Today’s gospel reading begins as Jesus arrives in a village near Jerusalem. He’s giving personal directions to two of his disciples. They should bring him an unknown person’s livestock, he says. Don’t worry, he’ll return them right away. Weird, but ok, teacher. The passage ends with the voice of the crowd, as anonymous as the […]
No lyric has ever stopped a tank. No sermon has ever ended patriarchy, especially a sermon delivered by a man. But here we are, trying again, with some words about a few Scriptures—an invitation to live into new possibilities, a call for change. Because we are in need of reformation, we are in church always in need of reformation, to be renewed and restored. To be healed from the sexism that has plagued the church, that plagues our society, that infects our lives, our relationships.
The magi see signs in the night sky, celestial revelations, announcing that the long-awaited Jewish king, the Messiah, has been born, and they want to pay their respects. After traveling for months across the desert, the magi, probably from Persia, finally arrive in Jerusalem. Jerusalem because, after all, that’s the kind of place where kings […]
This isn’t just the story of Christmas,
just something we hear during this season,
as we reflect on a few passages;
but the story of the bible, the whole thing, is one long story
of a God who has always been finding ways to be with us,
to draw close to us,
to struggle with us,
to rest with us,
because God likes us.
This past year I’ve had two friends ask me why I’m a Christian. These are two people with whom I share a similar vision for life, a vision for a good world. We have similar commitments, in terms of how to picture ourselves in the world—everything is more or less the same, except for this one thing, which we return to in our conversations: Why do I need the added Christian thing?
Our Scriptures record a long discussion among the people of God, a back and forth over centuries, where one voice in the Bible is in conversation with another voice, one book speaking to another book, all about what it means to see God, to look at God’s face.
“And he was speechless” (Matt 22:12). That’s what the parable says about the man who was at the banquet without the right clothes, the man who didn’t have a wedding robe like everyone else at the wedding feast. When the king’s eye catches a glimpse of the man with ordinary clothes, the king confronts him with a question. “How did you get in here without a wedding robe,” without the proper attire? (22:12). He has nothing to say for himself. Nothing to say to the king. No response. Only silence. “And he was speechless,” it says.
This is a story about a frivolous God who doesn’t weigh costs and benefits. God instead makes decisions based on love. In the kingdom of heaven, the only law is generous love, all people as deserving of the lavish providence of God.
Jesus must also know how entangled human life is with fear, how badly we would like to not be afraid, and how paralyzed we sometimes feel in the face of fear, the kind that makes it difficult to believe it is good for us to be here. Jesus must know all this when he tells the disciples not to be afraid. These are not words spoken from a distance, detached. They are words spoken up close, words that reach into us, words that are closer to us than we are to ourselves. There is patience in Jesus’s words; they will have to be said again.
I remember reading a lot of political theology when I was in seminary—books all about the revolutionary Christian politics, very serious arguments, very important ideas. And what always struck me, what I wondered about, was what are people going to eat, who was going to make the food for the revolution? That never seemed to be a pressing concern, when the theologians theorized about the revolution, the kingdom of God. They also didn’t worry too much about childcare, which always clued me into something weird going on in how they thought about the world. Who is going to make the meals and who is going to provide childcare when planning for the revolution? Church life has taught me to think about real life, our ordinary and vital needs, whenever we plan things.
This prayer is about big things and little things, about good things and hard things, about human needs and desires and power, about daily food and money and borders. In other words, this prayer has to do with our lives, with all of who we are, with our struggles and hopes, with our wants and necessities. Everything is included in Jesus’ prayer—all of the messy confusion of our lives, of our society, of our daily existence. There is nothing outside the domain of prayer—all of our passing thoughts are included, our wandering hopes, our rambling longings.
The story of Jesus is also our story. The Scriptures invite us to see ourselves through the light of these holy texts, these stories as revelations into who we are, insights into our lives. We are baptized into this life, into this Jesus—his life becomes ours, ours becomes his. To see him is to glimpse who we are. He is our representative. That’s the language from our theology textbooks, from Christian doctrine—that Christ represents us, that he represents our humanity, that we find our story in his story because Christ is our representative.
Today is called Epiphany, a day to focus on what happens after Advent and Christmas, when this one we’ve been expecting finally arrives. The word Epiphany means revelation, appearance, made known. So today is a day to focus on how Jesus appears and to whom he is made know—to notice who sees him and who welcomes him.
I covet. I covet another world. Not this one. I covet. I covet another life. Not mine. We desire, we want, and we dream—we covet worlds not ours and lives different from our own. Yet the last commandment, the tenth, the culmination of all the others, says, “Thou shall not covet.” I break that commandment […]
Masculinity and violence are so closely tied we barely pause to question it. And if I am reading Jesus right here, the commandment “You shall not murder” is about this entire spectrum of violence.
Life is full of joy; life is full of heartache. The world overflows with wonder; the world overflows with anguish. There’s so much agony, and there’s so much love. It’s a whirlwind—this life. I’m sure you have your own desolations and ecstasies. I have my own, too. And this is what I wonder to myself—and […]
Coming and going, leaving and arriving, exit and entrance. That’s the theme lying underneath our passages for today. That’s the theme permeating the verses we heard from Matthew and Exodus. Departures and arrivals—the movement of people. Follow the commandments, Jesus says in Matthew 5, so you can enter the kingdom of heaven—it’s all about a […]
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). Self-denial. That’s what we do, as Christians. That’s who we are. We deny ourselves the things of this world—and we call it discipleship, discipline. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it costly […]
“I got them keys, keys, keys / I got them keys, keys, keys / I got them keys, keys, keys.” That’s DJ Khaled. He’s a rapper, kinda. And when I hear Jesus in our passage tell us that he will give us the keys to the kingdom, I hear DJ Khaled’s beat, his keys, keys, […]
“O my people.” The words from our hymn have been circling in my head ever since Eric sent me the list of songs Friday afternoon, at 2pm, in an email I read on my phone in front of the old courthouse in Durham, near the empty pedestal where a metal figure of a confederate soldier […]
By now most all of you have heard about, read about, seen footage of the white supremacist rallies that took place in Charlottesville yesterday. You have taken in the images of the predictable violence that erupted, the confused tangle of words and outrage and lack of outrage and looking the other way that largely marks […]
Matthew 21, verse 10: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’” That’s what the people ask—the shopkeepers on the corner, the residents scurrying through the city on errands, pilgrims on their way to the Temple, children playing in the streets, servants preparing dinner, peering from a window, wondering […]
What do I love when I love my enemy? This question echoes Saint Augustine’s: “What do I love when I love my God?” To hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, neither question can be answered without the other being asked. Both must be asked together and answered together. What do I love when I love […]
Micah chapter six, verse 1: “Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.” That’s how it feels—today, this month, this weekend as the president told us his plan to build more walls at Mexico’s border, as he ramped up efforts to deport undocumented residents, as he ordered discrimination against […]