We hope for a world where he can thrive, where our neighbors and the children of our neighbors experience the fullness of life. We believe in the God of life, in a world held in God’s hands, like Jesus holding his disciples close, Jesus holding us close, washing us with love, refreshing us with peace.
I dream of other worlds, ones like this one, with all of you there, but there’s something different, one difference that changes everything, the collapse of the old and a beginning for the new, like, for example, a world without guns, with no more weapons, without arms manufacturers and dealers, without rockets flying in and out of Gaza, a world without border fences and prison walls, a world without corporations making money off of detention centers and ankle monitors and bail bonds, a world without pollution, without factory waste dumped into rivers, without fossil fuel emissions, without the slow violence of environmental racism, a world without cancer, without disease, without sicknesses that sneak up on the young and lead to their death. I dream of worlds that still have all the people we’ve lost—your people and my people, your friends and mine, all our loved ones, even the ancestors we never met.
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.
The U.S. government called it a felony, a felony to transport and harbor illegal aliens. But Southside Presbyterian called it sanctuary. When federal agents told the church to stop or else face prosecution, Southside offered a response, a letter they read at press conference, with church members gathered on the steps leading into the sanctuary, a wall of saints protecting the people inside: “We will not cease to extend the sanctuary of the church to undocumented people from Central America,” they declared. “Obedience to God requires this of us.”
“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.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That’s what we hear today, on Ash Wednesday, as our foreheads are marked with the sign of the cross, with ashes. These ashes here in this jar come from Mary Jo and Tom’s back yard, years ago, when they burned the palm branches from our Palm Sunday service. We’ve been using them every year since.
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.
Part of the power of these pieces of devotional art, these pious images, is that they capture the shock of Christmas—that moment of revelation, the surprise of the story: that God becomes a child, vulnerable to the violences of this world, to the violences that threaten Mary day to day, as a young woman, pregnant out of wedlock, bearing the weight of oppression at the hands of the Roman occupation of her people. Whatever threatens Mary, threatens the life of Jesus, God in Mary’s flesh.
We remember that first advent so that we can learn what to do now—to ask that same question running throughout the Gospel of Luke, “What then should we do?” To wonder what this gospel, this story, this advent of the Messiah, means for us today, as we live out our lives as a form of waiting, waiting for another kind of Advent, the coming of Christ’s peace: the renewal of creation, the restoration of God’s goodness.
Our faith is a way of life. Worship is a way of life. To amend our ways, Jeremiah says, has everything to do with how we welcome God into our lives. “Let me dwell with you in this place,” God says. It’s a request, a plea from God—because God wants to be with us. But the thing with God is that when God shows up, God brings friends, people, neighbors and foreigners, all God’s loved ones. If we don’t welcome the foreigner and orphan, then we’ve communicated very clearly that we don’t really want God.
Isaiah has a vision. A vision of the world renewed. A vision for the redemption of all things. A vision for the salvation of all life. “The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). At the beginning of this book, the book of Isaiah, in chapter two, […]
For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought about the dead. Lodged in my memory, from early childhood, is something my dad told me. He told me that I was named after his father, my middle name: Samuel. That was my grandfather’s name, Samuel. I never met him because he died five years before […]
There’s a cemetery in the desert, in a clearing next to the border wall, on the U.S. side, in Douglas, Arizona. Among the gravestones, when one section ends and other begins, in between the orderly rows, there are clusters of cement blocks lodged in the sand, all of them the same, with the same word […]
There’s a lot I don’t understand about this story—about Noah and the ark and the flood. I don’t understand the flood part—all the devastation, people and animals, trees and grass, swept away in a torrent of water: rivers turned into seas, lakes into oceans. This is a story about judgment, about human corruption of the […]
Rahab betrays her people. She betrays the security of her nation. She helps two foreigners cross the walls into Jericho. She welcomes two immigrants, even though her people call them enemies, even though her country considers them as threats to society. She extends hospitality to strangers who sneak through the night, who climb a wall […]
Ruth is part of the royal line, the genealogy of king David. This is an important fact for Matthew’s Gospel—in the very first chapter of the story of Jesus, there’s Ruth, the mother of Obed, who is the father of Jesse, the father of David, the king of Israel. There is no David without Ruth, […]
Women trying to survive, trying to survive in a man’s world—where men had the power, where women had nothing on their own. That’s the story of the book of Ruth—a story that, as we move through the chapters, narrows our focus onto two people, Naomi and Ruth, their commitment to each other, their love as […]
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 […]
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 […]