiently to witness less
than appalling welcome when – just beyond
the sear of that ecstatic blush – they turn.”

– Scott Cairns

My enemy has a portion of the truth. A portion I need. My enemy may have deformed that partial truth into an absolute (Heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “to choose,” is an absolutized partial truth, no longer according to the whole.), but its core remains true. That’s one reason why Christians must love, rather than kill, enemies.

History, of course, demonstrates how difficult the injunction to love one’s enemies is, especially for Christians. Perhaps that’s why we’re assigned less challenging tasks as practice. Perhaps that’s why we rehearse lesser challenges in liturgy. We listen and reflect on the Word (not just the parts that please us), extend signs of peace to those who worship with us (most of whom won’t be on the guest list of our next – or any – house party), and become one Body (understood variously in different traditions) in the breaking of the bread. Read more

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Kids in Church


Mark 9:30-37
(Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Images of Jesus embracing cherub-faced children have been irresistible throughout the centuries. Sentimental art within the last hundred years or so has given us the “sweet Victorian Nanny Jesus” (Philip Yancey’s memorable description), patting boys and girls on the head, admonishing them, one supposes, to eat all their vegetables and be nice to mummy.

It’s hard to set aside such treacly visuals when we hear Mark say, “Then he took a little child and put it among them, and taking it in his arms . . . “ It’s hard not to wax a little sentimental about Jesus, children, the church, and Christianity itself.

The observant preacher, however, will recognize that this week’s passage from Mark’s gospel is not really about children. It’s about misidentified power; it’s about an upside-down kingdom; it’s about the scandal of the cross and the way of discipleship. Read more

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Setting Nature on Fire


James 3:1-12

As a young person growing up in the evangelical church I remember always considering James to be my favorite book of the Bible. In reflecting back on why I found it so important at the time I think what drew me to James was the sort of clarity I seemed to find there. It is certainly no accident that this passage is paired in the lectionary readings with the Proverbs. Among all the books of the New Testament there is a sort of practicality to James—strong vestiges of the Hebrew Wisdom tradition.

Because of this sort of practical approachability James has long been a field ripe for memory verses and nice practical sermons. James’s statements about the tongue have been a particular source of this sort of hortative guidance for many of us. In my days in youth groups and the like it was trotted out regularly to make clear to us younglings why cussing was inexcusable for Christians. Read more

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The Kingdom’s Gatekeepers

James 2:1-10, 11-17; Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Ouch. James must have been visiting churches in North America, where in addition to race, the other great divider on Sunday morning is class. He upbraids the congregation for gatekeeping by the way they treat visitors at their worship services. They give preferential treatment to rich visitors and fling spiritual platitudes toward poor visitors. “We’ll pray for you,” we good Christians say, without much regard to which of their physical needs we can meet.

After working last fall in a small village in the West Bank, I became friends with a Melkite Palestinian priest there. I was surprised to discover he held many of the convictions shared by we Ekklesia Project folk: beliefs that liturgy forms us, that liturgy should take us outside the four walls of the church, that we ought to stand in solidarity with the poor.

He once expressed his skepticism of the church hierarchy. He said, “I do not like the Bishops in general because they do not daily meet with the poor. They see the world secretly from behind dark glass.” Read more

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Preparing for the Gift

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A good farmer is one who knows what he can do and what he can’t. He can work the soil, build compost, mulch, but the growth of healthy plants is always at the mercy of conditions beyond him—the right amount of rain, the right weather at planting time, the right conditions at the harvest. The good farmer knows that a healthy crop is always both the product of hard work and a gift beyond any system of exchange.

We are brought to this paradox of gift and work by the lectionary readings for this Sunday as we wrestle with our relationship with God, the Law, and our hearts. Read more