King and the Kingdom

Today as we commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s easy to forget how despised King was in his own time by many on the right and the left, by many within the church and outside it. As the frequency of his public speeches increased toward the end of his life so did his visible rage; as his preaching evolved in the last years, he moved from what Richard Lischer has called a “homiletics of identification” to a “homiletics of confrontation.” The radical politics of the Kingdom that King envisioned—for the church and the nation—did not endear him to either; it got him killed. Read more

Heaven and Earth

Second Sunday After the Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Each year on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, the lectionary steers us away from the Synoptics, where we have been immersed in birth narratives, visiting magi, and the baptism of Jesus, and into the first part of John’s gospel, which contains none of these historical particulars. But the Johannine detour is significant for Epiphany, for these texts deal with the revelation of Jesus to Israel and to the world, making the claim that this One from Nazareth (“can anything good come from there?”) is the eternal Logos, Word made flesh, whose glory we have beheld. Read more

Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful

Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

I remember my baptism very well.

It was fifteen years ago, and I felt that as a recent college graduate I was at a crossroads in my life. I remember that I wanted to start new, to wash away some of the painful choices I had made in my life and recommit myself to God. My mother was attending a Baptist church at the time, and so I sat before her pastor and expressed my earnest desire to be baptized. When he lowered me into the water and then raised me up again, the first air I breathed felt like new life to me. I felt like I had died and been raised with Christ. Read more

Amahl and the Night Visitors

O Woman, you may keep the gold; the child we seek doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter; his haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us;
he will bring us new life, and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
Gian-Carlo Menotti, 1950

In 1950 the National Broadcasting Corporation commissioned Italian composer Gian-Carlo Menotti to write an opera for live broadcast on the fledgling, new medium of television. On Christmas Eve of the following year, Amahl and the Night Visitors premiered on NBC. Read more

Hope

When I was in the fourth grade my teacher, Mr. VanNostran, asked us to write our own definition of the word “hope.” I don’t remember the occasion or the context for the assignment; I don’t even remember what I wrote. But I do remember that a few days later, Mr. Van (as we called him) read aloud another student’s definition. The boy, whose name was Paul, was absent that day, and Mr. Van took the opportunity, I think, to teach the rest of us something about ourselves, something about the world, and something about the word “hope.” Read more

Wild Grace Abounding

Epiphany – Jan. 6 Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

In Canto I of Dante’s Purgatorio (the second of three volumes of the Divine Comedy), Dante and his guide Virgil climb from the depths of hell to emerge tired and dirty on the shores of the island of the Mountain of Purgation. They are immediately confronted by the appointed guardian of the island, the Roman orator Cato of Utica (d. 46 BCE), who demands they give an account of themselves.

Dante is shocked by their interlocutor, not because of his question, but because he is there at all; Read more

Bit Parts

Luke 2:22-40

Mary and Joseph, following the Law of Moses, bring their son to the temple in Jerusalem offering a sacrifice of two pigeons. The birds themselves were of little consequence, yet necessary, the material fulfillment of the Torah. As Luke’s Jesus later puts it, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:6)

As the new parents go about their business, Simeon (usually pictured as quite old, an extrapolation from his exclamation “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace,” the words of the nunc dimittis prayer traditionally chanted at Compline) wanders in, takes the baby in his hands, and says some alarming things, not the standard small talk made over a newborn. Read more

Revolution Now!

photograph of cross on an outside wallFourth Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89 (Luke 1:46-55); Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

The excitement, celebration, and anticipatory hope for change attending the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has in recent weeks been replaced in the public eye by another image – that of bankers, brokers, and corporate executives sitting before members of Congress and the mass media warning us in language reminiscent of Revelation 6 that the world is on the verge of collapse and that unless the American people, via our faithful servants in Congress, give them hundreds of billions of dollars, we face the imminent specter of horsemen bearing war, famine, pestilence, and death. Read more

Camel Hair and the Christ Child

Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 126; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8; 19-28

Sometimes the contrasts are jarring: sweet-faced children singing about cradles and crèches on the same Sunday that we hear about leather belts, locusts and wild honey. It’s early December and we’re already at the manger (the tidy Christmas card version)—in our heads and in our worship. We come to church decked out in our holiday finest and John the Baptizer greets us, sporting animal-skin outerwear and going on and on about baptism and repentance and sandal thongs.

Many churches give lip service to Advent—lighting the candles on the wreath, reading the appointed texts—but don’t seem prepared to go all the way with it. Why is that? Is there any concern about the mixed messages being sent when the camel hair and the Christ child fight for top billing on the same Sunday? Read more

The End is our Beginning

picture of a country road with the word start written on itIsaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8

Everyone knows that Advent is about beginnings. The season marks the start of a new Christian year. It heralds the beginning of the “good news” of Jesus Christ, and it points to the origin of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus. Every year in Advent we begin the preparations for Jesus’ coming only to do it all again the next year. Advent is the time to begin again. Not everyone understands, however, that Advent is also about endings. The season of Advent begins with the end, with an account of Jesus’ final coming at the end of time. Read more