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).


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

Saul conversion

Do You Love Me?

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 9: 1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5: 11-14
John 21: 1-19

What a gift the Great Fifty Days are for the church! Time to celebrate. Time to ponder. Celebrate and ponder the stupefying wonder that is the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Here we are on the third Sunday of Easter and the disciples still aren’t getting it. Their continued bafflement speaks volumes to the shock of what has taken place. Thousands of years later the ripples of that decisive Act of God can continue to confound us; the church is still in need of this gift of time to yearly reorient ourselves to what God is up to.

Unexpected, startling, the Resurrection of Jesus has left the disciples at loose ends, unsure of what the implications are and of what they are to do with themselves. “I am going fishing.” says Simon Peter in this Sunday’s text from John. This is the first hint in John’s gospel that some of the disciples are former fishermen. When confronted with something surprisingly new, it seems to be human nature to fall back on old ways. The others, lacking for any better ideas of what to do, decide to join him. They hang out the “Gone Fishing” sign and head for the boat, though their efforts prove fruitless. It all seems a bit anticlimactic and even a little lame after everything that’s happened. Perhaps the real miracle is that the church was birthed at all! Read more