A New Creation

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Corinthians 5:6-17

So here we are, once again in the long Season After Pentecost (after Easter, after Lent, after Epiphany, well, you get the idea). Having moved through the great, narrative seasons that remind us of who Jesus was and is and is to come, we are launched into a season of deep, practiced discipleship, out in the world God so loves. And just as the Earth is literally in a physically different place from the last time we encountered the Season After Pentecost, so too is the world, our congregations, and ourselves. Continuing to travel in Jacob Bernoulli’s Spira mirabilis* the hope is that we are spiraling ever closer to the final fulfillment of God’s Creation. Read more

Divided Houses and the God Who is King

Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

When I was younger, I heard many sermons about King David. Of course, David’s story and several Davidic themes form a significant strand of Old Testament thinking. These sermons usually elevated David as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Because he was king of Israel, he was God’s person for the job. Often, the focus on this central Israelite ruler was set alongside a fervent push for Christian leaders to be in positions of power and a strong sense that the United States was/is a Christian nation. Israel was God’s nation, and they had a king. Why should this version of God’s nation be any different (even if the official title of the leader is different)?

My experience is not unique. Many churches emphasize David’s story as a way to say something about our own time and setting. For example, we can easily find folks defending their chosen political figure’s indiscretions by invoking David’s story. They say, “Yes, David made mistakes, but God still backed him. Therefore, this political leader’s place is safe because we are certain that God also backs him or her.” In the end, the activity of the nation (including military action) is legitimated as part of God’s plan and purpose for the whole world. When turning to the appointed texts for this week, however, we find a different story unfolding. Read more

Taking Scripture Seriously

Second Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 2:23-3:6

Is Scripture the whip of the oppressor or the hope of the oppressed?

At my church, Holy Family, we talk a lot about the difference between taking Scripture literally versus taking it seriously. Sometimes to take Scripture seriously, we must read it literally. And sometimes, reading Scripture literally is a failure on our part to take it seriously. Read more

Polyphony of Glory

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.
Isaiah 6:3

The creeds can seem like rote, take-it-or-leave-it dogmatic moments in the liturgy, rather than expressions of hard-won, blood-stained wisdom wrung from centuries of wrestling with the meaning of God and human experience.
Tom Long

Talk about the Trinity sounds a far cry from “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Actually, the former can help illuminate the latter, and vice versa, but there are a couple of things one must keep in mind. The first is that Christian theology is a conversation that has been going on across two millenia and in countless historical situations. Taking it seriously involves the effort to become more fluent in this vast language.

The other thing to acknowledge is that each and every discipline has its unique vocabulary, from a CNA conversation in the hospital hallway to a quarterback calling plays in the offensive huddle. Theology is the kind of language that probes, clarifies, parses, distinguishes between ‘not this, not this, but this.’ One who properly uses this language admits with fear and trembling that even though words about God are “a raid on the inarticulate,” we must not settle for “the general mess of imprecision of feeling / Undisciplined squads of emotion (T.S. Eliot, ‘East Coker’). Read more

Not As You Suppose

Pentecost
Acts 2.1-21

One Friday night I was working late at church, when a young boy wandered in among the pews. He was there for a Scout dinner in the other room, but excited to see the sanctuary doors open, he ducked in to have a look. I invited him on in, along with his mom. They were hushed and reverent as they gazed around, but I did manage to overhear his parting words. Looking at the wall at the front of the sanctuary, he pointed to the cross hanging there and said with grave solemnity and great awe, “Look! They have a giant lowercase t.” Read more

Driving Force

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

As most readers of the book of Acts learn very early on, any perception of this document as a utopian vision of a pristine church is severely misguided. While it is clear that the Christian community in those earliest days and months and years following Christ’s resurrection experienced triumphant and powerful highs the likes of which it has rarely seen in the centuries since, those early followers of Jesus also experienced crushing defeats. For every day of Pentecost there was a trial before the Sanhedrin. For every healing, there was an imprisonment. For every Barnabas, deemed the “Son of Encouragement,” there is an Ananias or Sapphira, trying to pull a fast one not only on the Christian community, but on the Holy Spirit. Read more

Finding Our Voice

Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10: 11-18

“If our practice of the gospel is easy, it may be that we have not quite understood the obedience to which we are called” Walter Brueggemann, Gift and Task (143)

My children are eight and ten years old. They are sponges with ears. They hear and absorb everything, whether it be snippets of news stories on the radio or the ruminations of fellow third and fourth graders on the playground. Times being what they are, our “making sense of the world” dinner conversations of late have been a test of my ability to recall 9th grade civics. Read more

Fear and Trembling

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear straw hats and velvet to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.

– Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”

I once heard former stand-up comedian turned Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, speak at a Christian literary festival, where I found her precisely as billed: entertaining, insightful, and provocative. In the Q&A portion of the hour, a particularly earnest-sounding audience member asked what practices she engaged to “bring her closer to God.”

At this, the tattooed Reverend scrunched her face and said, “Why would I want to do that? Every time I find myself close to Jesus, I’m asked to love someone I hate or forgive someone I don’t want to.” Her response was met with scattered laughter, the nervous sort that suggests both recognition and chagrin. Over the top as Bolz-Weber’s answer was, she clearly hit home with some of us, me included. Read more