Who’s in Charge?

For anyone who spends any amount of time listening to our national conversation (if we can call it that), whether tuning into more traditional forms of media or wading into the facebook/twittersphere –where there is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed–it should be painfully obvious that we, as a people, have a hard time with authority. Not just with obeying authority, an issue that we have always wrestled with. We also have a very difficult time discerning authority, knowing how to recognize authority, and ascribing authority to all the wrong things and people. Thus, we allow our actions and words, the practices we embrace and the stories we tell, to be shaped by this confusion. Recent debates over flags and anthems, standing and kneeling, free speech and censorship, demonstrate that we don’t even have a common language for discussing these matters, let alone common convictions about what God’s people should do when confronted by competing, and sometimes mutually exclusive, claims to authority. We argue endlessly over who is in charge, when deep down inside we all want to be in charge. Read more

With Us to the End of the Age

Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Talk about God’s authority over all things can make people uneasy. “Authority” sounds like it might be a threat to our freedom, as when, in the movie “The Truman Show,” the director of the reality show that is Truman’s life controls every circumstance in his world. He finally speaks to Truman from the fake clouds in the set’s fake sky: “In my world, you have nothing to fear. I know you better than you know yourself….I’ve been watching you your whole life.” We cheer to see Truman refuse to live as a slave.

That kind of domination is what happens when humans try to be God, to control each other. Read more

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

The Rupture of Impossibility

The Baptism of the Lord

Acts 10:34-48

Freeze the frame, theologian James Alison instructs, on the moment in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit falls on the surprised gentiles and on the even more astounded circumcised believers. What looks to be a scene from a pentecostal or charismatic rally is, on closer inspection, a “cultural earthquake of immeasurably greater proportions” (Quotes and wording are taken from Alison’s On Being Liked, esp. pp. vii – xvii, and Faith Beyond Resentment).

First, the trance of things vile, repugnant, unclean; animals strictly and expressly forbidden by the purity code. Peter’s visceral response showed that he had been formed by what he had inherited and had always believed to be God’s Law.

Then, the “inwardly perplexed” journey to Caesarea and the entrance into Cornelius’ household. Even to get to this point, Alison says, “Peter had to undergo a stomach-churning disorientation of losing the sense of goodness and holiness which came from being separate.”

Then Peter began to speak. Until then he had assumed that the good news of Jesus was a completely Jewish story. Now he tells the same story to gentiles… and all heaven breaks loose. Read more