The Naked Emperor and the Foolishness of the Cross

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:14-29

There is a single light in the room, twin giraffes holding up the bulb beneath the shade. My daughters are in bed, their heads appearing from beneath the covers. I sit in an easy chair in the corner and read: “Many years ago, there was an Emperor who was so very fond of new clothes…” This classic tale, captured and known to us through Hans Christian Andersen, is the story of an Emperor who is taken in by con-artists who weave a cloth they say is visible only to the intelligent. No one can see the cloth, of course, because there is no cloth to be seen, but no one will admit it because they buy the lie and do not want to be seen as unworthy. They all keep the illusion going until one day the emperor goes parading naked through the streets, followed by his royal court holding the train of his non-existent new clothes. No one in the city will admit that they do not see the clothes until a child, in his innocence, exclaims: “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” And in that innocent exclamation the spell is broken as the people begin to say, “Listen to the voice of the child!” The Emperor, still caught up in the lie, keeps going, walking on in his underwear. Read more

Truth Telling and Race in the “United” States

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Ephesians is written to the ekklesia, the gathering, a “new humanity” in which dividing walls are broken down through Christ’s submission-to/assumption-of the state’s bone-breaking violence in his own body. This passage advocates truth-telling for the upbuilding of Christian community so that we are transformed by and participate in God’s character revealed in Christ: self-sacrificing love for the sake of others.

I offer a truth that is not new or of my own thought, but I believe it will continue to be a (perhaps, the) primary challenge for the church as it fleshes out this calling in this country at this time.

The church abjectly fails to embody the beloved community as long as it recapitulates racial divisions inherent in the culture in which it’s situated. Read more

They Cried to the Lord

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

“They cried to the Lord, and the Lord answered them” (Psalm 99:6b)

The Psalmist’s words will be the entrance into this week’s Scripture passages. The hope as we gather in our respective places of worship is that the words of the texts will not only say something, but also do something. Paul Simon’s song “Wartime Prayers” helps bridge that divide. Simon, who admits he is as surprised as anyone at how God keeps showing up as the subject of his songs, has the poet’s gift of speaking in image rather than in proposition. He also unashamedly joins the chorus of the needy.

“Show me your glory,” Moses cries to the Lord. His plea is occasioned by God’s command to leave the Mountain, the place of special revelation, for an unknown future. He yearns for certainty. “Show me your glory,” he cries. Read more

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