broken glass

Break in the Cup

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

David Wilcox calls “Break in the Cup” the “anti-love song,” his protest against the romantic mythology that says all we have to do is find that one person who will make us forever happy, and how hard could that possibly be?

The couple in the song have the dreamy-eyed notion that the nectar of their love should slake every possible thirst. As a result, they drive each other crazy because they fail to recognize that there is “a break in the cup that holds love inside us all.”

I sometimes wonder if by overstressing “personal relationship” in the vocabulary of our faith, we fall prey to a similar kind of romantic mythology, substituting Jesus for that one person who will make us happy. Of course the blessed fellowship of the Trinity overflows instead of leaks out, but such an emphasis on the relationship that always fulfills can make us forget that there is still a break in our cup. Read more

Nicodemus and Jesus

The Womb of the Church

Second Sunday of Lent

John 3:1-17 (18-21)

It is dark, night, perhaps even the evening after Jesus goes on a rampage in the temple, flipping tables, coins flying, would-be sacrifices scattering. The Jews had confronted him, asking for a sign. He’d made quite the scene.
Now in the dark, Nicodemus comes to Jesus.

A leader of the Jews, an authority in the temple where such a scene was made, he comes to appease, smooth things over a little, perhaps appeal to the madman in hopes of preventing further disruption. It’s Passover, after all, and the temple at that. A repeat of such antics would be deeply shaming.

Or perhaps the dark is more than simple night, and Nicodemus wants in, closer to the power he sees in the signs. Something real is at work in Jesus, something light, something that looks like God.

Perhaps, he comes for a little of both. Read more

bible and gun

Asking the Hard Questions

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

In the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category was the story from a few days ago about the Kentucky Baptist Convention leading what they’re calling “Second Amendment Celebrations” where churches around the state give away guns as door prizes to lure in nonbelievers in hopes of converting them to Christ.

At one such upcoming event organizers are expecting as many as 1,000 people where they will be given a free steak dinner and the chance to win one of 25 handguns, long guns and shotguns.

The goal is to “point people to Christ,” says a church sponsoring the event, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention said 1,678 men made “professions of faith” at about 50 such events last year, most of them in Kentucky.

Is anyone asking any questions about this? Read more

traffic jam

Doing Well to Remember, Remembering to Do Well

Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 OR Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Traveling south on I 465 around Indianapolis one comes face to face with a ginormous billboard that asks: ‘Who is Jesus?’ For me, the question interrupts a flow of consciousness—call it “utilitarian consciousness”—related to the objects on which my gaze (restlessly) rests—mostly corporate logos for hotel chains, personal injury lawyers, and the occasional public health message “1 out of 5 American children suffers from…”

I must admit to being a little shocked and embarrassed when I came across this particular billboard, somehow not apropos in the environment. Do you REALLY need to ask THAT here, now? I’m not ready to talk about this. Tell me how many minutes, with current traffic, it’s going to take me to get to Exit 2A please! Read more

rope

Bonds Unbroken

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

At the start of an interview with America magazine last year, Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The Pope paused a moment before saying, “I am a sinner,” and then went on to clarify: “…but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

Perhaps you, like me, take heart at these words, which sound like the fruit of hard experience, not the stale repetition of some pretty formula. Perhaps you, like me, know the wounds – many of them meticulously concealed – of broken relationships, the compounded result of a willful and persistent alienation from God and God’s Creation. Yet the maker of the Universe regards Francis, me, and you, and mercifully refuses to let our “no” be the final word. Though we’ve devoted much time and energy to severing our bonds of connection, God has not, does not, will not. Read more

Northwest Ekklesia Project Gathering 2014

christians aren't perfect

Why Grace Doesn’t Fit on a Bumpersticker

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalm 119:1-8
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21 – 37

“Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” So the bumper sticker proclaims the good news, the gospel in a nutshell to those shackled by guilt over the slightest failure. Or, better yet, consider how this quip responds to those who enjoy reminding rather sorry Christians, such as myself, how we fall short. I can’t count how many times my own hot-headedness and quick tongue get the better of me. How many of you, like me, have been a jerk to another – especially a family member who may not be so “into” the faith – and get the sarcastic response, “Oh, so that’s how Christians act, eh?” or “Boy, your hypocrisy is really inspiring me to follow Jesus!” And thus this short phrase challenges anyone – Christian or not – who doubts that the heart of our faith is about grace freely given.

And then we read the lectionary readings for today. Read more

Groaning and Flourishing: Gathered by Our Creator’s Care

Over Christmas I went bird watching near my parents house in Arkansas. Driving to a Wildlife Management Area I passed Lake Conway where nearly 7,000 barrels of oil spilled from an ExxonMobil tar-sands pipeline. The site in the lake nearest the spill still had containment buoys eight months after the accident. There was a man in a air boat and hazmat suit testing the water with hundreds of ducks and gulls and cormorants were feeding in the water nearby. Since then there have been other spills. Most recently West Virginia’s waters were poisoned by the ironically named, “Freedom Industries.” The damage done is beyond calculation and it will take years to know the full effects. These examples are just to name some of the ways in which creation is groaning in pain and eager longing for God’s Kingdom to arrive Read more

Luminous Darkness

“Luminous Darkness”

Epiphany 5A
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

Who among those who have read the gospels does not know that Christ has made all human suffering his own?

Origen, “On Prayer”

On Sunday, when I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, my breath caught a little. I didn’t know him, of course, though I’ve admired every performance of his I’ve seen. (Oh, the power of cinema to make us feel like we know the actors we love—indeed to make us love them in the first place.) Hoffman was an actor of astonishing intuition and virtuosity. As one writer put it, “he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture.”

It would be tempting to narrate Hoffman’s all too brief life and tragic death within the tired tropes of celebrity culture (money can’t buy you love; movie stars are desperately lonely people) but, thankfully, I’ve seen none of that in the moving tributes I’ve read to Hoffman’s life and art.

In particular, James Martin, SJ, recalls spending time with Hoffman in preparation for the off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot:

Phil, as everyone called him, projected a unique blend of relaxed intensity as a director . . . He approached the text with an almost scholastic seriousness, carefully attending to every line in the script . . . From time to time, to illustrate a thorny point, or to describe the emotion that might underlie a scene, he would offer a story from his own life. “Did you ever have this experience?” Phil would ask, and recount a tale illustrating despair, or hope, or joy, or betrayal or trust . . . When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable—or, in his words, the personal anecdote—in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive . . . In Phil’s words, Jesus was always suggesting, in order that the decision to follow or not follow was always that person’s own decision.

Read more

Gerbrand_van_den_Eeckhout_002

The Risks of Baby Dedication

Luke 2:22-40

Imagine this at your baby’s dedication.  You go up front where the preacher does her blessing; perhaps water is sprinkled or maybe even your baby is baptized in a little font.  Pious prayers are said, God invoked—it’s a routine that happens month by month in the cycle of the church’s life.  Then a man walks in, “led by the Spirit,” and promises that your child is destined “for the rising and falling of many” and that he will be “opposed so vigorously that it will reveal the intentions of many.”  Then this man says that you will find your own soul “pierced by a sword.”  A little blue or pink New Testament would hardly seem an appropriate gift after all of that.

Jesus was certainly no normal child and that was marked by the extraordinary way in which he entered the religious life of his people.  Simeon and Anna saw in Jesus someone who came to save the world but also to disturb it.  They knew from the start that Jesus was going to stir things up and that the forces of death would soon mount up against the power of life.

It would be easy to leave this as a nice story that doesn’t mean much for us.  We can just go on talking about welcoming children into our churches—crayons and a couple of bible themed coloring sheets to keep them quiet.  Read more