The first twelve verses of Luke chapter twenty-four tell the story of the empty tomb. There is a question that pulls our attention like a magnet to the middle of that account: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” What an abrupt question. Looking for the living among the dead—as though the women approaching the tomb were a bit dense, looking for something in the wrong place. “Why do you look for your socks in the T-shirt drawer?” “Why do you expect body checks at a curling match?” “Why do you look for a balanced budget from a Liberal government?” (I couldn’t resist) “Why do you look for spring in March?” “Why do we hope for peace and security in a violent world?” “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Why—why indeed?
I’m reminded of a story, not a biblical story, not a factual story—but one that’s true nevertheless. The story is a sort of meditation on the power of death and the deeply-rooted human instinct to violence. It goes a bit like this: sometime during the Second World War a civilian passenger plane is shot down in the tropics. The plane was evacuating British schoolboys. Some of them survive the crash and find themselves on a beautiful island. They discover that the island has everything they could possibly need. It has fresh water, material for building shelters, fruit, wild pigs that they can hunt. It is a good island. Read more
In the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel Jesus completes the journey begun some ten chapters previous. In chapter 9 verse 51 the gospel writer tells us Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now in chapter 19 Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. He rides into the city on the back of a colt. Other texts say it was on a donkey. Matthew splits the difference and says Jesus road on a ‘colt’ the foal of a donkey. Sometimes specifics are important, this is one of those times. To those that saw it—to those who saw this unmarried man, this teacher, this one about whom they had heard rumors, this one whom some of them had chosen to follow, this son of a tekton, this son of parents who had fled as refuges to Egypt, this teacher who dined with those others didn’t want to touch, to those who saw this one ridding a donkey’s foal with cloaks as a saddle, to those who saw this one riding in such a way—to those who saw it, they could not help but think of the words of the prophet Zechariah from chapter 9, the ninth verse. Whether they smirked or smiled they would have thought of Zechariah’s words, Read more
In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke we read that Jesus was scorned by cultural and religious leaders because he welcomed sinners and even ate with them. Jesus responded with three pithy stories. The first was about a lost sheep, the second about a lost coin and the third, the one we’ll focus on here, about a lost son. These three stories echo what Jesus said earlier in Luke, near the end of chapter 5 (vv31-32):
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.
This line occurs in each of the synoptic gospels, that is, in Matthew and Mark as well as Luke. Surely we have here a sentiment quite close to the center of Jesus’ mission. Surely these three stories show us what Jesus is about.
On Saturday, September 21, 1996 Henri Nouwen died. Nouwen was a writer, pastor, professor of pastoral psychology, advocate for justice and, in the last decade of his life, a member of a L’Arche community north of Toronto. When he died, Nouwen was traveling to Russia where he intended to make a documentary. The film was to be about Rembrandt’s well-known painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Rembrandt, the famed painter and print-maker, painted the prodigal son’s return sometime during the late 1660s, not long before he died. It’s one of his most moving paintings. Today it hangs in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Read more
This past Sunday our church celebrated the addition of ten new children to our congregation. We wrapped the little ones in blankets and gave the toddlers stuffed sheep. We thanked God that these kids were present in the world. We also affirmed our intention to love them and to nurture them in the faith. Then we ate chili. Our scripture readings for the day took us to Luke 13:1-9 and to Isaiah 55:1-9. The question for us, then, was what these texts had to say to our particular congregation on a Sunday when we were doing such a particular thing—blessing and celebrating the arrival of children. Here is what I shared . . . Read more