USMC-15326

The Unwelcome Word

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

This Sunday’s Gospel gives us the conclusion to the gripping story we heard last week about the Jubilee Year. Last week, Jesus read from Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor – the year of Jubilee. More than that, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It has been fulfilled NOW. And NOW. And NOW.

We discover that the year of Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, isn’t only the Jubilee as we have it from Jewish law, where debts are forgiven and an unjust society is reordered, ever forty-nine years. When Jesus proclaims the word has been fulfilled, the Jubilee becomes now, and every moment. The Jubilee is constant.

Last week’s Gospel ended on that joyful note – but this week’s Gospel presents those same words – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This week, we experience some of the effect of what it means to say that the Jubilee is now, and always. Read more

love

What Is Love?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (15:17)

Love, love, love. All you need is love. Warm fuzzies! What is this longing in our hearts for togetherness? Is it not the sweetest flower? Love!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (15:12)

Um. As I have loved you?

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (15:13).

Ohhhhhhhh.That.

John reminds us that the kind of love Christians are called to embody takes a particular, cruciform shape. Read more

planet earth

Loving the World

Fourth Sunday of Lent

John 3:14-21

Likely the most well known verse in the entire Bible is John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life (which is the way I memorized it in the King James version).

In the Texas Baptist life in which I grew up this was the essence of the gospel or as old Luther said a few centuries earlier, it’s the gospel in miniature. Along with the entire story of Nicodemus secretly coming to Jesus during the night and being told earlier in the conversation that he must be born again, this was our canon within the canon and it interpreted everything else. To this day in most Baptist churches in my part of the world I can stand up in the pulpit and say, “For God so loved” and the entire congregation will respond reciting the rest of the verse from memory.

Unfortunately, for most of us so formed by this understanding of the gospel, it has reinforced our Gnosticism. Read more

Head of Christ

The Unfairness of God’s Justice

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The twentieth century political philosopher, John Rawls, summarily restated his most famous work, A Theory of Justice, as “Justice as Fairness.” Many who know little of his learned, complex argument may have heard of his “Original Position,” the thought experiment that serves as creation myth for Rawls’ social contract.

Rawls asks his reader to imagine a meeting where all parties choose a common social structure from behind a “veil of ignorance.” No one knows his/her/its origin, history, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, talents, abilities, or conception of the Good. This artifice, Rawls believes, forces participants to choose the basic rights and duties of citizens impartially, rationally, and fairly — and Rawls confidently tells us what they will decide.

Many of Rawls’ subsequent conclusions are appealing, but his starting point strikes me as a progressive “just so” story. For Rawls, it seems, people emptied of nearly every personal quality will nevertheless share his late twentieth century bourgeois liberal values.

This week’s lectionary readings envision a radically different universe. Read more

flower in rocks

Wasteful Miracles

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11 OR Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

With two millennia of practice, Christians have nearly perfected the art of explaining away Gospel demands. Excuse-making is, after all, a human strong suit, and it’s not easy to stop doing what you’re really good at.

A modern variant of the “that’s nice, but it doesn’t apply to me” excuse stresses how different our lives are from those of first century peasants. Farmers, shepherds, and fishermen are, for many of us, abstractions invisibly at work somewhere beyond our personal experience, black boxes in the grocery store supply chain, while the few among us who farm or fish for a living know better than to throw precious seeds along a rocky path, leave ninety-nine percent of the stock loose and unwatched while searching for a stray, or toss nets over the oarlocks and hope for the best without benefit of engines, fishfinder, or radio.

In contrasting my busy, technologically sophisticated modern life to sentimentalized myths of agrarian simplicity, I construct all the distance I need to miss the point – and missing the point is, after all, the unacknowledged point of much contemporary scripture study. I like to imagine that I would never be so wasteful and inefficient as the benighted peasantry of Jesus’ time. Read more