Rejoice! Our Work Has Just Begun!

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43
Ps 118
Col 3:1-4 OR 1 Cor 5:6-8 OR 1 Cor 15:19-26
Jn 20:1-9
OR Lk 24:1-12

We didn’t expect this. No matter how many times we’re told the story, we never do. Like Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, most of us shout to the world through our attitudes and actions – if not necessarily with words – that, “I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” Read more

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Palm Sunday

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

These celebratory words plunge us into Palm Sunday pageantry: greens waving, draped cloaks, children processing, and hosannas resounding. Six weeks into Lent, we may be looking for an escape. We hear the cry, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and we catch a brief glimpse of Jesus as coming king. Finally there is light in the darkness!

The crowds that gathered some 2000 years ago are also relieved; it’s not simply six weeks from which they seek reprieve, but a lifetime (and an ancestry) of heaviness, oppression and fragility. At last Jesus will take hold of Jerusalem! Maybe even a wisp of smugness laces the festivities; finally the powers that reign are going to be put in their place. “That will show those Roman occupiers who our God really is!”

Mixed with our anticipation, we also are prone to gather with a waft of conceit. Read more

“The regime…was just demolished…by…tears.”

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3: 4-14
John 8: 1-11

Lent is a difficult season to live into. 40 days contemplating our frail and fragile condition, giving sadness and heaviness room to breathe. This is particularly true in a culture that values positivity like it were gold. Which leaves little room for tears. Crying is for girls, or babies, not for people who are trying to keep it all together. Yet this week’s psalm is all weepy and emotional.

The psalmist apparently has no regard for good manners or propriety. Psalm 126 reads like the interior of a manic person.

Laughing, shouting, crying, shouting, weeping, shouts of joy.

None of it is ignored, all of the emotions are part of the song, all honored. The psalm cares nothing for the safe center of the emotional spectrum. It does not say: “First we were all a little bummed, but then we felt pretty good.” No. Instead it says: “First we were drenched in tears, then we were shouting for joy.” Read more

Difficult Freedom

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

With regard to last week’s readings, Jim McCoy began in meditation on William Stringfellow’s description of the freedom of the church… “you are freer than you think.” During Lent, worship in our congregation recalls repeatedly Jesus’ temptation in the desert, which echoes the Exodus from Egypt and the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Prior to the gospel reading, we sing “forty days and forty nights/thou was fasting in the wild/forty days and forty nights/tempted, and yet undefiled….” If the dramatic event of liberation from the tyrannical Pharaoh speaks to us clearly of what we are freed from, the desert experience is key to learning what we are freed for. Read more

A Cheer for an Invisible Parade

Third Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 55:1-13
I Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

It is worse than you think it is and you are freer than you think you are. The powers are raging beyond your control and they are already overcome in Christ. The division is an uncrossable spiritual chasm and it’s been crossed.
– William Stringfellow

The Church in America is fragmented and in disarray, laments Fleming Rutledge. The impasse of different factions is symptomatic of “a perilous state of affairs” (And God Spoke to Abraham). Rutledge’s emergency room prescription? Six months of intensive preaching, teaching and small group study of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). This “unknown prophet of the exile” tells the whole glorious Story of God which alone can save the Church from itself.

It’s not hard to see why this portion of Scripture speaks to our day. The prophet writes out of exile, having lost even the filters that keep one from facing how urgent the situation really is,”Down here with the savages,in a world of freed Barabbases,/Where nuns carry guns to protect themselves from rape”(Pierce Pettis). Read more

A Healing Word

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

 

Revised Common Lectionary:                                  Lectionary for Mass:
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                                                Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27                                                                       Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1                                                   Philippians 3:17-4:1 (or 3:20-4:1)
Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36                               Luke 9:28-36

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1

The gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Lent differs significantly for Protestants and Catholics. The Revised Common Lectionary appoints four pithy verses from Luke 13 which reveal a rather astonishing range of reactions in Jesus as he reckons with both his imperial pursuers and his faithless kinsmen.

To Rome’s proxy ruler, Herod, he sends a message of combative confidence (“go and tell that fox for me . . .”). To Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he speaks with surprising, maternal tenderness:

“How often have I desired to gather you children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings . . . “

The fox and the hen. Herod the stealthy predator; Jesus the protective mother.  Power versus vulnerability. And we know where this confrontation is headed . . . . Read more

Saying “Yes” and Saying “No”

First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4: 1-13

I was ordained over 30 years ago by a small, rural Texas Baptist church who had called me as their new young pastor a couple of months before. I invited to preach my ordination service a retired preacher whom I knew from my college church. He was in his mid-80’s, gentle and kind, as attentive to others as anyone I’d ever known, had a deep prayer life, and rumor had it that he had memorized the entire King James Bible. He preached a fine sermon on loving God, loving the Bible, and loving God’s people. After the service, of course, we all joined in a country church dinner on the grounds of which legends are made. Soon thereafter, I escorted the old preacher to his car. He laid his Bible on the roof of the car as he opened the door and turned to me, “There are two more things you need to know about being a pastor. You’ll need to learn to say ‘No!’ and ‘Hell no!’” With that parting word he got in his car and drove away. Read more

Uncover Your Face

Last Epiphany, Year C

Exodus 34:29-35
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

One of my favorite passages in contemporary literature comes toward the end of Rick Moody’s The Black Veil.  The book is a memoir that explores a family myth that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s parable “The Minister’s Black Veil” was inspired by one of Moody’s ancestors, a guilt ridden puritan minister.  To understand the power of the black veil Moody wears one, and then riffs for pages on the power of the veil and its color.  Read more

Rejoice in the Truth

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1: 4-10
I Corinthians 13
Luke 4: 21-30

There has been a big build up to this Sunday – four weeks of waiting for the birth of Jesus, two weeks celebrating it, marking the Epiphany with the magi and the baptism of Jesus, the performance of Jesus’ first miracle of water turned to wine and finally his reading from the scroll of Isaiah in his home congregation to announce the arrival of God’s jubilee and of God’s Messiah. All eyes are on him now as he launches into his ministry. We have this Sunday only to contemplate what Jesus is up to in this part of his ministry before we leap ahead five chapters and a few years to the Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday and the preparation of Lent for the Paschal and Resurrection. This year, the season of Epiphany is about as short as it can get.

Much as a small section of a hologram contains all that is in the whole, we have such rich texts this coming Sunday that there is enough, more than enough, for our contemplation. Read more