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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

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Dream or Deliverance?

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of the American Dream. It’s the illusion of a utopian consumerist life that can be achieved when one has a big house in the safety of the suburbs, an SUV or two, money for a Disney vacation, fashionable clothes, a beautiful family (with approximately 2.5 kids and a dog) who attend all the best schools. I was recently informed that in 2015, the American Dream costs $130,000 a year to attain.

If you’re feeling left out, you’re in good company. Seven of eight American households don’t make enough to live this “ideal” life. And yet, that seems to be precisely the point. It’s a dream that is by and large unattainable. Even the folks who have that kind of money will tell you that hitting the mark didn’t give them fulfillment, but only made them hungry for more. It’s a dream that is sustained by politicians and marketeers who help further distort our desires and then use them to their own advantage. It’s a dream that is and has been built on the backs of black and poor Americans by those with power and wealth.* Read more

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Classic posts

For this week’s lectionary, we have two great posts from previous trips through the cycle: Debra Dean Murphy’s  “The Hemorrhaging Woman”  from 2009 and Brian Volck’s  The Encounter More Than the Cure from 2012.

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Large Things in Small Parishes

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 4:26-34

The Texas historian of a generation ago, Walter Prescott Webb, has a wonderful paragraph in his classic book, The Great Plains. He contrasts the West with the East in the raising of cattle and notices that even though the West raised fewer cattle than the farms of the East, it was the West that defines for us what cattle raising is all about.

Webb writes, “A thousand farms in the East will each have six or seven cows, with as many more calves and yearlings – ten thousand head. But they will attract no attention … In the West a ranch will cover perhaps the same area as the thousand farms, and will have perhaps ten thousand head, roundups, rodeos, men on horseback, and all that goes with ranching. … The East did a large business on a small scale; the West did a small business magnificently” (p. 227).

I like Webb and I like what he says. The romantic notion of ranches, big cattle drives, cowboys, horses, spurs jingling, dust blowing, with perhaps some rousing Elmer Bernstein music in the background is magnificent. Nevertheless, I am more taken with his line, “The East did a large business on a small scale.” It was the small farms that did the large business of raising cattle.

Webb’s line reminds me of one from the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas who wrote, “I was vicar of large things in a small parish.” It is a line, along with Webb’s, that keeps telling me of my vocation and the vocation of the church. Read more

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Two Christianities

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the Devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?” She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?”

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday mornings, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80 to 100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack into a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards. Read more