Surprised by Beauty

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21

For those who attended the EP Summer Gathering earlier this month, the occasion provided the opportunity to spend a few days worshiping together, cultivating friendships, and reflecting on the importance of beauty for the church. Throughout the gathering, especially as I listened to Scott Cairns’ plenary talk on Sacramental Poetics, I found myself giving thanks for the people in my life who continually draw my attention to the beauty all around me. Among the many influences who have taught me about beauty and challenged me to grow in my understanding of what is beautiful and true, it should come as no surprise, are the people I share my life with on a daily basis—my wife and my children. In particular, my youngest son, who is five years old, reminds me regularly what it might look to live in a state of wonder at the beauty of the everyday. Read more

Blessing in a Time of Violence

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Which is to say
this blessing
is always.

Which is to say
there is no place
this blessing
does not long
to cry out
in lament,
to weep its words
in sorrow,
to scream its lines
in sacred rage.

Which is to say
there is no day
this blessing ceases
to whisper
into the ear
of the dying,
the despairing,
the terrified.

Which is to say
there is no moment
this blessing refuses
to sing itself
into the heart
of the hated
and the hateful,
the victim
and the victimizer,
with every last
ounce of hope
it has.

Which is to say
there is none that can stop it,
none that can
halt its course,
none that will
still its cadence,
none that will
delay its rising,
none that can keep it
from springing forth
from the mouths of us
who hope,
from the hands of us
who act,
from the hearts of us
who love,
from the feet of us
who will not cease
our stubborn, aching
marching, marching.

until this blessing
has spoken
its final word
until this blessing
has breathed its benediction
in every place
in every tongue:

Peace.
Peace.
Peace.

-from The Cure for Sorrow, by Jan Richardson

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The Naked Emperor and the Foolishness of the Cross

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:14-29

There is a single light in the room, twin giraffes holding up the bulb beneath the shade. My daughters are in bed, their heads appearing from beneath the covers. I sit in an easy chair in the corner and read: “Many years ago, there was an Emperor who was so very fond of new clothes…” This classic tale, captured and known to us through Hans Christian Andersen, is the story of an Emperor who is taken in by con-artists who weave a cloth they say is visible only to the intelligent. No one can see the cloth, of course, because there is no cloth to be seen, but no one will admit it because they buy the lie and do not want to be seen as unworthy. They all keep the illusion going until one day the emperor goes parading naked through the streets, followed by his royal court holding the train of his non-existent new clothes. No one in the city will admit that they do not see the clothes until a child, in his innocence, exclaims: “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” And in that innocent exclamation the spell is broken as the people begin to say, “Listen to the voice of the child!” The Emperor, still caught up in the lie, keeps going, walking on in his underwear. Read more

God’s Hometown

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 OR Ezekiel 2:1-5
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

This past weekend, in anticipation of Independence Day, Hobby Lobby, the privately-owned arts and crafts store, took out full page advertisements in city newspapers across the United States to proclaim, “Blessed is the Nation Whose God is Lord”(Psalm 31:22). Under a red, white, and blue header ran three columns of quotations from US Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and Founding Fathers as well as various court rulings, congressional statements, and Ivy League religious codes suggesting that the country was founded as, and presumably should remain, an explicitly Christian nation. A blue footer listed websites to visit if the reader wished to “…know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” or download a free Bible to a smartphone.

David Green, who took out a six hundred dollar loan in 1970 to launch the business that would become Hobby Lobby and is now worth more than $6 billion, began purchasing newspaper ads for Christmas in 1996, and has since added Easter and Independence Day in an annual holiday cycle. The Green family has used its considerable wealth to fund evangelical ministries and the recently-opened American Museum of the Bible, and to sue the US for a religious exclusion from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to cover medications they consider to be abortifacient. Whatever one’s politics, there’s no doubting the Green family’s influence.

The Greens participate in a long American tradition that sees the United States as a unique, Godly nation, rightful heir to John Winthrop’s claim regarding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “…that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses…”(recorded while aboard the Arbella, 1630). Read more

The Dreaded Stewardship Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

In the years we have shared the goodness of this lectionary blog, we have filled its pages with much exegeting, exhorting, explaining, organizing—and a bit of prophesying, complaining, and lamenting too. I’m going to use my opportunity this month to do a bit of bragging. Bragging? Yes, bragging. In nearly four decades of preaching, I have tried to keep bragging to a minimum, but the time has arrived. Blame Paul, he got me started. Read more

A Complex Mess

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Samuel 17
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13

If you read selectively a la the UMC lectionary edit, David and Goliath is a binary bad-versus-good easy side to pick. Goliath, the God-defying giant and professional warrior, wears heavy-duty armor, requires a shield-carrying person for extra defense, taunts people and brandishes multiple weapons. He’s the villain. On the other side, David is young and untrained in combat. The armor doesn’t fit, but it doesn’t matter. He’s driven by indignant righteousness and the Spirit of God is with him. A good-looking model-of-faith volunteers for action, and he wins to boot! Read more

A New Creation

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Corinthians 5:6-17

So here we are, once again in the long Season After Pentecost (after Easter, after Lent, after Epiphany, well, you get the idea). Having moved through the great, narrative seasons that remind us of who Jesus was and is and is to come, we are launched into a season of deep, practiced discipleship, out in the world God so loves. And just as the Earth is literally in a physically different place from the last time we encountered the Season After Pentecost, so too is the world, our congregations, and ourselves. Continuing to travel in Jacob Bernoulli’s Spira mirabilis* the hope is that we are spiraling ever closer to the final fulfillment of God’s Creation. Read more

Divided Houses and the God Who is King

Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

When I was younger, I heard many sermons about King David. Of course, David’s story and several Davidic themes form a significant strand of Old Testament thinking. These sermons usually elevated David as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Because he was king of Israel, he was God’s person for the job. Often, the focus on this central Israelite ruler was set alongside a fervent push for Christian leaders to be in positions of power and a strong sense that the United States was/is a Christian nation. Israel was God’s nation, and they had a king. Why should this version of God’s nation be any different (even if the official title of the leader is different)?

My experience is not unique. Many churches emphasize David’s story as a way to say something about our own time and setting. For example, we can easily find folks defending their chosen political figure’s indiscretions by invoking David’s story. They say, “Yes, David made mistakes, but God still backed him. Therefore, this political leader’s place is safe because we are certain that God also backs him or her.” In the end, the activity of the nation (including military action) is legitimated as part of God’s plan and purpose for the whole world. When turning to the appointed texts for this week, however, we find a different story unfolding. Read more