The Risen Lazarus is No Stranger

Lazarus arisesThe eleventh chapter of John’s gospel brims with riches, providing the biblical verse nearly everyone remembers, “Jesus wept,” as well as the clearest possible statement of the functional principle underlying every City of Man, “It is better for one man to die than for the people to perish.” Lazarus’ tomb is also fertile soil for midrash, the imaginative stories in which the student rubs again those irritant nodes of scripture, such as the sacrifice of Isaac, Lot’s wife, Jacob and the Angel, and Jephthah’s vow. Chesterton, Browning and Plath, among others, turned the story into poetry, while rock bands as diverse as The Boo Radleys, Carman, Chimaira, and Placebo have Lazarus songs. The Christian East, in particular, devotes significant liturgical time and theological reflection to Lazarus rising from the tomb. And, speaking of tombs, Lazarus has far better claim than most New Testament figures to more than one burial place. Read more

What Do You See?

Jesus healing blind men

“Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” — John 9:40-41

When I was in seminary, one of the questions that we were instructed to ask ourselves in any ministerial context was: “Where and who are the invisible people?” This question was intended to help us to find those people in every community that are out of sight and out of mind to so many in the church and to ask the crucial questions about why they had been relegated to the margins and pushed “out of sight.” I was in a meeting recently when someone critiqued this language of invisibility. Invisibility, she argued, indicates that there is something inherent to the person or group of people that makes them unseen. The real issue is not that they are invisible, but that we are blind to them. These people and communities exist, materially and concretely, in plain sight—but those of us who inhabit our middle class, mostly Anglo, mainline society are able to live our lives comfortably pretending as if those on the margins do not exist. Read more

Coming To Our Senses

This year our Lenten journey through the wilderness is not one that we walk alone. The persons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospel of John on the Sundays in Lent are our traveling companions. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, even Lazarus, all have a place on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. From Sunday to Sunday while each of these persons experiences Jesus in individual ways, collectively they reveal to us the fullness of who we are as well as our total emptiness before Jesus. Read more

Come and See

Third Sunday in Lent – John 4:5-42

Interpreters of this lengthy passage are usually quick to point out the “three strikes” against the woman at the well: her gender, her ethnicity, and her dubious marital status. And despite the fact that she engages Jesus in the longest conversation he has with anyone in the gospels, friend or foe; that she can hold her own in a theological debate; that she is the first person Jesus reveals himself to in John’s gospel; that she is the first evangelist and her testimony brings many to faith; despite all of this—what the Samaritan woman is most remembered for, it seems, is that she had five husbands. Read more

Unexpected News

This past Sunday brought NCAA basketball just down the street from my parish on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati. We’d been warned parking would be a nightmare for the 11 o’clock mass, so we went instead to St. Joseph’s church, a largely African-American Catholic church in Cincinnati’s struggling West End. My family had worshipped there before – usually at the end of one of our parish’s “urban plunge” weekends – and knew we were in for a powerful experience.

But what struck me more than the heartfelt singing and unselfconscious prayer was the force of scripture proclaimed by mouths familiar with the bitter taste of injustice. Read more

Lent is Scary; It Hurts Like Hell

The Catholic lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Lent include the Transfiguration account, a reading many Protestant traditions heard two weeks earlier. In any case, I have nothing to add to the vast libraries of commentary devoted to that gospel episode. It’s 2 Timothy that I have on my mind this Lenten week (Those of you hearing Romans 4 also have something meaty to dwell on. It’s rather more closely related to the Genesis passage, but that’s another matter…) Here’s the text from Timothy:

Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The traditional practices of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – were, of course, never meant to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Read more

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras.

The phrase conjures images of drunken revelry and riotous carnality, tempered with a little voodoo carnivàle. Associated as it is with that most sensual of American cities, New Orleans (at least until Katrina and its aftermath changed the city and our perception of it forever), “Fat Tuesday” seems the antithesis of anything holy or sacred. Read more

Better Than Borders and Barriers

Two days into Black History month, on the eve of the Transfiguration, it might be well for us to remember one key theme of Epiphany: Jesus gathers around himself a community of former strangers now become friends, a circle of former enemies now knit together as one family, a body where difference enlivens and diversity enriches.

At the Society of Christian Ethics last month I attended a panel discussion that focused on the racial segregation of Christian worship in the US. Meeting in Atlanta, we took up Martin Luther King’s observation that 11 o’clock on Sunday was and still is the most segregated hour in America. One of the most challenging questions was posed by Bryan Massingale, who asked us when in the last three years we had heard a sermon that condemned racial division or that affirmed God’s vision of a multi-racial church. When? Well, I hope you did during Epiphany. Read more

Fools For Christ

I’m thinking this morning of Van Thompson. There he is down in Memphis, newly married. To the surprise of some, Van and Kristin have chosen to live in the Binghamton neighborhood, a community riddled with urban poverty and crime. They are two of many Christians moving into the community in recent years in order to bear witness and to offer their bodily presence. Read more

Looking Toward Lent

When we take too much pride in “family churches,” where neat, nuclear families dominate, we risk forgetting what Jesus did on Good Friday. “Family churches,” for all their honoring of family life, may limit the much wider embrace of God’s grace. Some priorities valued in family churches can be hostile to individuals who do not fit middle-class paradigms. They can exclude people Jesus would want us to welcome. The world consists of many persons who have had to take different and often painful roads. The true community Jesus seeks makes space for them all. — Peter Storey, Listening at Golgotha

It is not uncommon in a lot of churches, perhaps rural ones especially, for a particular family to be a dominant force in the life of the congregation. The family may be founding members of the church, pillars in the community. They may have donated a prominent stained glass window or paid for the pulpit or altar—maybe even bankrolled the fellowship hall. Read more