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Enduring Desire


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Having passed through the devil’s testing in the wilderness in last week’s lectionary text from Luke, Jesus contends next with testing that takes on a decidedly more human and communal face.

Some friendly Pharisees counsel Jesus to get out of Dodge before the menacing Herod devours him. That villain has already imprisoned and executed Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, and even the not-so astute can foresee that Jesus will share a similar fate should he linger within Herod’s jurisdiction. Discretion is the better part of valor, says conventional wisdom. Dodge the threat, and live to preach another day. 

Jesus himself can see that Jerusalem, the axis around which all of Israel and world history revolves, has turned its back on him and that a prophet’s death awaits him should he complete his journey to the center. Self-preservation dictates that he pull up short of the city and ward off the rejection of those who ought most to receive him. Read more

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How Well Do We Let Scripture Claim Us?

Luke 4:1-13

One of the interpretations of this text that I have favored in recent years is that Jesus resisted temptation to do even things that have good results.  If he turns stones into bread, he can feed the hungry people in the whole world.  If he gives his allegiance to the devil, the whole world will belong to Jesus in an instant.  If he jumps from the temple pinnacle, God will perform a flashy miracle, which could show people who Jesus really is.  This interpretation has served me well in the last few years, as I am person who is tempted to commit to or engage in too many things—especially endeavors that will produce good results. Read more

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Unrealistic Stories and Beginning…Again

Transfiguration Sunday (Revised Common Lectionary): Luke 9:28-36, (37-43); Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Catholic Lectionary): Luke 6:17, 20-26

On this Sunday before Lent, when Christian traditions have every reason to be on the same page (the Orthodox, too, begin the Great Lent this coming week) it seems the lectionaries are going in different directions. The Revised Common Lectionary reads Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, while Catholics read Luke’s rendering of the Beatitudes.

Yet these two very different stories – one strangely apocalyptic, the other a pastoral exhortation – both speak to a reality of lived Christianity: the tension between a Kingdom already here and (for all appearances) not yet, between promise and pleroma. Read more

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And Now, Please Rise…

Andy Alexis-Baker at Jesus Radicals calls our attention to a disappointing change in policy at Goshen College. Please consider Andy’s suggested responses in the concluding update.

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On Becoming a Seraph

The sixth chapter of Isaiah concludes the opening section of the book with a vision of God and the calling of a prophet. In the year that King Uzziah died Isaiah is gifted with a vision of God in the Temple. The vision offers relatively few details of God’s appearance. All we are told is that the Lord was sitting on a throne, high and lofty and that the hem of his robe filed the Temple. The understated nature of this vision of God (compared to Revelation 1:12-16 for example), displays the challenge of describing God’s ineffable majesty.

Where Isaiah fails (rightly) to describe God, the text devotes more than three times as much space to God’s attendants, the Seraphs. The Seraphs are six winged angelic beings, likely serpentine in form, who eternally proclaim God’s holiness. Their only appearance in the Bible is here in Isaiah chapter six (although similar angelic attendants appear in Revelation 4:8). As servants of the holy God their other worldly appearance proclaims bodily what they also proclaim with their song; all who follow the triune God are called be holy as he is holy. The amount of space given to the description of the Seraphs should alert us to their importance for the preaching of this text. Read more

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Love and Virtue

I Corinthians 13:1-13

I have never found it easy to move from scripture to theological concepts like virtue when I am teaching. A gap seems to grow up within the flow of my thinking. Kenneth Kirk, a former Anglican bishop of Oxford, noted in a work on the Christian moral life that “from the Bible alone we can choose any one of innumerable different passages or pictures as a groundwork…” He names parts of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the “hymn of love” (1 Cor. 13) as good choices. “Yet it is to be noticed… that Western theology, at all events… has on the whole chosen to base its picture of the Christian ideal not on any one of these scriptural foundations, but upon a pagan classification of virtue.” I find solace in Bishop Kirk’s ability to move beyond this paradox to discuss the cardinal virtues. He does so, however, emphasizing that, though they remain recognizable as the pagan virtues, they also undergo a transformation in Christian usage. Read more

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Let’s Talk About Haiti

 

As I wrote in our monthly newsletter, I’m confident we are already praying for the Haitian church and people “with our hands and feet, our sweat and tears, our time and money.” This way of putting things, and deep wisdom about natural disaster, are found in Debra Dean Murphy’s eloquent blog.

With agrarians like Norman Wirzba and Ragan Sutterfield in our midst, I’ve been mindful that Haiti’s crisis was made over centuries of political and economic injustice, culminating in decades of ecological devastation. Things didn’t first go wrong when the earth shook last week, but in the last few decades as deforestation made the soil slide down the mountains and as the best arable land was expropriated to service foreign debt. For now the earthquake is the crisis of the moment, and we must pray and care with immediacy and focus. But Haiti needs more than triage for a sudden crisis. Let our praying and caring have enough perspective to see the larger ecological and economic problems in Haiti, and enough patience to stay engaged long after the Red Cross has moved to the next emergency.

I suggested Prichard’s article (in the Evangelicals for Social Action newsletter) for some perspective, and because it links to an organization, Plant with Purpose, which has been attending to Haiti’s ecology for quite a while. Endorser Andy Johnson writes that his Sunday School class has been sponsoring a village in Haiti through Florestra, a Christian non-profit which works to reverse deforestation and poverty. So let’s talk about Haiti. Are there other organizations you would recommend to your fellow EPers? Have you a story or a website to share?

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The Word Read

 

Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Not acceptable to me,
not acceptable to us,
not acceptable to others.
Acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.

Because the words may very well, if faithful, make us weep in remembrance of who we have been and who we really are. Because they may at first be sweet as honey, but later bitter to the point of making us want to try to pitch Christ off the nearest cliff.

We have such rich texts to host this week in anticipation of Sunday’s liturgy. In the middle of Nehemiah, which can sometimes read like a campaign for re-election, sits this gem, chapter 8. There has been a great build up, literally, to this point. Nehemiah, made governor of Judah by King Artaxerxes of Persia, has heard of the vulnerability and trouble of those Israelites left behind when the elite and learned of Judah were all carted off to Babylon. Nehemiah’s heart is powerfully moved. He roots out corruption and unites the people in the rebuilding of the wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The culmination of this comes when all the people gather together into the square before the Water Gate. They tell Ezra, priest and scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Now, anticipation builds. The book sits above the people, when it is opened the people stand, the LORD is blessed and worshipped. The book is read from for the entire morning. The words read in Hebrew and interpreted into Aramaic, so the people might understand – something not done in Jerusalem since the exile to Babylon. The people weep. Bittersweet tears? For what they have endured; for the reminder of who they are: Read more

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Peace to God’s People and Earth

Pope Benedict XVI’s World Day of Peace Message for January 1, 2010, was “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” Initially published on December 15 to coincide with the international climate gathering in Copenhagen, this brief reflection builds on a few paragraphs concerning the environment that were included in his social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which was issued last summer.

If you have read Ragan Sutterfield’s EP pamphlet, “God’s Grandeur: The Church in the Economy of Creation,” you may be interested in reading the pope’s statement. While there is not a whole lot that is new in this World Day of Peace Message, its linking of peacemaking and care for the environment is indeed noteworthy, with both stressed as positive moral obligations impingent upon Christians.

In advance of this papal statement, I presented a short reflection on a more theological approach to sustainability, anchored in biblical shalom, at a conference on “Sustainability and the Catholic University” in October 2009 at the University of Notre Dame. There are also other papers at this website, such as one on “Liturgical Cosmology” by Notre Dame’s David Fagerberg, that may be of interest to EPers.

I suspect we can expect to see much more on the topic of theology and the environment in the year ahead.

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The Joy of Not Being in Charge

 

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10;
1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Norman Wirzba, in his book Living the Sabbath, follows the medieval rabbi Rashi in saying that the divine work was not completed in six days, but in seven, and that what remained to be created on the seventh day was menuha: “the rest, tranquility, serenity, and peace of God.” Wirzba writes that God’s rest “when understood within a menuha context, is not simply a cessation from activity but rather the lifting up and celebration of everything. Here we see God…like a parent frolicking with a child and in his joy and play demonstrating and abiding commitment to protect, sustain, encourage, and love into health and maturity the potential latent within the child.” It is this sort of menuha delight and care that is proclaimed in the lectionary this week.

First we have Isaiah, announcing that “The nations shall see your vindication”; “you shall be called a new name”; “you shall be a crown in the hand of your God”; “You shall no more be termed Forsaken”; “but you shall be shall be called My Delight Is in Her.” There is no “we hope” or “we pray” here—the promise is firm “you shall.” Read more