Would Jesus Have Marched?

Salt & Light, Matthew 5:13-20

I have a lectionary essay on the gospel text for February 5, over at Journey with Jesus.

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Pentecost: Crowd-sourcing a Question about the Crowd

The Pentecost story is so familiar that I picture it easily. But I’ve just come to realize that I’ve been wrong about a detail. I’m wondering if that detail matters.

Acts 2:1-21. The Pentecost story takes place on a feast day roughly ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven. As I’ve always pictured it, the disciples and other followers (maybe a hundred or so?) are assembled in a large room. They have just selected a new leader to replace the fallen Judas.

Suddenly a violent wind blows through the room, bringing with it flames of fire. The flames hover above the heads of all assembled. Each person is miraculously able to speak a language which was previously unknown. Overcome, they pour out onto the street, each speaking in this new language. A crowd gathers, amazed at the spectacle. Peter preaches eloquently, quoting the prophet Joel, and converts masses of people.

Boom! The church is born!

(more…)

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Is Mark Driscoll my brother? Is Jesus giving permission to do same-sex weddings? And other thorny questions raised by Matthew 18

qtt-header-1024This week I have a post over at Question the Text, a resource for lectionary preachers. It wins the prize for the longest title I’ve ever used for a blogpost!

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Preaching John 20:19-31 . . . It’s Quite a Scene

Easter is over, which means Jesus is wandering about in a state of immateriality. Or something like that.

In John 20, Jesus drifts through closed doors and astounds the disciples. Then — as if to hammer home the point that he’s really alive and breathing — he exhales on them. It’s a dramatic text we often skip in our hurry to get to the much-maligned Thomas. But what a scene it makes!

If you’re preaching the John 20:19-31 passage this Sunday, I invite you to click over to Question the Text to read my blogpost on this text. The title is “ACTION: Paraclete Arrives, Unbelieving Departs.”

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Question the Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Are you preaching on Sunday? According to the RCL, the gospel for Feb 2 is Matthew 5:1-12, a familiar passage we call the Beautitudes.

I wrote about the passage for the lectionary website called “Question the Text”. The style is different from my usual style, a bit more cheeky.

QTT is a new online lectionary resource that seeks to be a “midrashic community.”

We ask the text the hardest questions because we can. It does not break, it is not offended, and it does not judge our desire for understanding. The ancient rabbis say that when we study the Bible we release God’s mercy into the world. It is important to question the text, because the world needs as much of God’s mercy as possible.

QTT is the second chapter in an experiment that began as The Hardest Question in collaboration with Spark House and is intended to be much more than a blog that asks tough questions of the Bible text and allows the Bible text to ask tough questions of us. QTT is also envisioned as a unique kind of Christian community, a community not unlike that which is found in Jewish midrash.

I invite you to click over to QTT and check it out.

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All Together: Pentecost

The Pentecost story in Acts 2 begins with this sentence: They were all together in one place.

The they is the disciples and other followers of Jesus, and the time is 10 days after Jesus had disappeared into the clouds. I can imagine the Jesus-followers were sad, confused, and a bit frozen-feeling. But what did they do? They gathered, all together in one place, to pray.

Every time I hear the Pentecost story read aloud, I have a hard time getting past that line. They were all together in one place. To me that is pure poetry. What would it look like, today, if the followers of Jesus were all together in one place?

Because we’re not — we’re far from it! We’re all over the place! Theologically liberal and conservative, of every stripe and denomination! And I don’t think those divisions are going to magically end. They seem to be intensifying. And most of the time, I am fine with the divisions. After all, there are so many different kinds of people in the world, how can one church/belief system/worship style work for them all? I believe the Holy Spirit works in many ways and venues and moments.

And yet there have been times when I’ve been all together with other believers, if just for a moment, and oh my goodness, isn’t that sweet? That is the experience of the communion of saints, that unity in spirit.

That, my friends, is what I think heaven will be!

And I do love the fact that the Presbyterian logo has red flames. Come Holy Spirit! It gives me hope.

Happy Pentecost, everybody!

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Two Sons: The Stage for Religious Antagonism

There was a man who had two sons.  ~Luke 15:11

This morning was the 4th Sunday of Lent and the gospel text was well-known — The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Or maybe you call it The Parable of the Two Sons. Or The Parable of the Forgiving Father.

The name you call this parable shows your hand, so to speak. Are you running away from the trappings of religion? Are you struggling against duty? Are you learning to forgive? (Or a host of other possibilities, this is not an exhaustive list.)

Before church I led an Adult Ed conversation about my book. In Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, one of my themes is Religious Strangers by which I explore the fact that: A pilgrim cannot avoid the painful connection between religious strangers and estrangement, which sometimes leads to violence, both historically and currently.

You cannot be a pilgrim in Israel and Palestine without confronting this question. As I say early in the book, this land is not only Holy Land, it is perhaps more frankly: The Land of Holy War. Why is that?

In class, our conversation skirted around the edges of the question, since there were other themes to address. But one of the members of the group kept circling back. He wanted me to answer the age-old question: Why do people use religion to hate each other and what can we do about it?

I could never answer the question to his satisfaction. My most direct answer is simple:  As a pilgrim I am finally daring to see this question in all its starkness, which leads me to the dark places in my own heart. Why is it so difficult for me to love my sister and brother? How can I judge others who have similar struggles?

But I hesitate to say that, because I think people expect more from a minister. They expect an answer.

Then we went into church and I read and preached the gospel. There was a man who had two sons. The story unfolds quickly and predictably. The sons take different paths, then resent the other, who chose differently. Isn’t this a theme between every pair of biblical brothers? Each wants to be the favorite.

As soon as the Parent had more than one child, the stage was set for strife.

Astounding, isn’t it, what happens next? The father opens the door to both of the sons. The younger son is blown away that his father is so forgiving. What are the implications of being loved so thoroughly?

The older son is also blown away, but not in a happy sense. He has to decide whether he will enter the party, or stay outside and feel righteous. It is not so easy to have a father who is indiscriminating in love and forgiveness.

There was a man who had two sons.

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Transfiguration: Luke 9

I’m delighted to have a pair of blogposts over at “The Hardest Question” THQ this week.

The two posts are for the Transfiguration which is this Sunday. If you’re a preacher, you’re already well aware that the Transfiguration texts crop up every year, right before we begin Lent. If you’re preaching this week, these posts might get your wheels turning about what direction your sermon might take!

One of the texts is Luke 9:28-36, where Jesus ascends the mountain and shines like the sun, with Moses and Elijah appearing on either side. The other text is Exodus 34:29-35, where Moses ascends the mountain to meet God, and shines like the sun.

I’m new to THQ, but very much appreciate their midrashic approach to the text. The goal is to drill down into the text by searching for the hardest question. This is a refreshing way to approach the text, where we often –without realizing what we’re doing– search for the easiest answers.

I hope you’ll click over to THQ and enjoy the conversation!

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A Lenten Pilgrimage

Since we’re in the first week of Lent. I thought I’d post the introduction to the devotional I wrote called “A Lenten Pilgrimage.” I understand they sold out this year, contact me if you’d like to be alerted when they are republished next year.

I didn’t really want to go. The Holy Land sounded hot and dusty and vaguely dangerous. But when I was given the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine as part of a documentary on the subject of pilgrimage, it felt like the Spirit offered a gift I couldn’t refuse.

The gift of pilgrimage changed my faith. All my life I’ve been immersed in scripture, but most of my learning stayed above the neck, in the realm of ideas. As a pilgrim, scripture seeped further down into my being. A pilgrim travels dusty roads, swims in holy water, drinks Palestinian-made wine, eats olives and pita bread, lights candles, touches stones, whispers prayers, belly-laughs, cries, sings.

I came to realize that being a pilgrim is not about traveling to a particular place, as much as immersing oneself in the Spirit-filled past so it can infuse our present. As the old hymns say, we’re all pilgrims on a journey.

Won’t you become a pilgrim this Lent? Come with me to the Holy Land.

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Cure & Curse, Malachi

Yesterday we had our first snowfall, about 4 inches. It won’t last long. There were 2 moments of aftermath that I noticed:

1) This morning, driving to church, we crossed the Potomac River on a ferry and had to wait about 20 minutes while the ferry crew used fire-type hoses (using river water) to hose down the ferry’s decks, as well as the asphalt ramps leading up to it on either side. It appeared that the salt was more of a problem than the snow, from the ferry’s perspective. Yet the salt had been laid down to solve the problem of the snow.

Yep, which is cure and which is curse?

2) After church my husband and I went for a walk in the woods. Two fairly large trees were down, blocking the path. We made such a circuitous route to skirt around the trees that we nearly got lost.

Again, what is the difference between cure and curse?

Perhaps this was subject was on my brain because I preached on Malachi on this second Sunday of Advent, about the “refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap” which prepares us for the day the Lord returns.

Among other things, I learned, in the course of preparing the sermon, that fuller’s earth can be mixed with lemon juice to treat a scar. I found this a fascinating fact. Fire causes scars, and fuller’s earth treats them. And both are methods of purification.

Sometimes cure and curse are not so easy to tease apart. Perhaps they are not so different after all. Perhaps they are both gifts from God.

What feels like a curse in your life right this moment? Is it possible this “curse” is curing something?

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