Posts

Showing posts from 2010

Christmas cancelled

Image
I imagine this bothers Jesus less than it does me.


I'm sure they just want their members and visitors to be safe. But for Christ's sake! It's like they put up a sign saying "It's not that important."
&nbsp

Praise and Creation

Image
The First Sunday After Christmas
Psalm 148

This is one of my favorite psalms. I love its exuberant, over-the-top, unabashed joy in praising the Lord of all creation. In one sense it is very simple to exegete: it is a hymn and a prayer for all creation to join in praising the Lord.

It does so in fairly simple fashion. In parallel structures of Hebrew poetry, it pulls in all parts of the universe by listing the "alphas" and "omegas," the boundaries which define the created world. The reader will note its similarities to the creation story in Genesis 1, the same cosmology of the three-tiered universe, a rough correspondence to the order of creation, the same varieties of living creatures. Everything, everything, is praising God!

This psalm only appears in the lectionary the first Sunday after Christmas every year. It is appropriate here, given the way the church has retrospectively and exuberantly glorified its Messiah’s birth. How natural that all creation sings in prai…

The grace of God has appeared

Image
Christmas Eve
Titus 2:11-14

Christmas! It's a time we celebrate. The harvest festivals have edged into a "last hurrah," in the face of the long cold nights of winter. The season's images (in the north at least) include a warm hearth, lights decorating home and streets, rich foods, and gifts wrapped up brightly to be even more special.

The church, too, is decorated with pine boughs and bright red poinsettias, with elaborate manger scenes, Christmas pageants, white and gold paraments. And Christmas Eve services are often a "dress up" occasion.

The Feast of the Incarnation is justly celebrated with the best we have to offer, with gold and exotic spices.

Yet sometimes I think that we might instead put out tattered altar cloths, and light only the barest stub of a candle. When I think of the Christmas stories that affect me the most, they're not tales of glory and bright shiny things under the tree – but of the glory and radiance that shine forth when love come…

Thanksgiving 2010

Image
Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving... 1 Timothy 4:4 (NIV).

Everything?

That's what it says. Everything God created is good. And nothing is to be rejected - IF - it is received with thanksgiving.

This is a radical, surprising, and controversial claim.

While it may now be Christian theological orthodoxy (that creation itself is good, but fallen), most creation theologies and origin-stories are violent. Creation itself is often seen as suffused with blood, born out of the battle between gods, or between good and evil forces. Not every Christian even believes in the thorough goodness of creation, as seen in traditions which "deny the flesh" without also embracing it, or which fixate on the battle with evil.

But this scripture is clear. Everything God created is good.

And now the still more amazing claim. No part of creation is to be rejected, nothing denied or disowned - but its acceptability is determined by its rece…

Singing in Advent - Psalm 122

Image
First Sunday in Advent, Year A
Psalm 122

The Season of Advent, the four Sundays which precede Christmas, is traditionally a time of singing. The rest of the world is playing Christmas carols in the background with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the sounds of jingling bells. And perhaps we might sing along joyfully, knowing what is coming.

The season of Advent has this tension built into it. It is a season of expectancy and anticipation. Of preparation and watchfulness. Advent has a penitential character. It has been seen as a parallel season to Lent, with the same traditional color of the season (penitential purple) and with the same strict fast.

Yet, God love us, we have peeked under the wrappings and know that Christmas awaits, the Savior is coming but he is the One who has already come! Alleluia!

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" (Psalm 122:1, NRSV).

This psalm-song lives in the joy the pilgrim feels when anticipat…

Veterans Day 2010

Image
This is an odd holiday, commemorating a number of different things. Do we pick and choose? Do we try and hold them together?

In the United States, November 11th is observed as Veterans Day. The service of all veterans of U.S. military service, living and dead, is lifted up as a civic honor. It was established in 1954 after a grassroots campaign to make it a day for “All Veterans.”

Previously the day had been observed as Armistice Day, commemorating the cessation of battle on the Western Front during the First World War. That day, the guns fell silent, and the people at home rejoiced at the end of unimaginable destruction (16 million dead, 21 million wounded, both military and civilian).

That beginning of the peace, set for the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, fell upon St. Martin’s Day.

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier when, through a dream where Jesus recognized him, he became convinced in his Christian faith. He continued to serve in the military, until he c…

Christ the King, Christ the Head

Image
Christ the King
November 21

Colossians 1:11-20

When you think about it, it’s really miraculous – that we can use words to describe the wonders of creation, the transcendent, those things which go so far beyond the syllables which reference them. Brain and language researchers are beginning to respect how, as we heard in Genesis 1 and John 1, the Word calls things into being. Language and meaning go hand in hand, and words do more than describe reality. For humans, words help constitute reality.

This means we take theology (theo-logos, God-speech) seriously. When we say “Christ the King,” we are proclaiming something about Christ – that our Messiah is a king.

The beauty of metaphor is the way it says something real. The problem of metaphor is that, in saying that one thing is another, we can get stuck in the metaphor and lose track of how the metaphor “exegetes,” illustrates, and illumines its subject. What about the earthly kings we know is true of Christ?

There is much commentary and pr…

All Saints 2010

Image
All Saints 2010

Death and what happens to our human “selves,” our consciousness, our soul, is one of the great mysteries that all peoples have tried to understand. One moment a person is breathing, their heart beating and body warm, sharing life with us. And then something passes, they are still, grow cold, the light leaves their eyes, and they do not respond to any of our entreaties. All animals feel pain, and social animals feel social pain. We mourn the loss of those we know, and wonder what it means for us.

In Mexico, Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), November 2, links ancient indigenous practices and imagery to the Catholic feast of All Souls. In Roman Catholic doctrine, souls which are not condemned to hell but who still need some purgation as a result of earthly sins, spend time in Purgatory or “limbo.” So on the day of the dead, those departed who are still “in play” are invited back into the world. Altars are built to honor the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, an…

A Mighty Fortress

Image
Reformation Sunday
October 31

Psalm 46

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther attempted to open a public theological dialogue about reforming the practice of the church. One of the results was the Reformation, as social, political, and ideological conflicts divided the Western church. Different branches of the Protestant tradition emphasize different ideas about the Christian faith: the primacy of grace, the distinction between law and gospel, the sovereignty of God, the freedom of the Christian.

The readings for today touch on these themes, which the reformers would assert are not theirs alone, but true for all Christians. Perhaps the most enduring and most radical notion was the reformers’ return to the Bible, translating scripture into modern languages.

Reading and hearing the actual words of scripture... Of course, this has produced some bizarre, idiosyncratic interpretations. But this has also been eye-opening and liberating for uncounted millions, for the church, and for the whole p…

Prayers for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Image
October, 2010

Since 1981, October has been designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence is a problem that cuts across all religious, cultural, racial, social, and economic class lines. The color of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is purple – many people wear purple ribbons to remember the victims of private violence, where it takes place behind closed doors.

Here is the text of a proclamation by President Obama about Domestic Violence Awareness Month and why it is so important to consider this issue carefully in every family and every community.

NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH, 2009
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION
Domestic violence touches the lives of Americans of all ages, leaving a devastating impact on women, men, and children of every background and circumstance. A family's home becomes a place of fear, hopelessness, and desperation when a woman is battered by her partner, a child witnesses the abuse of a loved one,…

Life among the wicked

Image
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 3

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9

Family flees election-related violence in Kenya.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

Habakkuk 1:2, NRSV)
Do not fret because of the wicked... (Psalm 37:1, NRSV)
The prophet knows that evil is a problem. The psalmist knows that the wicked “will soon fade like the grass” (Psalm 37:2, NRSV).

Which is it, Lord?

The prophet knows that “do not fret” is not an adequate response to those who have suffered the trauma of injury and injustice. Even if the wicked will fade, they are here now, and they are all too strong. “Destruction and violence are before me;... The wicked surround the righteous” (Habakkuk 1:3,4, NRSV). The prophet cannot rest. What he sees afflicts him, and his unanswered cries for help cut as painfully – maybe more so – than the suffering he witnesses.

A number of people have noted that some prophetic literature seems to describe sy…

Holy ground - nine years after

Image
One of the central features of current controversy over the Park 51 Islamic community center is the public debate over what constitutes “holy ground.” This is held to be an essential part of understanding and remembering what happened on 9/11/01.

Unsurprisingly, the public debate is most intense at the World Trade Center. It was the first and focal point of the 9/11 attacks, and the first and focal point of public attention. It had the “most seen” images of that day, it is the real estate most familiar and most valuable, and of course, it is the location of the greatest number of victims.

The debate is not a new one. New Yorkers and victims’ families have been contending over this since 9/11/01, even that day as the site was dubbed “Ground Zero,” a metaphor for the epicenter of total destruction and toxicity of a nuclear blast, recalling the U.S. attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 56 years earlier, and perhaps alluding to the concentric waves of devastation from that center (buildings…

Don’t Let Jesus Manage Your Money

Image
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 12
Luke 15:1-10

Very often in the gospels, when there is conflict, Jesus’ teaching, his story telling, his actions are directed at helping people see things differently, to model or lead them to another way.

In reading these parables we have to be frank. Leaving 99 sheep unguarded to search for one lost sheep is terrible stewardship. The smart move is to protect your – or your master’s – major investment.

“Won't you leave the ninety-nine in the field...?” (Luke 15:4, CEV). Some read this and assume that the shepherd assures the safety of the 99 before searching for the lost one. Not so. The Greek word eremos means a wilderness. The 99 are left in a desolate, not a protected place.

99 sheep will soon enough make more sheep. Risking those 99 is not good business and is just plain irresponsible. No, most people probably wouldn’t leave the 99 unprotected to search out the lost one.

What’s a sheep worth anyway? Before you risk the 99, you’d better …

Peace in Downtown Manhattan

In an article for the Huffington Post, Sister Joan Chittister argues for "another way" to respond to the controversy surrounding the construction of an inclusive and Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site (The 'Ground Zero Mosque' Conundrum: Lessons From the Convent at Auschwitz). She argues by analogy, saying that "Unfortunately, the world has been here before..." and recalling the controversy over a convent and cross at Auschwitz.

I think a lot of Sr. Joan Chittister, and have gained from her writing and speaking. But when viewing this situation through the lens of the convent at Auschwitz, she sees more similarities than I do.

First, some technical differences.

1. The convent was established within camp grounds ("in a building which was utilized during World War II to store the poison gas used in the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria," "Auschwitz Convent"); the proposed center is located a short distance (two blocks) f…

They Desire a Better Country

Image
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

This passage begins with a discourse answering an implied question: “What is faith?” And we hear a well-known answer, often quoted when speaking of faith: it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1, NRSV).

There is no mistaking the importance of faith in Christian community, and it’s good to know what we mean when we use this powerful word. Yet there are two key things to be careful of in reading this passage.

First, “faith” is often invoked as an antidote to reality, belief in spite of the evidence. But this passage does not quite say that. It only says that we trust in, we look towards, and we set our hearts upon things which we know, but which are not yet in view.

There are plenty of things which are invisible whose existence we do not doubt. While 7/8s of an iceberg is under water, we understand that what is unseen is still there. We do not see the wind, but when we feel it on our cheek or …

Prayer for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Good God, we overhear Jesus telling a story to a lawyer, and wonder where we fit in. We like to imagine that we are the good neighbor, glossing over the Samaritan part.

Yet if truth be told we have preyed on others (and are thus robbers) and we have ignored those in need, for very good reasons I'm sure (choosing again and again to live in stand-by mode).

And even in these roles we find more comfort than identifying with the man in the ditch, beaten down, on our way to death, and unable to restore ourselves.

Lead to us the blessing of one (thousands if you can manage it) who will take our care upon them and bring us to a place where we may be healed. And help us to make that blessing ours, that we may share it with others, outcast to outcast, in your name, which is mercy. Amen.

The Parable of the Good Neighbor (Luke 10:25-37)
&nbsp

Martin Luther King and the Good Samaritan

Image
Martin Luther King, Jr. often referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). While King’s interpretation of the parable evolved over time, he maintained a consistent focus on the way the parable allows us to examine the obligations owed to one another, provided an enduring way to read this text.

King had a sermon on the topic which he used frequently. "Who Is My Neighbor?" highlights the question asked of Jesus. Jesus’ questioner, a lawyer, is testing Jesus and testing the limits of what Jesus’ God requires. They are agreed that loving God and neighbor is essential. But how far does this go?

In 1964, in a sermon preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, he discerned a philosophy or motivating principle expressed in the actions of three sets of the parable’s characters. "Everyone within the sound of my voice today lives by one of these three philosophies."

1. The Robbers

Often taken for granted, the waylaying of the traveler is what makes the parab…