Our Pious Disbelief in “God-With-Us”

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10-17
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

King Ahaz – the king in today’s prophecy from Isaiah – is a man standing in great fear. To understand why, we have to go back a few verses to get the context of this passage. Two of Ahaz’s nearest enemies have united against him: the Northern Kingdom of Israel (a Jewish nation that had, in previous days, been part of a united kingdom with Judah), and Aram, a non-Jewish nation. Ahaz fears the bloodshed and destruction that war inevitably brings.

We, today, can understand Ahaz’s fear. Surely we have all been in some kind of position like that where we have stood among enemies, where no help or hope seems to be found. Read more

You Want It Darker

The Third Sunday of Advent

 

 

Isaiah 35:1-10 (vv. 1-6a, 10 in Lectionary for Mass)
Psalm 146:5-10 (vv. 6-10 in LM)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

“They’re lining up the prisoners and the guards are taking aim.”

Leonard Cohen

A confession: I do not know how to write about these Advent texts as if the events of the last month (and the many months prior) were politics as usual in the United States of America. You know—a couple of slick, scripted candidates square off, make promises they won’t keep; one emerges the victor, half the nation sighs and shrugs, and then we all get back to the business of our busy lives. Good God, no.

In fact, I think the events of the last month and what they portend for the future put into sharp relief the piercing critique that the texts of Advent bring to bear on the politics of fear and intimidation, on authoritarian rule and its contempt for truth, on stunningly ill-prepared leaders and their fragile egos. Read more

King/Fool

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.

John Jay Alvaro’s post from 2013 is our post for the last week of this lectionary cycle.

 

Don’t Panic (The End is Good News)

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 65:17-25 OR Malachi 4:1-2a
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Updated Post

At the end of the liturgical year, as darkness falls each night a couple of minutes sooner than the last, the church turns our attention to the end of all things. We are mortal and our world will come to an end, for each of us and for all of us, and this both terrifies and fascinates us.

People love stories about the end of the world. The long winter is coming, meteors hurtle toward earth, zombies overwhelm civilization. Such stories indulge our wish to be heroes. The thrill of adrenaline blows the cobwebs off our humdrum little everyday routine, and we can abandon the confusing struggle of managing all the different concerns of the day to embrace one simple mandate: survival. End of the world stories make great escapist fiction.

But scripture tells a different kind of story – good news even in bad times– for quite a different purpose—to draw us into the patient ordinary work of the present moment. Read more

God of the Living

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Our lectionary readings for this week take us to the heart of our anxiety for control, power, and security. From Haggai’s assurances that the glory of Israel was never in the accomplishments of her rulers but in the LORD and his inscrutable ways, to Paul’s comforting words to the people of Thessalonica, to Jesus’s re-orientation of the Sadducees’ question about marriage in the resurrection—these passages simultaneously challenge and assure the Christian, especially the Christian in the midst of personal, social, and/or political turmoil.

Above all, in these passages, we are challenged to become a people of Life, of the Living God. We are assured, having become a people so conformed to the exuberant and abounding Life of the Lord, that we will not only share in that Life in the resurrection, but that even our present works bear the marks of that Life. With this in mind I will focus my reflection on Jesus’ emerging theology of resurrection in chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel.

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

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Loved for What We Have in Us

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 19:1-10

From Jerusalem, perched 2500 feet above sea level, it is all downhill to Jericho, 850 feet below sea level. That makes for a hot, muggy place, but Jericho is shaded by palm trees and watered by cool springs. Jericho produces the best fruits and veggies you’ll find anywhere. And Jericho has been around for a long time—at least 11,000 years. Jericho is a land flowing with milk and honey.

That’s what the children of Israel thought when they emerged from the wilderness and marched around Jericho’s walls. Mark Antony thought so too. He gave Jericho as a gift to Cleopatra, tossing in Arabia as an afterthought. Cleo leased Jericho out to King Herod, charging him half the yearly profits of all Judea.

And how do you suppose Herod skimmed off enough cash to pay the mortgage? Look no further than one man who had his boney fists wrapped around the throats of every workingman in Jericho—Zacchaeus, the government’s chief tax collector of the area. Zacchaeus, poster boy of the One Percent. Zacchaeus, least popular man in the Jericho Rotary Club.

Zacchaeus and his cronies taxed every orange and grapefruit shipped out of Jericho. Three little words from Luke tell you all you need to know about Zacchaeus: “He was rich!” Reviled and avoided, Zacchaeus had no reputation left to protect and few friends. Then Jesus came to town. Read more

The Beautiful Reality of Repentance

Almost thirty years ago, I saw a movie that has stayed with me ever since. The Mission, directed in 1986 by Roland Joffe, isn’t exactly the kind of film that an eleven year-old would normally be drawn to, and I’m sure there was much in this narrative about Jesuits in 18th-century South America that I didn’t fully grasp when I first watched it. But because film can be such a powerful visual medium, there were scenes that left an indelible impression on me, so that I find myself going back to them even now, decades later. Read more