Numbering our Days (137)

What can we say about a beginning such as Genesis describes? “Let there be light . . . .” A flash and, as it says, “there was light.”

This is not Father Lemaître     

The Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître developed a theory about the beginning of our universe. He hypothesized back from the observation of its continued expansion to the idea that at one time it must have all been concentrated in single point. Lemaître called this the “cosmic egg” or the “primeval atom.” The beginning of our universe, he suggested, happened with the explosion of this egg. As I understand it, it was Father Lemaître’s ideas that were the beginning of the theory we know as the Big Bang. For Lemaître there was no need to choose between a scientific description like his and the poetic biblical one. Both speak truthfully. Read more

With Water and Spirit – A Baptism Sermon (136)

On this particular Sunday, it is Pentecost Sunday, we are here once again to worship God. This is how we begin each week. But on this special Sunday we are also here to baptize and receive new members into our covenant community. This is quite something. It is an important day for those who will be baptized. It is also a sign of encouragement to the rest of us. God’s Spirit, that member of the Trinity who filled and emboldened the early church, is still at work. Read more

Do not be Surprised at the Fiery Ordeal (135)

There is an old adage that says that someone in leadership should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I suppose this applies to anyone that has influence. Don’t let people get too settled. Unless they’re too unsettled, then settle them. In the ministry of the church the idea can be traced back at least to Gregory the Great. He was a bishop in Italy at the end of the sixth century. Gregory was born just a few decades before the prophet Muhammed. Before he became a church leader Gregory was a public administrator for the city of Rome. Once when he was walking by a slave market he noticed something strange: young slaves with peculiarly pale faces. They were ‘Anglos’. The image of these foreigners stuck with him. Later when Gregory became a church leader he sent missionaries to Britain. Gregory is known for brokering peace with invading armies and for organizing a system of care for the poor. His liturgical reforms gave us Gregorian chant. He has much to his name, but it’s this idea of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” that grabs my attention today. Let’s think of it as the way scripture embraces us, keeping us from both complacency and despair. Read more

‘How Extremely Religious You Are’ (134)

I wonder if you’ve ever had one of those moments when you felt a bit embarrassed about being a ‘religious person.’ Maybe it was when you opted out of a meeting because it overlapped with a church commitment. Maybe it was when you decided not to carry out a procedure because of your faith. Maybe you passed on taking a particular client because it would have violated your conscience. Or maybe the awkward moment simply snuck up on you in a conversation at the pub. I think about this every once in a while when our family piles into the car on a Sunday morning. I sometimes feel a bit conspicuous. It feels like we’re the only ones on our street heading off to church. Maybe you’ve felt this way too at some point. Maybe you even tried to find an excuse for whatever it was that could have drawn attention to your faith. You threw a soccer ball into the car so it looked like you were headed to the park or you told your colleague you weren’t actually praying—just napping a little bit.   Read more

The City was in Turmoil – a sermon for Palm Sunday (133)

Here are a few lines from Annie Dillard’s book Holy the Firm:

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been—and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.

It’s true. Lord, have mercy.

On this, the Sunday before Easter, we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. If you let yourself sink into this ancient story you can sense its significance. It is the moment when you think maybe everything will be alright for Jesus. He has been doubted and misunderstood. Very few people have recognized the significance of his life. Now, finally, it seems he gets some recognition in the capital city. Finally, he makes a splash and he gets noticed. He is celebrated. It’s like the little independent movie nobody believed in that finally becomes hit at the film festival.

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‘They Stood Still, Looking Sad’ (132)

There is a rhythm life often takes. The Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr is one person who says this. The rhythm is simple, just this: order—disorder—reorder. Sometimes the same rhythm is described in these terms: orientation—disorientation—reorientation. (Rohr describes this in an interview with Krista Tippett here). Our reading from Luke 24, the one from Acts 2 as well, moves along to this same rhythm.

Let me sketch for you how that works in the Luke story. There are these walkers on the road. They have a relatively long walk ahead of them, something like 7 miles. They are discussing recent events in Jerusalem. They were followers of a rabbi, whom they thought had a special role to play in their people’s future. You see, they believed that their people had a special mandate from God to be a blessing to the world. And they thought this teacher, whom they had followed, was to play a key role in that. It was his life that had ordered theirs. Read more

This Time with Skepticism (131)

It has not been long since we celebrated Easter. Even so, the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter (John 20:19-31) begins by taking us back a week to the evening of the prior Sunday. The second part of the reading takes a week later. Jesus shows up on both of these days. It’s on the second encounter, the one that happens a week after Easter, that I want to focus our attention. In doing that we find a question that we can’t avoid. It’s this: What do we make of the resurrection? Read more

For Traitors (130)

You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.

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Surely We See (129)

The question raised in John 9:1-41 is a disquieting one. If we read the passage with any amount of critical self-awareness we can’t help but wonder about the reliability of our way of interpreting the world. Do we really see? We think we do of course, but do we really? Do we really perceive things as they are?

Here’s the biblical context: in the opening of John’s gospel Jesus is described as the light of the world. Verse 14 of the first chapter says that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory . . . full of grace and truth.” The gospel also includes the story of Nicodemus. It was he who approached Jesus in the dark. He was unable to understand what it could mean to be born anew in the Spirit. In the eighth chapter Jesus describes himself as the “light of the world.” There religious and cultural leaders rejected his claim, on the grounds that someone can’t testify on their own behalf. If someone were accused of a crime and the only word they had in their defense was their own their defense would be pretty weak. So the Pharisees, these religious and cultural leaders, dismiss Jesus’ claims to be the light. John, then, moves us on to chapter 9 and the story of a man who was born unable to see anything at all.

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Reborn in the Spirit (128)

A middle-aged man stands in a glass-skinned office tower. It’s all sharp angles and sheen. In his memory Jack sees his father squatted down, working in the garden picking bug-eaten leaves out of greens. He sees his younger self approach his father who nods in welcome. Jack remembers his father’s words: “I wanted to be loved because I was great, a big man. I’m nothing.” His father’s voice continues, “Look at the glory around us, the trees, the birds. I lived in shame. I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory. I’m a foolish man.” Jack’s father wanted to be a musician and when that failed to happen he turned his focus to engineering. None of his ideas caught on. He lost his job. He had told his sons that if you wanted to make something of yourself you had to do it by force of will and discipline. Read more