I was jaded and cynical about academics by the time I finished high school. So the year after graduation I found myself in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Service Adventure, a Mennonite Mission Network program, living with a few other young adults all trying to live out our faith in tangible, hands-on ways. My day began […]
What are we waiting for? I sit in front of my glowing computer screen waiting and hoping that some word from God would be present in my heart and on my fingers as they type. I look out the window by my desk and see a bird perched on an empty feeder, waiting for me to […]
Good teachers take us from where we are, to a place we couldn’t even quite imagine before we began the journey of learning. Sometimes the choice to be a learner, to be a student, isn’t something we consciously make. Imagine a young baby swimming in the sea of noise and human language from which meaning […]
This past week I was on a walk with my wife Alli in the dusk of early evening. We were catching up after a day of work. As we walked on a quiet sidewalk, there sat a masked skeleton in a chair. Even though I knew it was fake and plastic… I tensed up, raised […]
Prayer: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” In an earlier sermon I opened with a few comments about the Lectionary, and do so again. Today it lists three scripture passages that are hard to ignore. Who can brush aside […]
The other week, as Alli and I were caravanning out here, I listened straight through to all nine episodes of the WYNC Studios podcast “Dolly Parton’s America.” They powered me through our first day driving, all the way from Osage City, Kansas to Cookeville, Tennessee. It’s a brilliant podcast that explores Dolly Parton’s legacy as […]
Numbers 6:24-26 (VT #826), Jeremiah 29:4-11 (VT #783), Isaiah 52:7 (VT #781), Luke 4:16-19, 21 (VT #292), Matthew 28:16, 18-20 (VT #451) This is the last sermon in this series on what I’ve learned about the Christian life, through our worship together. We started seven weeks ago with our gathering, then we moved through the […]
I wake up, I use the bathroom, I drink some coffee, I eat some food, I brush my teeth, I write emails, I drink more coffee, I use the bathroom again, I might go on a run, I eat more food, I go to a meeting, I write more emails, I think about what to […]
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 […]