Call me Ishmael

June 22nd, 2017

25 June 2017
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 7A (RCL)
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

The lections are not happy ones. In an act of cruelty, Abraham sends away Hagar and her child, Ishmael. Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace but a sword. We do not like hearing these parts of scripture.

But I find something redemptive in these readings. Read the rest of this entry »

Trinitarian delight

June 7th, 2017

11 June 2017
Trinity Sunday
Trinity A (RCL)

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Paul Davies is an English cosmologist, teaching at the University of Arizona. He is interested in the question of why human beings perceive a “time arrow,” that is, why human beings perceive time as running from past to future. In all physical equations, time can run backward or forward without changing the nature of physical law (the second law of thermodynamics being the special case, but not enough to account for human perception). This questions is intimately tied to the question of the quantum measurement problem (what happens when human perception “measures” a quantum system; how does that perception cause the collapse of the wave function into an eigenstate?). Read the rest of this entry »

A new creation

June 1st, 2017

4 June 2017
The Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost A (RCL)
Numbers 11:24-31
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23

It never ceases to amaze me that, after years of reading the same passages of scripture, one can notice something new each time. In the passage from John’s Gospel, the evangelist uses an unusual word to describe Jesus blowing on the disciples. The word is emphusao, which is what a flautist does to a flute. It occurs only here in the New Testament, but it occurs at least twice in the Old Testament in the LXX translation, once at Genesis 2:7 and once at 37:9. In Genesis, God forms the human being out of the dust of the earth, and then blows into its face the breath of life. In Ezekiel, God tells the prophet to prophecy to the spirit, telling it to come from the four winds and blow into slain. The evangelist wants us to connect this resurrection appearance to both of these events. Read the rest of this entry »

Cherished in the name

May 25th, 2017

28 May 2017
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7A (RCL)
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 12:1-11

On this Sunday, after the Feast of the Ascension, the readings turn our attention toward Jesus’ continuing presence with the Church, and toward the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The first letter of Peter mentions the spirit which rests on us when we are reviled for the name of Jesus. The passage from John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ glorification in the presence of the Father with the glory he had before the creation of the world. In Jesus’ glorification, we too are glorified, if we treasure the word Jesus has given us. God will cherish us (treasure us) in the divine name God has given to Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

The spirit of truth

May 18th, 2017

21 May 2017
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6A (RCL)
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

An odd theme runs through all three readings (and even the psalm). Each of them uses the setting of a trial to advance its point: Paul is brought to the Areopagus, for a trial much like Socrates'; 1 Peter exhorts us always to be ready to give a defense of the hope that is in us; and in John, Jesus promises us another Advocate (defense attorney), the spirit of truth. I suppose if we are not living our Christianity in a way that brings us at least into implicit conflict with the values of the surrounding culture, we’re not doing it right. Read the rest of this entry »

The glory of God

May 11th, 2017

14 May 2017
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5A (RCL)
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31 1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

We get a very short snippet of a reading from the Book of Acts, relating the stoning of Stephen. It comes at the end of a sermon by him, in which he indicts the people of constantly having mistreated those whom God has sent to lead them, including this Jesus. On trial, Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit gazes into have and sees the Glory of God with Jesus standing at the right hand of the glory. This is reminiscent of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, and one like a son of man. It is also one of the passages in the NT that can be read in support of a Trinitarian theology. Luke makes many connections between this event and Jesus’ own crucifixion — the trial, Stephen’s prayer of forgiveness and even people taking off their coats and throwing them on the ground (cf. the triumphal entry). Stephen’s death is, in its own way, redemptive — by not holding the sin of mistreating those God sends against his own persecutors. Read the rest of this entry »

Life abundant

May 4th, 2017

7 May 2017
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Easter 4A (RCL)
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Every preacher on these texts will have to deal with the skin crawling opening of the lection from 1 Peter. It’s even worse if you read the sentence that comes before the opening, which speaks of servants being obedient to masters, not only when they are kind and good, but also when they are unjust. We are likely to hear that as instruction not to agitate against injustice. I imagine, though, that the author of this baptism sermon was fully aware that some of his hearers lived in situations they had no hope of changing. In that case, these are instructions for non-violence, being fully conscious of God’s judgment on the situation. It would be some comfort to know that Jesus, even in the midst of his capital trial entrusted himself to the one true judge who judges righteously. At any event it is always helpful to be reminded not to return insult for insult, and to have good theological reason for that. Read the rest of this entry »

Doubt?

April 20th, 2017

23 April 2017
Second Sunday of Easter
Easter 2A (RCL)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Thomas gets a bad rap. He doesn’t doubt; he refuses to believe, or to trust. The Greek is quite emphatic. I would translate his line, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will never, ever believe.” And when Jesus shows up and shows him his hands and his side, he say to him, “Do not be untrusty, but trusty.” It’s a very far stretch to translate Jesus’ line as “Do not doubt, but believe.” The word pistos in Greek can really only mean trusty. Read the rest of this entry »

Glory revealed

April 13th, 2017

16 April 2017
Easter Sunday
Principle Service
Year A (RCL)
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

It always amuses me that, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ male disciples get into a foot race to the tomb and remember which one won the race. John is careful to tell us that they did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. As readers of the Gospel, we know something new is happening, because of the contrast with Lazarus’ “resurrection.” Jesus grave clothes are neatly folded up, and the linen that had been over his face is folded up off to the side. Lazarus, the dead man, had emerged from the tomb, still wrapped in his windings and with his face still covered. Read the rest of this entry »

What divine life looks like

April 6th, 2017

9 April 2017
Sunday of the Passion:
Palm Sunday
Year A (RCL)
Matthew 21:1-11

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

The story of Jesus’ passion (as related in the Synoptic Gospels) takes a political tragedy and turns it into a theological triumph. Burton Mack, in A Myth of Innocence, identifies Mark’s composition of the Passion Narrative as a combination of the Greek martyr myth (the philosopher dies bravely for the cause) and the Jewish epic of the suffering righteous one, or the Wisdom tale, in which the righteous sufferer is finally vindicated by God (the story of Joseph in Egypt is a good example). Others (for example Helmut Koester) have found in the Passion Narrative echoes of a street theatre presentation of the Triumph of a victorious general (or imperator, Caesar). Read the rest of this entry »