Jesus and John the Baptist

Again!

Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

1.
I’ve learned from spending time with little kids that they are universally into repetition. How many times in a row have you played the “so-big” game? Read a book straight through only to be met with demands for an immediate encore…or three? Or watched a favorite TV episode or movie on loop?

There’s good reason – repetition helps kids learn and facilitates brain development. Repetition and routine also provide comfort and stability, bonding children with parents, teachers and other adults who love and care for them.

2.
After spending time with the epistle lesson, I’ve also come to see repetition as a means of grace. Reminders about “the reason for the season” are sorely needed when things like blackfridaydeathcount.com have cause to exist. Read more

Hickory Tree

End Times

First Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.

From Mark Strand’s “The Seven Last Words”

Christianity makes the brazen claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the end of history, and the double-entendre is deliberate.

On the one hand, the consummation that Christ’s resurrection makes possible cannot be an event in history, enclosed by history, any more than creation can be an event enfolded in time. On the other hand, the life, death, and resurrection of this first-century crucified Jew is the telos, the goal, the realized hope of all human (and non-human) existence. Jesus of Nazareth is history’s end.

In other words, the crucified and risen Christ not only completes history but ruptures it. Precisely in and through the historical contingencies of first-century Palestine—this specific set of laws and customs, that particular Roman procurator—the future, God’s good future, begins. In a backwater province of Empire, the truth of the triune God breaks history open not through political coercion or insurrection but with a revolution of forgiving, reconciling love. As John Howard Yoder put it:

The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think—true as that is . . . It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. Read more

clown

King/Fool

Christ the King

2 Samuel 5:1-3 OR Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I spent three years and a lot of money at a good divinity school so I could fit theology into a system. I read a lot of books by dead white guys who tried to accomplish the same project. What is the system that makes sense of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

This Sunday we recognize Christ as king. It is the end of the church year, bringing our story from Advent through Easter and all that ordinary time to a close. But there is nothing about the image of Christ as king that settles my stomach or makes sense of my expectations. Nothing about this coronation service feels like closure or victory.

If Jesus is a king, then his followers are fools. He has no army, no political alliances, no worldly power, no throne, no heir, his bloodline is marred with controversy. It is all wrong. Read more

rope

What is the Good News Anyway?

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19

Years ago I heard Walter Brueggemann say that the task of the church is to always proclaim the vision and vocation of God’s reign. Always. But at the same time always be patient with one another as we fail to live up to that vision and vocation. Always.

Keeping that tension is part of the task of the pastor. Read more

resurrection

To Sweet Impossible Blossom

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 20:27-38

“Indeed they cannot die anymore… being children of the resurrection.”

It is these words of Jesus that cause my soul to catch; these my worn heart snags on.

In the gospel text this week, the Sadducees come with a theoretical question concerning a resurrection they don’t believe in. Jesus knows their unbelief. Perhaps he knows he also won’t convince them, even appealing to the Torah, as he does. But he still answers the question.

They’ve come up with the perfect quandary for Jesus. A woman marries seven brothers, gives not one of them a child to carry his name and tether her to him. In the resurrection, whose will she be?

It occurs to me that because of their denial of the resurrection they’re asking about, they mean their question to be purely a matter of theory. It does seem a little absurd, this poor woman meeting the same tragedy seven times.

But in reading their question, I feel like I know her. Read more

Folger Library

To Feel as Christians

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

“I am consumed by anger, because my enemies forget your words.” (Ps 119:139)

“But for those who freely serve you, for them, you are their joy. And this is the happy life, this alone, to rejoice in you, from you, through you.” (Augustine, Confessions)

The Christian life goes hand and hand with a peculiar palette of emotions. At times I’ve reflected that to be welcomed into Christian community–to realize that these defining convictions have become one’s own—is the prelude to (and condition for) feelings of anger and even a sense of alienation or being a stranger among one’s own. Read more

Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_200

Why I Need the Terrible Judgment of God

 

Proper 25: Year C

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; Luke 18:9-14; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

I knew what I was supposed to say. I was supposed to say, “Sure. Of course I will meet to work out our difficulties, listen to his complaints.” But the words stuck in my throat. You see, I knew that I was more in the right than he. In truth, I couldn’t see how I had done anything worthy of this person’s mean and petty actions. A mutual friend was offering to mediate between us. In our phone conversation, she noted how the other party felt hurt, needed to be cared for, experienced abandonment, etc. The friend insisted that this other person had gifts to offer and had to be set free to do so. Internally, I balked. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself. I have been kicked around publicly and privately; I am not the one in the wrong here. I don’t want to care; I want them to acknowledge my pain, not attend to theirs. And to be honest, I don’t want to accept their offerings of talent or resources for the community, not until they act like a grown-up, own up to their faults, and stop hurting others.

When I am obviously in the wrong – for example, I blow a gasket in anger at my children or husband – I feel ashamed. Crippling shame presents its own unique challenge for being in communion with others. But while I profess forgiveness of enemies and want to participate in the ministry of reconciliation with those who have wronged me, in this case I slammed up against not my sense of shame but rather my sense of honest justice. I want to be seen as the one who has been mistreated; particularly if their violence toward me has been public, I crave judgment of the others’ actions. Read more

240px-Arctic_from_low_orbiting_satellite_Suomi_NPP

Recreating Eaarth

Proper 24: Year C

Jeremiah 31:27-34

“There is…no inconsistency between creation and salvation”–so says St. Athanasius, the 4th Century Bishop of Alexandria.  Athanasius was trying to articulate how it was that God could become incarnate in human flesh–a mind boggling reality as much in our day as it was in his.  For him, the turning of the human will against God had not only resulted in a loss of communion, but also a kind of de-creation.  As Athanasius put it, “Man who was created in God’s image…was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone.” Christ, being God’s Word present and active in creation from the beginning, had to come in human form so that he could re-create the world and show humankind how to be human in the face of the “dehumanizing of mankind.”

I thought of Athanasius, of the mixing of creation and salvation, when I read Jeremiah 31:27-34 in our lectionary for this Sunday.  Here we have the people of God, Judah and Israel, very much in a state of de-creation–broken down, overthrown, destroyed.  But against this, God is promising that the “days are surely coming…when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals.”  This seed isn’t for the same kind of humanity, the kind that turned and turned again against the grain of the universe.  Instead this new humanity, saved and recreated, will have the laws of God on their heart–the ways of acting rightly in the world will be a part of their very nature. Read more

symmetry

Broken Symmetry

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twentt-First Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Luke 17:11-19

The real trouble with this world of ours, says G. K. Chesterton, is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. “It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.”

Chesterton imagines that if a mathematical creature from outer space saw a human body, he would at once assume that the human body is a duplicate. That is, a person is really two people: the one on the right resembling exactly the one on the left. An arm on the right, one on the left; a leg on the right and a leg on the left; the same number of fingers at the end of each arm, the same number of toes. Twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, even twin lobes of the brain.

So when the creature found a heart on one side, he would obviously deduce that there was a heart on the other side. And just when the visitor thought he was most right, says Chesterton, he would be most wrong. Chesterton calls it “this silent swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything” (Orthodoxy, p. 81). Read more

singing

How Do You Sing the Lord’s Song?

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

Funny enough – there ain’t a whole lot of communing going on in the scriptures provided for World Communion Sunday.

Exiled from the Promised Land, the people of Israel are inconsolable and vengeful. (Make sure you read that last line in Psalm 137. Read it again. You got it – they want somebody to enjoy bashing baby heads into rocks). Her streets empty of God’s people, Jerusalem also suffers, mourning and shedding tears (Lamentations). Separated from each other, holy people and place are incapable of singing the Lord’s Song.

Yet, World Communion Sunday sounds so nice. I have thoughts of happy people at church standing in a big circle holding hands, singing together, sharing Eucharist and a tasty potluck, earnestly wishing God’s peace and goodwill to fellow hand-holding, encircled singers around the globe. Read more