Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“…most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”
-David Bentley Hart
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)
In a 2016 essay in Commonweal, Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, described how translating the New Testament drove him to the distressing conclusion that Jesus and his early followers meant – and lived – what they said about the dangers of wealth. As one would expect, defenders of wealth as an intrinsic good, unhappy with Hart’s essay, wrote strongly-worded rebuttals Hart, well known for his erudition and verbal cantankerousness, leaves few readers neutral about his message or person. His work typically includes something to make everyone unhappy, but while other theologians may reject his arguments and interpretations, they rarely dismiss him as uninteresting. He’s not the sort whose work is readily neutered into comforting pablum.
His point in the essay is that’s precisely what Christianity has done to texts like this Sunday gospel reading, turning the demanding communal practice of material poverty into a spiritualized individual attitude, a change of thought rather than a way of life. Hart, like me, knows this sin from the inside. Indeed, most Christians in the global North who write against making this gospel demand safe for the modern consumer stand convicted by their own words. What I call voluntary simplicity looks unimaginably opulent to the roughly one billion fellow humans currently living on less than $2.00 per person per day. Read more
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Today’s Gospel reading is one of those most preachers would rather avoid because even with the best exegesis it is a difficult passage, especially with divorced members sure to be present in any congregation. The question of divorce was no less problematic in Jesus’s day, and it was for just this reason that the Pharisees wanted Jesus’s take: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Read more
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.
His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The world has a helluva time imagining women as subjective beings apart from a relationship – or worse yet, their vaginas’ utility – to men. See: #metoo, rape culture, using women’s bodies/body parts to market all variety of products, marketing to women. Ironically, being in a relationship with a man while I was in college didn’t protect me from sexual assault by another man. And it’s a prejudice that I felt anew when I bought a house after I got divorced. Read more
Wisdom is saying some weird things, and quite publicly too.
In my tradition, we follow the semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament as outlined in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Season After Pentecost. Unlike the lectionary readings during such seasons as Easter and Christmas, the first reading and psalm are not chosen to jive with the readings from the New Testament. But there is a certain convergence in these readings for this coming Sunday, which is perhaps not so surprising given that they are all biblical texts. Read more
In the first clause of the Apostles’ Creed, God is described as being “almighty.” This term has plenty of synonyms, but often our imaginations gravitate to the sense that God’s almightiness means that God is powerful, unable to be bested in a test of strength, or capable of doing anything. We might even repeat logical conundrums to illustrate this, such as “Can God create a rock too heavy for God to lift?” Likewise, when I ask my students to tell me what comes to their minds when they consider that God is almighty, they highlight God’s power to do whatever God wants to do. As they sometimes say, God’s will is bigger and stronger than any other will. I found myself returning to the Creed and these observations as I read the appointed texts for this Sunday, because while they do speak of God’s “almightiness,” they also challenge our prevailing understanding of this notion. Read more
Update on Regional Gatherings: this year we will have one regional gathering, at Johnson City, taking place on November 10. The deadline for registration was October 15. Hopefully this event will lead to others in the future. Thank you for your interest.
If there is sufficient interest, we have plans in place to continue the conversation on beauty (and to invite new friends into it) in three locations this fall: Indianapolis, Eugene, and Western NC/Eastern TN. These will be one-day events held on a Saturday.
If you are interested in attending one, please email the contact person listed below. The date for the Indianapolis Gathering is set for November 10; the other two are still pending. The contact person will have more information about the shape and content of these smaller, regional Gatherings that we hope might become more common in the Ekklesia Project.
Indianapolis: Chris Smith, Englewood Christian Church. firstname.lastname@example.org
Eugene: Suzie Logan, Church of the Servant King. email@example.com
NC/TN: Jim McCoy, Hopwood Christian Church/Milligan College. firstname.lastname@example.org
I was greatly blessed that Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead trilogy was published during my years as a pastor (Gilead in 2004; Home in 2008; Lila in 2014). Her writing has been called “luminous,” and her descriptions, especially of the Revs. John Ames and Richard Boughton, certainly shone a radiant light on my ministerial calling. Like John Ames, I would sit from time to time in an empty sanctuary and, in the quiet intensity of a Psalm 84 moment of longing and praise, I would count my pastoral blessings. “The feeling of a baby’s brow against the palm of your hand,” Pastor Ames confides at one point. “How I have loved this life.” Read more