We’ve become all too familiar with disasters and the whole genre of reporting them (is there a disaster TV cable channel yet?). The reporter, looking like some alien that dropped from the sky, surrounded by a landscape of devastation. There are the stories about hope, the stories about good neighbors, the stories about this or that agency not doing enough, and then there seems to always be the guy who didn’t see it coming. The “I was just going to wait it out” kind of guy. You have to wonder about those people—every siren is going off, the new channels shriller than ever, big winds sweeping through and yet they decide to just sit there until the flood waters come in and they swim through their front door. They just can’t believe that the way things were is all going away. Read more
The Reign of Christ
Grace to you
and peace from him
who is and who was and who is to come…
The most frequent command of the Bible is “to be not afraid!” It is the first thing Angels say when they arrive with the divine, demanding messages they have been charged to deliver. Joseph says it to his brothers in forgiving them, Moses says it to the Israelites, God says it to Joshua and numerous times to Jeremiah, Isaiah sings to God that he will not be afraid. Jesus says it the most – to his disciples and to those he heals.
I remember once making this claim to a group of youth I was training (a more accurate translation of the Greek word didache, one of the ancient marks of the church, than “teaching”). One of them looked at me incredulously and wondered, honestly, if that was even possible. I stumbled a bit in my reply. The texts for today, the final Sunday in the Christian year, offer a more succinct answer to Annie’s question (who has now, by the way, grown into a rather fearless young woman). Read more
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
It’s November, the closing weeks of the liturgical year, when those in the northern hemisphere see what had recently appeared so green and full of life now wither and die. We see signs in the trees and know that winter is near.
For those in the United States, it is also post-election season. Despite the predictable posturing of winners and losers alongside quadrennial promises of pragmatic cooperation and “reaching across the aisle,” it’s difficult to find real joy in the just concluded, nearly two-year electoral process that left many feeling like a James Bond martini. I, for one, found little to be stirred by in the ugly accusations and dire predictions that now pass of campaigning.
As grace would have it, our readings take a seasonally appropriate turn, looking beyond “current events,” reminding us that what appears deadly serious now will, soon enough, be revealed as inconsequential. For Christians, this so-called eschatological turn can be difficult to negotiate, and scripture’s use of apocalyptic language – unveiling hidden realities through frightening images and strange events – worsens our collective vertigo. Read more
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Christian history teaches us many lessons, chief among them that the church has an on-again, off-again relationship with economic justice and the prophetic proclamation of Jubilee. The church does justice in fits and starts, it seems. We started off particularly strong, with the Messiah coming onto the scene and announcing the Reign of God, a world-order marked by mutual self-giving and a reversal of first-century patronage politics. But lest I be called a naïve restorationist with a rose-colored rearview mirror, it should be noted that even the glory days of economic justice and mercy showcased in the Gospels and Acts were apparently short-lived, or at the least not universal to all churches throughout the empire (cf. 1 Cor 11:22; Philemon). With the forward march of history and the diversification of the churches came a certain forgetfulness with regard to the politics, economics, and faithful concern that is, at a foundational level, wrapped up in the confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Read more
“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1) To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
2) To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
3) To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
-John Wesley, October 6, 1774
On most Christian calendars, this Sunday is the 23rd after Pentecost. Those with longer historical roots may also mark November 4 as All Saint’s Sunday. I suspect, however, in many a preacher and parishioner’s mind these are overshadowed by the calendar that proclaims this as the Sunday before the American quadrennial election. One more public opportunity to remind parishioners of their citizenship duties, however one defines that. One more sermon exhorting the faithful to choose the correct boxes on the ballot, however one defines that. One more intercession as a congregation for the politicians and policies that will be crowned victors, however one defines that.
And there is a lot of debate in Christian circles about how one should define citizenship duties, who is the right candidate, and how to pray for national politics and politicians. Some, like Miroslav Volf in Values of a Public Faith, set forth conversation starters; others argue partisan politics with a vengeance. Even those of us outside the USA recognize that these election results will have worldwide impact for years to come. So the political headlines of the day hang heavy on hearts and minds as we turn to the texts and allow God to address us through these ancient words made alive today. Read more
Jeremiah offers a compelling vision: the people together, a great company, coming home. But the picture is all wrong. They seem to be marching triumphantly like a military party coming back from war. They move along the banks of the water in plain sight. But this is no army. This is a bunch of worn down and broken nobodies. And they seem to know it.
They walk back home through a curtain of tears. Forget those translations that say they come home with “tears of joy” (Jeremiah 31:9, CEB, NLT). The text does not say that. It simply says that they were weeping. Read more
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“What house is it to which the Bible is the door? What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?”
The Lord God Almighty through the prophet Amos: “Seek me and live…. Seek the Lord and live…. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.”
Now what? Read more
The origins of this Protestant observance reveal the best of intentions. But for at least three reasons, continuing to set aside the first Sunday in October to highlight the Church’s signature rite is not a good idea.
One: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year communicates the idea that the Eucharist is special. But if Holy Communion really is the Church’s signature rite, if it is indeed that which makes the Church what it is, then “special” is exactly what it is not. We don’t think of the air we breathe as “special,” the breakfast we eat as “special.” These things are gifts, of course–breath and food–but it is in their givenness, their ordinariness that they are the means for life and health.
In Clyde, Missouri, the Benedictine Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration cut unleavened bread
into communion wafers and gather them
in plastic bags folded, stapled, and later packed
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Years ago in a cartoon in the Houston Chronicle, in the first frame was a man, obviously an American middle-class male, standing next to his car, saying to it, “Because of you, the air is foul. The globe is warming.” In the next frame, the man is pumping gas into the car saying, “Because of you I’m entangled in the affairs of countries that cause me headaches.” Next frame, while he is slumped in his seat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Because of you our central cities are empty and I waste half my life in traffic to the burbs.” Next frame, kids are getting in and out of the car, “Because of you my family is one big frantic snarl of hectic schedules.” Next frame, while holding his paunch with littered paper cups and french-fry containers around him, “And because of you I’m an obese drive-thru addict, a coronary just waiting to happen.” In the last frame, the man is hugging his car, “What would I do without you?” Read more