Fruit that abides

May 3rd, 2018

6 May 2018
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6B (RCL)

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

I’ve never seen the movie “The Big Lebowski,” But after these readings from John and 1 John, I might just have to rent it. A quote from the film that has made it into popular culture is, “The Dude abides.” In John’s Gospel and letters, the verb abide plays a central role. When the two disciples of John the Baptist (Andrew and an unnamed disciple) follow Jesus, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What do you seek?” They reply, “Rabbi, where to you abide” (or remain – often translated, where are you staying?). Jesus replies, “Come and see.” The Gospel is an invitation to learn where Jesus abides. Read the rest of this entry »


April 26th, 2018

29 April 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5B (RCL)

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:721
John 15:1-8

If you read these passages aloud, you will quickly discover that “abiding” is a theme for the Johannine author. The verb occurs six times in the passage from John’s first letter, and eight times in the passage from the Gospel. The letter appears to have been written during a conflict within the community (2 and 3 John seem to be cover letters for 1 John, one addressed to the leader of the community and one to the community itself; and both speak of those who have left the community). The only way of being fruitful is to abide. Read the rest of this entry »

Entrusting our lives

April 19th, 2018

22 April 2018
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday
Easter 4B (RCL)

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

John uses an interesting phrase in the Greek that we translate “lay down (his) life for.” The phrase is “tithein ten psychen hyper.” Translated literally, it would come out something like, “place his soul on account of.” I once asked a classical Greek scholar what the phrase meant. He suggested it meant something like, “entrust one’s life to.” It was used in military poetry, and describe what we might call a “trust fall.” A soldier unsheathed his sword and handed it to his comrade, and then exposed his neck. If his comrade didn’t lop off his head, then he could be trusted. One had entrusted one’s soul to one’s friend.

This is something very different from what we hear when we hear “lay down his life for his friends.” In the passage from the Gospel, Jesus says, “I set aside my soul so that I might take it up again.” He entrusts his life so that he might take it up again. Isn’t this true of all of us? We cannot live, except at the gift of others. We entrust our lives to others simply in order that we might live. We disguise that trust behind money, but without trust in the basic institutions of decency and honesty, we couldn’t live.

What is startling here, is that God in the Incarnate Jesus, entrusts God’s life to the sheep. In the final discourse, in Chapter 13, Jesus sets aside his garment, washes his disciples’ feet, and then takes it up again. The vocabulary is exactly the same. We only live by mutual trust and service.

Also startling here is Jesus’ claim to have other sheep who are not of this fold, whom he must call, so there will be one flock under one shepherd. We can tend to think of Church as a safe place, where we can always come. But we are mistaking the fold of the sheep for the destination. Jesus says that the shepherd comes to the fold and calls his sheep out, so that they may find pasture. Church is only where we come to rest, but if we are going to follow Jesus, we have to be willing to go out as well as come in. And we might well encounter that other flock outside the fold.

And recognition of them will come by listening, listening to the voice of the shepherd. We are often too prone to speak when encountering others, rather than listen. We think we have a corner on the truth, but if we are to hear the shepherd’s voice, we have to listen.

Broiled fish

April 12th, 2018

15 April 2018
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3B (RCL)

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

I’ve never particularly liked the Book of Acts. I know many people read it as a pattern for what the Church should be today. I find Luke’s history to be far to idealized to be very useful. However, reading Peter’s speech to the religious authorities this time, I have taken another tack. These speeches always sound to me like the worst of Christian supersessionism: You killed Jesus, therefore God has given the promises to us. Read the rest of this entry »

Locked for fear

April 5th, 2018

8 April 2018
Second Sunday of Easter
Easter 2B (RCL)

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1 – 2:2
John 20:19-31

Poor Thomas — we call him doubting Thomas, but he doesn’t doubt. He absolutely refuses to believe. It is not from lack of courage that he refuses to believe, but because the group of other disciples are not forthcoming. Read the rest of this entry »

Surely this man was divi filius!

March 22nd, 2018

25 March 2018
Palm/Passion Sunday
Year B

Mark 11:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-6
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

So much to write, so little time! In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars remarked on the seamlessness of Mark’s passion narrative. All the rest of his gospel seemed stitched together with crude devices like, “and immediately.” The passion narrative, however, was just that – a complete narrative. They took this to mean that his narrative was the recollection of an eyewitness. As the twentieth century advanced, and historical criticism did its work, scholars became less confident that we had before us a reliable account of actual events. Read the rest of this entry »

Bearing fruit

March 15th, 2018

18 March 2018
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Lent 5B (RCL)

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Throughout Lent this year, we have been reading instances of God’s covenant with God’s people, beginning with the covenant with Abraham. We arrive at Jeremiah’s vision of a new covenant, when restores the fortunes of the people. This one will be written on the heart. In Deuteronomy (chapter 6), Moses tells the people to write the words of the Shema (Hear, O Israel) on their doorposts, to wear them as frontlets, to teach them to their children and to speak of them both indoors and out. The new covenant will need no such instruction, as all will already know it. Read the rest of this entry »

Into the light

March 8th, 2018

11 March 2018
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4B (RCL)

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesian 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

We all know, many of us by heart, John 3:16 – probably the most translated sentence in human history. But, I’m not sure we know what it is supposed to mean, even to the phrase “eternal life.” In the Greek, it is “the life of the age,” whatever that means. And our usual translations say, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What does it mean to believe in the Only Son? The Greek might better be translated “whoever trusts him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Get these things out of here!

February 28th, 2018

4 March 2018
Third Sunday in Lent
Lent 3B (RCL)

Exodus 20:1-7
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

John’s Gospel moves the Temple act from the end of Jesus’ ministry to near the beginning. If anything like the Temple act really took place, it seems unlikely that the Roman protectors (oppressors) of Jerusalem would have waited for a trial to crucify the instigator. It makes much more historical sense at the end of Jesus’ ministry, so we are forced to ask why John would move it to the beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

To lose one’s life

February 22nd, 2018

25 February 2018
Second Sunday in Lent
Lent 2B (RCL)

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

What the editors of the lectionary choose to leave out as much as what they choose to leave in always puzzles me. In the missing verses of the passage from Genesis, God gives the covenant mark of circumcision. This is a new aspect of the covenant, and so carries some importance. Paul will make much of it in his reading of the Abrahamic covenants. Also, in Mark’s Gospel, the editors chose to leave off the verses at the beginning, in which Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, which frames the whole paragraph that follows. Read the rest of this entry »