‘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 through 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.

Read more

‘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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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

Being Patients (127)

Here’s the way the story was told in the New York Times: B.J. was a sophomore in university. Early one morning he and some friends were horsing around and they decided to climb a parked commuter train. He was the first one up. The train was powered by electricity that ran through overhead wires. B.J. climbed to the top of the car, stood up and eleven thousand volts arced into his arm and shot down through his legs. He woke up several days later in a hospital burn unit. He survived but he had both his legs amputated below the knee and lost much of his left arm as well. Read more

Under Scrutiny (126)

You will have to use every fiber of your imagination muscles to do this, but try anyway. Imagine someone who worries so much that it changes how he or she lives. She feels frazzled. He loses sleep. Her mind churns through anxious scenarios. iceHe worries non-stop about what other people think of him. She can’t conceive of living without being constantly preoccupied with her resume. Whenever he does anything he imagines how it will add to his online profile. Anxiety has its roots in every square inch of the soil of their lives. Is your imagination exhausted? Of course not. We don’t need to imagine at all. This is us.

What I want to suggest is pretty simple. It’s just this: your Christian faith can make a difference. Don’t junk your treatment plan or whatever you’ve been doing that helps you manage your anxiety. Don’t give that up. But I do think your Christian faith can make a difference. In Matthew 6 Jesus tells his followers to not worry about their lives. His words are not an impossible riddles meant to drive us nuts. This is the way of God’s kingdom. It might be a new way, a foreign way—but as we are made new in Christ, it is not an impossible way. Read more

Housing the Spirit (125)

I’ve always liked the way some older translations of the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Holy Ghost’. Ghosts are unpredictable, at least that’s how they’re portrayed. They show up unannounced and unbidden and scare the bejeebers out of someone. sparksMaybe something like that has happened to you–a mysterious bang or bump in the dark of night and suddenly you found yourself believing in ghosts and feeling like you just lost control of the situation. I had a housemate once who had an experience just like that. The trouble for him was that he didn’t believe in ghosts in the daylight. He later put his world back together by diagnosing himself with a vitamin deficiency. I don’t really care if you believe in ghosts or not. It’s this Holy Ghost that the scriptures bring to our attention. Theologically we say that the love of the first two members of the Trinity for each other is so real, so solid, so vibrant, that we can speak of it too as an acting agent, a member of the Triune God—the animating power of the cosmos and the divine Spirit.  One of the essential elements to the Christian way of life is the belief that this Spirit dwells in us. That is, Christians believe the Spirit dwells in the community of Jesus’ disciples. Read more