Good Shepherd

No Weapon But Grace

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

One morning, when my daughter was about four years old and deep in another “Daddy is Doo-Doo” phase during which my wife’s presence was infinitely preferable to mine, she called for her mother from the comfort of her own bed. My wife was in the shower and unable to answer, and the tone of my daughter’s voice quickly escalated from polite request to imperious demand. Even today, when I think of my now nineteen year-old daughter, I hear Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying, “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

I stepped to the threshold of her room and peeked in to reassure myself that my daughter wasn’t in distress, but that was too much for her. She sat bolt upright from her pillow, glared at me with what I recognized as her “evil stare of death,” and bellowed, “Not you again!”

I took it on the chin that morning – at least verbally – but my daughter and I laugh about that encounter now. She’s an accomplished young woman with astonishing emotional intelligence, and if she hasn’t lost her knack for tactical ferocity, she knows I’m on her side and rarely, if ever, bares her teeth in my presence.

I thought of that morning as I read this week’s readings and said, less emphatically than my daughter, “Not sheep again!” I’ve shared my feelings about sheep here before, drawing on memories of my days on the Navajo Nation. I don’t begrudge the little critters their place on earth, though they’d likely vanish as a species without humans forever saving them from peril. For this week’s readings, however, I attended less to the dumbness of the lambs than the witness of the shepherd. Read more

Easter Icon

Death Defeated

Easter Sunday

Isaiah 25:6-9
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18 OR Mark 16:1-8

This Easter will be the first since my mother died in July. She died so unexpectedly and quickly that I could not be with her when it happened. Still, mom was a believer and hers was a fast, peaceful death. As these things go, we would call it a good death. Nevertheless, as I found out at Christmas, and I expect I will find out at Easter, her death has upset me more than I first knew.

Without question, there are various reasons for this. It is a normal part of the grieving process. I probably have some unfinished business with my mother. I feel guilty I was not there when she died. As we approach Easter, however, I need to think about death – her death in particular – and resurrection theologically, or, at least, as a Christian. Read more

Isenheim Altat

Becoming Human

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

Mark 11:1-10
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

“So far as being human goes, the only difference between Jesus and me is that he lived out his humanity more consistently than I do.” – Herbert McCabe

Those who dismiss Christianity as a comforting myth are inattentive readers of Scripture. They can’t, for instance, have read Mark’s gospel in anything but a superficial or tendentious way.

Mark’s Jesus dies horribly, nailed to an imperial torture device, abandoned by his male disciples (though not by some of the women) and even, his words imply, by the Father. He’s buried hurriedly, and if the original text ends, as in the earliest complete manuscripts, at chapter 16, verse 8, with the women trembling, bewildered, and afraid at the man in white in the empty tomb, we’re left wondering why Mark should call his account “Good News.” Yet this first gospel records, along with the letters of Paul, the earliest surviving declarations that this human, Jesus, is the Christ, Son of Man, anointed one of God.

Mark’s Son of Man isn’t merely human, but he is profoundly human. He is, in fact, the model human, the One we are called to follow. Mark shares much about Jesus’ humanity, including that he eats, sleeps, spits, walks, touches, and suffers temptation. In this week’s readings, we learn still more. Read more


Transfigured in Him

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9

“And he was transfigured before them.” – Mark 9:2

“I can’t explain the goings or the comings. You enter suddenly and I am nowhere again, inside the majesty.” – Rumi

Dazzling white clothes, Moses and Elijah, voices from clouds – I am guilty of having sometimes rushed past the transfiguration accounts for how inaccessible such an experience of Jesus seems to me. Perhaps it’s a story challenging to preach or teach, as it offers no tidy moral imperative, no clear implication for how to live in light of the disciples’ witness. Instead, the transfiguration account is fluent in mystery, begging us to place ourselves in the narrative and walk around inside of it – climb the mountain, see the glory, fumble out our own dumbstruck words laced with terror, and in the end, be brought back to the resurrection. Read more


Learning to Squint

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

When I was a boy I knew an old rancher whose face was permanently sunburned and lined from decades of living outside. People said he had a “perpetual squint.” Daylight or dark, indoors or out, he always looked like he was squinting, looking across some pasture for a stray cow in the face of glaring sun and blowing wind. Squinting, looking into the distance for so many years had shaped his face; it had shaped the way he looked at everything.

Walker Percy, tells in his novel Love in the Ruins and its sequel novel The Thanatos Syndrome about a small, remnant church out in the woods of Louisiana. They are fragile and exiled from the mainstream, conventional and successful American church. They have a small AIDS clinic where they care for the sick and dying and care for each other.

Their priest, Father Rinaldo Smith, is eccentric and helps pay the bills by hiring out as a fire-watcher. It is his job to climb the fire-tower by night and watch for forest fires below while he also looks “for signs and portents in the skies.” Throughout the two novels he’s always watching, squinting into the distance, looking for portents, looking for something.

Our readings are for the First Sunday of Advent. Advent, which means “coming,” is about the coming of Christ. It is about Christ coming in Bethlehem 2000 years ago but more, Advent is about Christ coming again sometime in the future. At the same time, it is about Christ coming again in renewal in our lives now, and coming into this present status-quo world.

We are called to hold these three tenses of Christ’s coming in mind all the time. The testimony of the church for thousands of years has been, “Christ has come, Christ is come, Christ will come again.” Therefore, we’re to be getting ready, preparing, watching and waiting for the coming. Get the house ready, the master is coming. Get the house ready Christ is coming. Get your life together, Christ is coming. Watch. Squint. Read more