Love = Obedience

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Commandments. Rules. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. We scoff at rules. We chafe under the control of those who make them. We bend them and break them and try to explain them away. Sometimes rules seem out of date, senseless.

Have you ever seen those lists of the nutty rules some states still have on the books? In Tennessee, it’s illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. In Indiana, it’s against the law to shoot open a can of food. In Kentucky, it’s a crime to use a reptile during any part of a religious service.

Many Christians are big on rules. It’s common in my community to see Ten Commandment signs posted in driveways. Don’t you find it a little odd that the one religious message we stake out in our front yards is the Ten Commandments? Why don’t we see signs that proclaim, “Jesus is Lord! God is love! Christ is risen!?”
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Words

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
John 2:13-22
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I have an almost two year-old friend, Azalea, who is stringing sentences together into increasingly complex stories. A most recent tale that Azalea tells involves Muppet, her cat, sitting in Azalea’s yogurt. Said story is followed by a big little-girl grin, not only because she gets tickled recounting it, but also because she has learned that she can evoke a similar response in other people. She looks for her audience to understand and react to what she says, and she delights in it. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of her conversation.

Although she can’t put words to the concept yet, Azalea is quickly learning that language is power. Words shape reality and emotion. Deployed well and with care, words are a means of grace that create and foster connection: making possible conversation, defining the contours of experience and feeling, offering the ability to acknowledge vulnerability, make commitments, name and address injustices, admit wrong and heal wounds.

Such is the power of words that the early church designated the 40 days of Lent as time necessary to prepare catechists to understand and respond to the words/questions that would be asked of them at their Easter baptism. Read more

To Feel as Christians

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

“I am consumed by anger, because my enemies forget your words.” (Ps 119:139)

“But for those who freely serve you, for them, you are their joy. And this is the happy life, this alone, to rejoice in you, from you, through you.” (Augustine, Confessions)

The Christian life goes hand and hand with a peculiar palette of emotions. At times I’ve reflected that to be welcomed into Christian community–to realize that these defining convictions have become one’s own—is the prelude to (and condition for) feelings of anger and even a sense of alienation or being a stranger among one’s own. Read more

Tensions in the Law

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 7:7-17 OR Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Law and land are themes running through this week’s lectionary readings. In Deuteronomy, Moses spells out the law for the Promised Land that the Israelite’s will soon inhabit. In Luke, Jesus discusses Torah and its interpretation with a young lawyer as he journeys to Jerusalem, a journey that requires many Israelites to pass through the land of the Samaritans, a people in dubious relation to the law. In Psalm 82, God is the great judge holding council with the gods of the nations.

As a member of a late modern society, I sense in myself a certain complacency with regard to the law of this land. Even dramatic cases of judicial corruption do not, I am sad to say, disrupt my complacency for long. ‘We’ve got checks and balances,’ I say to myself, ‘the system will right itself.’ In blinding us to corruption, our system may find a reflection in the system confronted by Amos. Amaziah, Jeroboam’s chief priest, becomes a recognizable image of an administrator of human justice. He seems well aware that, for the system to function, protocol must be maintained. And this protocol entails a kind of behavioral training for those who live in the system. Amos flouts the dispositions for the professional prophet with the disruptive tenor of his words. It is not for speaking falsehoods that Amaziah diplomatically tries to banish him to a place where his words can do little harm; it is because he threatens the stability of the kingdom.

So the surface issue of law hovers above a deeper, systematic condition. Law is underwritten by ideology: a symbolic order by which we justify frequently unjust ways of life. Read more