The Authority of Prisoners

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In Ephesians 4 Paul begins a sustained account of the shape, nature and practices of life in Christ. He calls on the Ephesians to embody a vibrant unity based on their common faith and baptism. He uses the metaphor of “walking” to describe how believers are to embody a common life in Christ.

One of the most striking things about the epistle reading for today is that it begins with a personal plea from one who is a “prisoner in the Lord.” In the NRSV Paul is said to “beg” the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. In this light, it appears that Paul the prisoner is begging the Ephesians.

This certainly is an appropriate posture for one who is a prisoner, but it is not a very good translation of the Greek. Other English versions use verbs like “urge” or “entreat.” They are less idiomatic, but convey appropriately the sense Paul’s entreaty conveys a presumption of authority. Paul is someone to be listened to. Read more


Dream or Deliverance?

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of the American Dream. It’s the illusion of a utopian consumerist life that can be achieved when one has a big house in the safety of the suburbs, an SUV or two, money for a Disney vacation, fashionable clothes, a beautiful family (with approximately 2.5 kids and a dog) who attend all the best schools. I was recently informed that in 2015, the American Dream costs $130,000 a year to attain.

If you’re feeling left out, you’re in good company. Seven of eight American households don’t make enough to live this “ideal” life. And yet, that seems to be precisely the point. It’s a dream that is by and large unattainable. Even the folks who have that kind of money will tell you that hitting the mark didn’t give them fulfillment, but only made them hungry for more. It’s a dream that is sustained by politicians and marketeers who help further distort our desires and then use them to their own advantage. It’s a dream that is and has been built on the backs of black and poor Americans by those with power and wealth.* Read more


The LORD Will Make You (into) a House

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-14
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 50-56

This week’s First Testament text is a familiar one from 2 Samuel. David, having consolidated his reign and established momentary peace in Israel, wonders aloud to the prophet Nathan whether it is fitting for him to live comfortably in a well-built house while the Ark of the Covenant, the most conspicuous and immediate symbol of God’s presence with Israel, remains in a tent.

The subtext here is pretty obvious; David has in mind the construction of a temple that will be a proper dwelling place for God, and Nathan assures him – at least initially – that he should proceed. Nathan’s assurance, however, is short-lived. That evening God speaks to him, telling him to go to David and inform him that there is no need to build a temple, at least not now.

The explanation God offers, though terse, is theologically illuminating and indicative of things to come, not simply in this particular text, but in the subsequent history of God’s redemptive work. Read more


Dancing Lessons

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

As I write, Daniels and Danielles, along with their sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents and great-grands in the faith are on their way to Babylon – oh, I mean Chicago. A great family reunion will take place, new friends will be made, and those unable to be physically present will be there through the power of the Spirit and the airwaves of technology.

We pray that into the center of Chicago this week there will be an ascent of sorts to a holy mountain, ruled over by a King who is “strong and mighty”, the Lord who has proven to be “mighty in battle,” having defeated the greatest of all enemies by being raised from the death of a horrible cross. This holy mountain, which we are all invited to ascend, is not without requirement. In fact, the requirement seems quite unobtainable. Our hands must be clean and our hearts pure. Truthfulness is required, and I don’t know about you, but there seems to be more than one version of truth floating around out there as well as myriad of ways to get our hands dirty as we grab for life in the midst of Babylon.

Yet, we do not go alone. As St. Bernard reminds us, “such a High Priest became us because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the holy mountain; he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” Read more


The World We’ve Made

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Hontar: We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.
Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world… thus have I made it.”

-Robert Bolt, The Mission

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Whatever your opinion of Barack Obama, you can’t deny the last full week of June was kind to him, climaxing on Friday as he celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage and delivered a moving eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, killed in the terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

I’ll let others dissect the political implications of Mr. Obama’s recent good fortune. I’ll likewise refrain from comment on the same sex marriage decision. I have good friends on both sides of that issue, some of whom – again on both sides – have been treated quite shabbily by those with whom they disagree. This week’s readings point through the news to something deeper.

What might it mean for North American Christians that the first mixed-race President of the United States spent a morning in June, 2015 cheering a political milestone for gays and lesbians, and that same afternoon eulogizing an African-American man murdered, along with eight others, because of the color of his skin? This ought to matter. Even in an era of much-discussed church decline, the world in which these events occur is – for good or ill – much as we have made it. Read more


Classic posts

For this week’s lectionary, we have two great posts from previous trips through the cycle: Debra Dean Murphy’s  “The Hemorrhaging Woman”  from 2009 and Brian Volck’s  The Encounter More Than the Cure from 2012.


Storm of the Spirit

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalm 107
Mark 4:35-41

Mid-May of this year, the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life released findings from a recent survey that indicates a decline in the number of Americans claiming Christian affiliation, especially among Mainline Protestants and Catholics.

When the report was first released, reactions among those I know varied widely, from alarm, to those who met the findings with resignation and acceptance, or frankly as old news. As a divinity school student, preparing for perhaps a lifetime of full-time Christian service to the church, I have wondered at my curious position as someone apparently hoping against the odds. Am I tying myself to the bow of a sinking ship? Read more

Large Things in Small Parishes

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 4:26-34

The Texas historian of a generation ago, Walter Prescott Webb, has a wonderful paragraph in his classic book, The Great Plains. He contrasts the West with the East in the raising of cattle and notices that even though the West raised fewer cattle than the farms of the East, it was the West that defines for us what cattle raising is all about.

Webb writes, “A thousand farms in the East will each have six or seven cows, with as many more calves and yearlings – ten thousand head. But they will attract no attention … In the West a ranch will cover perhaps the same area as the thousand farms, and will have perhaps ten thousand head, roundups, rodeos, men on horseback, and all that goes with ranching. … The East did a large business on a small scale; the West did a small business magnificently” (p. 227).

I like Webb and I like what he says. The romantic notion of ranches, big cattle drives, cowboys, horses, spurs jingling, dust blowing, with perhaps some rousing Elmer Bernstein music in the background is magnificent. Nevertheless, I am more taken with his line, “The East did a large business on a small scale.” It was the small farms that did the large business of raising cattle.

Webb’s line reminds me of one from the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas who wrote, “I was vicar of large things in a small parish.” It is a line, along with Webb’s, that keeps telling me of my vocation and the vocation of the church. Read more


Rejecting the God Who Is

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Mark 3:20-35

Even those sympathetic to the cause of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were a bit shocked by the brazenness of the young organizer. President Johnson, the same president who would later sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, asked King to tone down the spectacle a bit—there were, after all, elections to be won and constituencies to satisfy.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain strength through the tactics of non-violent resistance, the establishment grew increasingly uncomfortable. White pastors across the South, in an attempt to keep the peace, appealed to King to be patient. Those with less sympathy to the cause of Civil Rights were quick to vilify and attack the calling and character of the preacher-King.

The great irony of all this was that it was taking place in the South, in the midst of one of America’s most deeply religious landscapes. In a time and place where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say ‘God is our King,’ or ‘Jesus is our Lord,’ the man whose life so clearly sought to resemble that Lord and King was vilified and ultimately silenced. Read more