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Rocking the Boat

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9

Genesis 37:1-4Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45bRomans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2008.

 

I’ve been following a blog debate over at www.theolog.org [ed. note - this blog is now part of http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs] between a scientist of some sort, hostile to religion generally and Christianity particularly, and a pious defender of the faith. In my view, neither has been very impressive in articulating his case against the other, and the back-and-forth accusations and “gotcha’s” and outright vitriol have only escalated as the debate has gone on (and on and on). I tried briefly to weigh in on it earlier this week, calling for a little charity and humility from both sides, but, like a sister trying to pull her two brothers off each other in a backyard brawl, I was roundly ignored. Lesson learned.

The gospel text from Matthew 14 this week strikes me as the kind of passage over which science guy and defender guy would go at it, arguing past each other all the while—as they have been doing all week. The ghostly Jesus walking on the water is too much for the rationalist to take in; it’s laughable, even—easy pickins. The mocking denial of such an archetype biblical image of Jesus (and the sacrosanct truth it represents) is scandalous to the defender’s deeply-felt piety. You can almost hear defender guy quoting Jesus back at his opponent: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” (14:31). Disagreement. Accusation. Counter-accusation.

Impasse.

What to say about such a text when there are probably many science guys and defenders guys (and gals) in our congregations? Whose side does the preacher take? Read more

tombs

God and Graves

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

We’re nearing the end of Lent, a season that we Christians started by proclaiming our mortality and wearing a symbol of death on our foreheads. It seems appropriate, then, that we spend this last Sunday before Holy Week with God messing around in graves.

Lazarus has died, despite the efforts of his two distraught sisters, Mary and Martha. The community in Bethany has come to sit shiva, when they hear that Jesus is on his way to the house. John tells us that Mary and Martha independently greet Jesus with the same statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The underlying expectation – healing illness to prolong life – is the same that we often bring to modern medicine. In Mary and Martha’s case, it’s a reasonable expectation that Jesus could have doctored Lazarus. He had recently healed a blind man, an event that the gathered mourners know about (11:37). Read more

Nicodemus and Jesus

The Womb of the Church

Second Sunday of Lent

John 3:1-17 (18-21)

It is dark, night, perhaps even the evening after Jesus goes on a rampage in the temple, flipping tables, coins flying, would-be sacrifices scattering. The Jews had confronted him, asking for a sign. He’d made quite the scene.
Now in the dark, Nicodemus comes to Jesus.

A leader of the Jews, an authority in the temple where such a scene was made, he comes to appease, smooth things over a little, perhaps appeal to the madman in hopes of preventing further disruption. It’s Passover, after all, and the temple at that. A repeat of such antics would be deeply shaming.

Or perhaps the dark is more than simple night, and Nicodemus wants in, closer to the power he sees in the signs. Something real is at work in Jesus, something light, something that looks like God.

Perhaps, he comes for a little of both. Read more

bible and gun

Asking the Hard Questions

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

In the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category was the story from a few days ago about the Kentucky Baptist Convention leading what they’re calling “Second Amendment Celebrations” where churches around the state give away guns as door prizes to lure in nonbelievers in hopes of converting them to Christ.

At one such upcoming event organizers are expecting as many as 1,000 people where they will be given a free steak dinner and the chance to win one of 25 handguns, long guns and shotguns.

The goal is to “point people to Christ,” says a church sponsoring the event, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention said 1,678 men made “professions of faith” at about 50 such events last year, most of them in Kentucky.

Is anyone asking any questions about this? Read more

Palms

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Palm Sunday

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

These celebratory words plunge us into Palm Sunday pageantry: greens waving, draped cloaks, children processing, and hosannas resounding. Six weeks into Lent, we may be looking for an escape. We hear the cry, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and we catch a brief glimpse of Jesus as coming king. Finally there is light in the darkness!

The crowds that gathered some 2000 years ago are also relieved; it’s not simply six weeks from which they seek reprieve, but a lifetime (and an ancestry) of heaviness, oppression and fragility. At last Jesus will take hold of Jerusalem! Maybe even a wisp of smugness laces the festivities; finally the powers that reign are going to be put in their place. “That will show those Roman occupiers who our God really is!”

Mixed with our anticipation, we also are prone to gather with a waft of conceit. Read more