Look, I See the Heavens Opened

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

 One way of reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is to understand it as a story about theological imagination, and how it is we come to envision the world rightly.

At the center of this story is a nameless child who, being rather remarkable in her imaginative capacities, manages to see beyond the ordinary around her to a world shot through with importance and the work of the Spirit.

In one particularly poignant passage, she’s considering freaks in the freak-show at the fair, and understands them to be martyrs, supposing that what the adult tents contain must be about medicine. She decides she’ll be a doctor, but then reconsiders, thinking she’ll be a saint, but even that doesn’t fit, for she knows her sins. As the story goes,

“She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick. She could stand to be shot but not to be burned in oil. She didn’t know if she could stand to be torn to pieces by lions or not. She began to prepare her martyrdom, seeing herself in a pair of tights in a great arena, lit by the early Christians hanging in cages of fire, making a gold dusty light that fell on her and the lions. The first lion charged forward and fell at her feet, converted. A whole series of lions did the same. The lions liked her so much she even slept with them and finally the Romans were obliged to burn her but to their astonishment she would not burn down and finding she was hard to kill, they finally cut off her head very quickly with a sword and she went immediately to heaven. She rehearsed this several times, returning each time at the entrance of Paradise to the lions.”[1]

This kind of imaginative vision stretches beyond herself to the world around her. Where some see freaks, she sees temples of the Holy Ghost. Read more

Hope for the World

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:24-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

I suspect there will be a lot of sermons this Sunday about sheep. John 10 is the locus of a lot the New Testament’s of sheep imagery. I am basically an urban and suburban person. I’ve little direct experience of sheep. I have a lot of direct experience of sermons that aim to teach me a lot about sheep from people who have no more agricultural experience than I do. I have seen a rabbit herd sheep on YouTube. I’ve had rabbits as pets. Their brains cannot be much bigger than an olive. Instead of focusing on the habits of sheep, I think our attention might be better directed elsewhere. Read more

A Chain of Resurrections

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-42
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Years after he had read Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, C. S. Lewis saw the film version. Lewis’ most vivid memory from the book was a scene near the end in which the heroes were entombed in an underground rock chamber, surrounded by mummified kings, and slowly starving to death. The movie director didn’t think that would play well on the screen, so at that point in the film, a subterranean volcano erupted, followed by an earthquake.

If the intent was sheer excitement, Lewis reasoned, the film version was perfectly understandable. However, what Lewis missed in the movie was “the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death) – the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptered, dead…The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination, the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves” (“On Stories”).

It’s a valid question to ask whether Easter has converted our imagination or merely fluttered our nerves. Read more

Bodily Presence

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

The collect (opening prayer) in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter declares:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect’s focus on the believer’s (those who have been reborn) participation in Christ’s body through their own lived experience and action is readily apparent in all three readings for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Read more

Wendell Berry and the Given Life

“[Wendell Berry’s] work reminds us, then, that our faith must be embodied, that it must go to work in local, loving economies that strive to honor the immeasurable gift of life.”

Ragan Sutterfield is an Ekklesia Project endorser and former Gathering planner. Christianity Today’s review of his book on Wendell Berry is our current Signs of the Times article. You may read it here. 

 

 

The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more

A Fickle Popularity


Palm/Passion Sunday

Psalm 118
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Among the more difficult aspects of adolescence is that so much hinges on that most elusive and most fickle of realities—the esteem of their peers. While obtaining that coveted commodity – admiration from one’s classmates – is difficult, holding on to it seems nearly impossible.

As I think back on my own time in high school, I can remember hearing—and sometimes voicing—the common complaint that the teenage experience felt like a cutthroat popularity contest. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising or disappointing to wake up and find, decades later, that our society, populated by alleged grown-ups, still resembles nothing so much as a popularity contest.

While we would like to buy into the myth of self-assurance and pretend that we are the kind of confident people who don’t care what anyone else thinks, we live in a world that runs on social media “likes,” positive Yelp reviews, blog post clicks, and television ratings. It’s tough not to get swept up in such things, whether you’re a minister scanning attendance records, a professor flipping through class evaluations, or a Facebook user wondering why there aren’t more thumbs-up icons next to your latest witty and/or profound reflection on theology, politics, or televised sports. It’s important, from time to time, that we turn down all of this noise and allow ourselves a reminder of what this anxious striving after popularity and acclaim actually accomplishes, and just how capricious such pursuits can be. Read more

An Astonishing Thing!

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9: 1-41

There were things I learned in my theological studies that really stood out for me, which I don’t have to return to my notes or books to remember. One of those is how 90% of the “you”s in the Bible are plural, referring to either Israel or the church (and the difficulty caused by a language that does not currently distinguish between the plural and singular forms of that pronoun—Canadians don’t have the “you all” found in parts of the United States—in a North American culture that is highly individualistic). Another is that the purpose of the four gospels is to convince the reader(s) of who Jesus is. This is particularly true for the gospel of John, for it is on this—belief that God is revealed in Jesus—that everything hangs. Read more