Securing Our Place

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

The chief temptation of Lent is not that we will give in to our appetites but that we will enjoy seeing how right we can be. We set out a program of spiritual self-improvement, to fast and give alms, to skip the chocolate or alcohol or meat or TV, to make a few visits to someone who is lonely. Or we do none of those things, knowing that in this way we prove we are not the kind of people who go in for works-righteousness. Either way, we enjoy a chance to try to prove to ourselves that we are good, or at least better than some. We secure our place.

The life of faith is not like that. Read more

The Way the World Works?

First Sunday after Pentecost
Trinity Sunday

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Two of our scripture passages for today – the story of Nicodemus from John 3 and Paul’s admonition to the church in Rome from Romans 8 – wrestle with the nature of spirit and flesh.  Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, interpretation (or mis-interpretation) of passages like these has led many Christians into the sort of gnostic dualism that condemns the flesh and elevates the spirit. In recent years, a subtle sort of Christian Gnosticism – that literary critic Harold Bloom has called “the American Religion” – has tempted us to be careless in our stewardship of our bodies and the creation at large (the “God is going to destroy it anyway” mentality).  In the late 1990s, for instance, one research study found that evangelical Christians tended to be more obese than other sectors of the US population, and more interestingly, that this tendency was even stronger among those Christians who claimed to read the Bible literally.

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Assembling in the Spirit

Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Acts 2:1

I was going to title this post “The Summer of Our Discontent.”

For various denominational bodies, late spring and early summer are seasons for gathering “all together in one place.” United Methodists conference together, Episcopalians and Baptists convene, and Presbyterians generally assemble (or assemble generally). Long-time participants in these gatherings and others like them might say, with a cynical wink, that, except for the “all together” part (and the being “in one place” part), these meetings are a real blast—productive, enjoyable, edifying . . . . . . Not.

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Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

I must admit, I am not very comfortable with spirits. God the Father, God the Son—these are concrete realities that show up on mountaintops, write on stone tablets, and die on wooden crosses. But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom? I have a hard time understanding.

Thankfully I don’t have to understand—the Spirit itself brings that. As Jesus says in the Gospel reading, the Spirit “will guide you in all truth.” But as he goes on to say, this truth is not a truth that the Spirit has on its own—it is a truth that comes from the Father and the Son—it is a truth held in the consensus and community of the Trinity that we worship.

I find it striking that in all three of our readings for this Sunday—Proverbs, Romans, John—the Spirit comes to a community. In Proverbs the Spirit of Wisdom cries out “To you, o people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” In Romans, Paul speaks of faith by which “we are justified” and speaks of the love of God having been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Read more