The Full Gospel Anthem

In Jesus Christ we have faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen God. In the incarnation we learn of the love of God for His creation; in the crucifixion we learn of the judgment of God upon all flesh; and in the resurrection we learn of God’s will for a new world. There could be no greater error than to tear these elements apart; for each of them comprises the whole. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

That early evening in Dillsboro was the kind that makes Smokey Mountain summer dusks famous. It was 1974 and I was singing with a resort ministry group. We had just finished an unforgettable feast of trout and country ham at the Jarrett House. Now the little church across the street was pleasantly filled to hear us. The evening could not have been more perfect. Read more

Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful spring day in central North Carolina. The summer heat and humidity that will oppress us for weeks on end is not yet upon us. Recent rains have made everything green and lush. The azaleas are past their prime but the camellias are in top form.

It’s a beautiful day. It’s also the day that voters go to the polls to decide local, state, and national primary contests. Holding our primary as we do in the month of May, we’re not used to mattering much on the national scene. Party nominees are usually firmed up long before now. But you know that your state counts when the former President of the United States visits places like Louisburg, Lenoir, Elizabeth City, and my humble town of Apex. Read more

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

When I read the Ascension texts for today (or this upcoming Sunday if you are in a Protestant tradition that celebrates the Ascension on the following Sunday), my tendency is to immediately jump to the conclusion of Luke’s report in Acts 1 when the angels appear to ask the disciples: “Why do you stand looking up at heaven?” I hear in this question an affirmation of my own need for action—the angels are telling those disciples to get on with it already. There is work to be done witnessing, proclaiming, releasing the captives, caring for the sick, and forgiving enemies, among other things! Read more

Benedict and Jeremiah

Two very public, very controversial religious leaders have addressed the nation in as many weeks and the differences between them couldn’t be more striking. Pope Benedict, during his stateside visit earlier this month, spoke the truth about American Catholicism with equal parts commendation and critique. His humility and shy grace were evident in his speeches and sermons and in his carriage and demeanor (all of which was a little disconcerting to those who remember when his public persona—fair or not—was that of the rigid, humorless Cardinal Ratzinger).

Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, has come out swinging. In a series of increasingly hostile speeches he has assumed the pose of the put-upon, the tragically misunderstood. At first he had a point: reducing thirty years of sermons to thirty seconds of incendiary sound bites was irresponsible and misleading and did serious damage to Wright himself, to Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations, and to the (multivalent) tradition of black preaching in America. Read more

How Can We Know the Way?

a person walks down a path leading to a mountain It’s become our routine. No sooner have I strapped my two year-old son, Elijah, into his car seat and started driving us on our way than my son pipes up from the back seat, “Hey mom, where are we going?” I always answer him very clearly. “We are going to the grocery store,” I say, or “We are going to the library.” To which Elijah always responds, “Hey mom, where are we going?” This kind of back and forth, repetitious toddler-talk used to frustrate me until it finally dawned on me that it was not as if Elijah hadn’t heard me or hadn’t understood me. Instead, like a child needs to do, Elijah needed to ask his question more than he needed to hear me give him an answer.

I think about my two year-old son when I read Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Read more

Prayer Pet Peeves

abstract image of person prayingWorking, as I do, in low-church Methodism in the South, I’m called upon regularly, in a variety of contexts, to offer extemporaneous prayers. I also frequently hear others—both clergy and laity— pray “on the fly.”

Extemporaneous prayers can be as varied in substance and style as those who offer them, but I have to say that the longer I am in this setting where extemporaneous prayers are valued as “authentic” and “heart-felt,” while historic, liturgical, or other written prayers are subject to suspicion or seen as a crutch for the less articulate (how ridiculous), the more I long to retreat to a corner somewhere, cover my head (and ears), and pray the rosary. Read more

Jesus, Gates, and Sheep

sheep walking through a gateIn preparation for this year’s Triduum, the three solemn days leading into Easter, those in my parish chosen to proclaim scripture were expected to attend at least one group practice session. In that sense, at least, my parish takes “performing the Word” seriously. We received our texts well in advance in order to prepare, and our practice consisted of reading aloud while a woman from the parish, well known for her attentive, moving readings, offered helpful suggestions. One gentleman read a brief excerpt from John 14, including the familiar passage, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Upon saying these words, our normally laconic coach interrupted, saying, “That’s something I don’t believe by the way. I know Buddhists and Hindus who are far holier than most Christians.” Read more

Suffering and Abundance

an abstract picture of Christ“When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Any time sheep are mentioned in the Bible people sometimes go a little soft in the head, inflicting a nursery-rhyme cuteness on stories and images that often have a political, subversive edge. This Sunday’s passage from John’s gospel should give us pause if we are tempted toward such silliness. The text is cryptic, even a little caustic, and it’s not at all about sheep, but about deceivers who pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting. Read more

Obama and His Preacher

Barack Obama has endured criticism for his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and for his association with his now-retired pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Wright’s inflammatory remarks have met with angry disapproval. Yet this reflection is not about Rev. Wright. I am writing, instead, about Obama and his understanding of the Church.

Political pundits have said that Obama should publicly refute his pastor. They have written that if Obama had any integrity, he would withdraw his membership from his Trinity church. These people are merely revealing that Obama’s understanding of the gospel is far more mature than theirs. Indeed, these “experts” cannot fathom the integrity that Obama has shown.

Thus far at least, Obama’s actions and words witness to an understanding of the church that is orthodox and biblical. In the tradition of Christian faith, Obama seems to understand that we do not “choose” our church, nor does the church exist to please us and to meet our needs. Rather, the church is the body of Christ. It can be wrong, and often is. Its preachers can speak words that are not the gospel, and we often do. Read more

The Road to Exile

a road sign indicates curves in the road aheadIt isn’t likely that the text from 1 Peter will take center stage in many sermons this Sunday, but in thinking through all of the day’s appointed readings—their particular concerns and their possible associations, it’s not a bad place to begin. For one thing, we read portions of 1 Peter for several consecutive Sundays during Easter of Year A in the common lectionary, passages which constitute something of an Easter catechesis for the great fifty days. But more than that, the letter’s theme of “exile” gives us a useful framework for interpreting our own life and witness in light of the familiar Road to Emmaus story. Read more