A Larger Story

The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

One of the blessings of pastoral ministry is the chance to be a part of some of the most memorable moments in people’s lives. To stand with a couple on their wedding day or to gather with a family as they say goodbye to a loved one, to speak words of scripture and offer up prayers during these times—these can be powerful and significant opportunities to share in the lives of those we serve.

As many pastors would likely attest, these moments are special not just because of the ceremonies themselves, but because of the way they connect to something bigger. They allow us to look beyond the moment and see how that moment fits into a larger view of God’s work.

Of all these powerful and holy moments that we as ministers and as members of a Christian community get to share, perhaps none is as significant or as important as a baptism. To stand at a font or in a baptistery with a person who is just beginning his or her first steps in the life of faith, to speak words of encouragement and exhortation, to pray as a community for the continued growth and sustained faithfulness of the candidate for baptism – this is such a heavy and joyful and emotionally charged event that words can hardly do it justice.

We come to such moments, and we walk away from them, convinced that God has been at work in some mysterious way to bring new life, and that we have been blessed to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promises, with the knowledge that what has just happened connects us to something bigger than ourselves, a story of salvation that God has been telling for generations. Read more

Words

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
John 2:13-22
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I have an almost two year-old friend, Azalea, who is stringing sentences together into increasingly complex stories. A most recent tale that Azalea tells involves Muppet, her cat, sitting in Azalea’s yogurt. Said story is followed by a big little-girl grin, not only because she gets tickled recounting it, but also because she has learned that she can evoke a similar response in other people. She looks for her audience to understand and react to what she says, and she delights in it. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of her conversation.

Although she can’t put words to the concept yet, Azalea is quickly learning that language is power. Words shape reality and emotion. Deployed well and with care, words are a means of grace that create and foster connection: making possible conversation, defining the contours of experience and feeling, offering the ability to acknowledge vulnerability, make commitments, name and address injustices, admit wrong and heal wounds.

Such is the power of words that the early church designated the 40 days of Lent as time necessary to prepare catechists to understand and respond to the words/questions that would be asked of them at their Easter baptism. Read more

The Self Under Attack

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10 OR Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

We live in times of anxiety about identity. Philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that modern people are especially pressed to play some active role in determining who we are. We construct our identities not only in conversation with others, though this is an important part of the process. We are also involved in a “self-conversation,” as the story of our lives will often be an uneasy weaving of various threads. These threads are born out of the transitions of our attachments and allegiances over time. Moreover, some new threads will be defined by overcoming earlier ones—i.e., the new, fit, and productive me supersedes the lazy couch potato.

How these threads remain together may itself be an important moral task, a task of proper story construction, or integrity. We face a great temptation to protect our identities against attack. It’s a strange war we wage when fighting for our identities, for we project outward a war raging within. It is difficult to locate one’s enemies in such confusion. For instance, I was raised in a Catholic church, a tradition from which I was in a sense orphaned (or, at least, put up for foster care). Later on, I was taken in by a Protestant community. How do I narrate that story? Dark to light? We are tempted, even here, to do violence to ourselves. Read more