Pain and Hope

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 42
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Eternal God, lead me now out of the familiar setting of my doubts and fears, beyond my pride and my need to be secure, into a strange and graceful ease with my true proportions and with yours; that in boundless silence I may grow strong enough to endure and flexible enough to share your grace. Amen.
–Guerillas of Grace, 28

These are tough days for those who mount pulpits to proclaim the Word of God. Sitting, as I am, on this Monday before Sunday, wondering how to write faithfully about these appointed texts for the week, I find my thoughts repeatedly drifting to my newsfeed. These stories cry out for the preacher to say a word about them, too.

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston. Is there a word from the Lord for those who yet grieve the daily violence and injustice perpetrated against the black community in this country? Is there a word from the Lord for young women in the pews who watch these same newsfeeds in fear and disgust as a rapist walks away from his crimes with not much more than a slap on the wrist and we are all reminded of the power of privilege–or is it the privilege of power? Is there a word from the Lord for members of the LGBTQ community whose fragile (if they had it at all) sense of security was shattered yesterday when a gunman walked into a nightclub and perpetrated the largest mass shooting in US history? A word for those who might use this tragedy to pit this one vulnerable population against an equally vulnerable Muslim population? Is there a word from the Lord on days when the demons that threaten to break us are Legion and their names are racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious extremism? Is there a word from the Lord on days like these when there are simply no words at all? 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

Forgiven to Forgive

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18:21-35

American culture has bastardized forgiveness into a self-serving tool. For proof, look no further than the Mayo Clinic website or a personal favorite, wikiHow Comparable to its detailed instructions on how to train for a 5k or get rid of a pimple, Wiki provides a 12-step prescription on “How to Forgive,” complete with additional tips and warnings like “forgiveness is hard!” These sites, in addition to others of the self-help variety, commonly extol using forgiveness as a way to better your own physical and emotional health, with the bonus of decreasing stress and potentially increasing your life span. Forgiveness is 100% about you.

This week’s parable in Matthew offers a corrective to this stunted understanding of forgiveness. We first learn, per Jesus, that we have an obligation to extend forgiveness – or release someone from the metaphorical debt they owe you – essentially without limit. The parable also makes clear that we forgive even small slights, because we have already been forgiven a debt that we could never repay. Our ability to forgive is a reflection of and witness to God’s forgiveness of us. Finally, even though it is expected of us, the gesture has to be genuine – “from your heart” (18:35). Read more

Life Threatening

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

The news story reported that the injuries of the accident victims were “serious but not life threatening.”  It struck me that in addition to being a welcome medical diagnosis, that phrase is also a not-so-welcome description of a very prevalent misunderstanding of discipleship.  Serious, earnest, studious?  Certainly.  But life threatening?  That’s just not in our frame of reference.

So what of Jesus’ words about crosses and losing our lives?  The usual reading strategy, most often unspoken, is to assume that Jesus was “a special case,” or that the things Jesus speaks of in this week’s Gospel passage are either historical relics or are addressed to those who live “way over there” in uncivilized places where fanatics run crazy.  Put this interpretation of the Gospel passage with an Epistle reading for the week that one commentary calls “a miscellany of moral exhortations,” and you have a nice little collection of texts suitable for a Sunday in the long sleepy stretch of Ordinary Time.

Craig Hovey will have none of that.  He writes profoundly in To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church that every church is meant to be a martyr-church even though not every Christian’s witness will be a martyr-witness.  The witness of the martyrs “is not only the business of a select few but the shape of the body in which all Christians share” (14).  Hovey argues that since no Christian can know whether she will be killed for her faith until the actual moment of death, martyrdom is an open possibility for every Christian.  If we assume that “we” are not a martyr-church, he charges, “we have ceased to live with a proper and appropriate antagonism to the world in attempts to preclude the possibility that we might die the death of Christ,” thus securing “our own fates as nonmartyrs” (18). Read more

Junk-yard Dog

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:10-28

“Junk-yard dog.” The first time he ever called her that, I bristled. Wish I could tell you it was said in private, out of ear-shot, but it wasn’t. It was his term of affection for her, said often to her face. I’d been coaching kids’ soccer for all of three weeks, eight year olds, and her mom had struggled to consistently get her to practices and games. So my assistant, a dear man and veteran coach, but living in a place where such ignorant terms of endearment (or not) were still somewhat culturally accepted, had offered to give her rides to practices and games.

She was from the “wrong” side of town, he told me. He worried about her, he told me, and wanted different for her. He ached for our team to be a shiny spot in her life, where she didn’t have to think about home. His daughters were the same age; I watched his huge dad-heart at work over this little girl and I knew for certain he cared. But his name for her most of the season long still grated on me each time I heard it – just the same way Jesus’ words in the gospel text this week grate on me. Read more