For God So Loved the World

Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:13-21
(Fourth Sunday in Lent)

With a group of friends, I’m reading a new book entitled Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. Written by a Roman Catholic priest–Dominican and Englishman Timothy Radcliffe–and commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury as his Lent Book for 2009, this text is interesting reading for us American Methodists in the suburban south.

In a chapter on preaching (the book takes in the whole of Word and Table), Radcliffe warns against taming the Bible’s strangeness in the Sunday sermon. “The beauty of the Bible,” he says, “is that it is not clear, simple and unambiguous. Its words are puzzling, intriguing and slippery.” Read more

Asleep at the Wheel

John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Exodus 20:1-17 (Lent 3B)

There is a joke that occasionally passes through pastors’ circles now and again with a bit of light-hearted commentary on the passion (or lack thereof) of worship in a particular pastor’s church. Says one pastor: “My congregation is so dead in worship that if someone were to have a heart attack, when the EMTs arrived they’d wonder to whom they should attend.” Those of us who worship regularly in congregations that bear any resemblance to that description chuckle uneasily at this joke. Yet truth be told, it hits a little too close to home. What has happened to our practice of worship that it has become yet another instance of a religious institution “going through the motions” rather than true, life-shaping (rather than sleep inducing) encounter with the living God? I don’t know about you, but a few cattle and sheep in the narthex of my church might be just the ticket to breaking our somnolence and accommodation to the “way things are” in congregational worship. Read more

Closer to the Brink

Last Sunday’s readings (the First Sunday of Lent for the Western Church) were stories of destruction turned into rescue and peril into triumph. Noah, at God’s urging, saves a remnant of Creation and receives God’s covenantal promise. Jesus, upon being baptized, is immediately (euthus, one of Mark’s favorite words) driven into the wilderness (the verb, ekballein, suggests being tossed, hurled, or expelled, as in an exorcism) where he is unsuccessfully tempted by Satan before being waited upon by angels.

This week – with the Revised Common and Catholic lectionaries diverging – peril and destruction are nearer than ever. In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” for advising against the path of suffering, death and resurrection. It doesn’t help that the phrase, “pick up your cross,” has lost its terrifying charge over the centuries. We might have to try a contemporary paraphrase, something like: “renounce your citizenship, lie down willingly on your waterboard, and die.” Yes, there’s the promise of the Father coming in glory with his angels, but Jesus makes plain you can’t get there from here except through the valley of death (not its shadow, mind you, but the real, mortal, unavoidable deal). Read more

What Do You See?

Jesus healing blind men

“Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” — John 9:40-41

When I was in seminary, one of the questions that we were instructed to ask ourselves in any ministerial context was: “Where and who are the invisible people?” This question was intended to help us to find those people in every community that are out of sight and out of mind to so many in the church and to ask the crucial questions about why they had been relegated to the margins and pushed “out of sight.” I was in a meeting recently when someone critiqued this language of invisibility. Invisibility, she argued, indicates that there is something inherent to the person or group of people that makes them unseen. The real issue is not that they are invisible, but that we are blind to them. These people and communities exist, materially and concretely, in plain sight—but those of us who inhabit our middle class, mostly Anglo, mainline society are able to live our lives comfortably pretending as if those on the margins do not exist. Read more

Coming To Our Senses

This year our Lenten journey through the wilderness is not one that we walk alone. The persons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospel of John on the Sundays in Lent are our traveling companions. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, even Lazarus, all have a place on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. From Sunday to Sunday while each of these persons experiences Jesus in individual ways, collectively they reveal to us the fullness of who we are as well as our total emptiness before Jesus. Read more