In the first clause of the Apostles’ Creed, God is described as being “almighty.” This term has plenty of synonyms, but often our imaginations gravitate to the sense that God’s almightiness means that God is powerful, unable to be bested in a test of strength, or capable of doing anything. We might even repeat logical conundrums to illustrate this, such as “Can God create a rock too heavy for God to lift?” Likewise, when I ask my students to tell me what comes to their minds when they consider that God is almighty, they highlight God’s power to do whatever God wants to do. As they sometimes say, God’s will is bigger and stronger than any other will. I found myself returning to the Creed and these observations as I read the appointed texts for this Sunday, because while they do speak of God’s “almightiness,” they also challenge our prevailing understanding of this notion. Read more
Third Sunday after Pentecost
When I was younger, I heard many sermons about King David. Of course, David’s story and several Davidic themes form a significant strand of Old Testament thinking. These sermons usually elevated David as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Because he was king of Israel, he was God’s person for the job. Often, the focus on this central Israelite ruler was set alongside a fervent push for Christian leaders to be in positions of power and a strong sense that the United States was/is a Christian nation. Israel was God’s nation, and they had a king. Why should this version of God’s nation be any different (even if the official title of the leader is different)?
My experience is not unique. Many churches emphasize David’s story as a way to say something about our own time and setting. For example, we can easily find folks defending their chosen political figure’s indiscretions by invoking David’s story. They say, “Yes, David made mistakes, but God still backed him. Therefore, this political leader’s place is safe because we are certain that God also backs him or her.” In the end, the activity of the nation (including military action) is legitimated as part of God’s plan and purpose for the whole world. When turning to the appointed texts for this week, however, we find a different story unfolding. Read more
We live in a world that is consumed with time. In our personal lives, this takes the shape of making sure that we have arrived at a particular place at a particular point in time: When does my class begin? When does work shift start? When do I need to pick my kids up from school? When does this appointment or event begin? This is seen in larger systems as well. Trains and buses in large cities arrive and leave at specific times, and we are reminded about this constantly at the platform or the bus stop. In financial transactions, profits are often earned through the precise timing of buying and selling commodities, with any minor variation effectively ruining such gains. In many parts of the world this past week, we were confronted by time by adding one hour to our clocks. Through all of this, we discover that our lives are dominated by timetables, schedules, and appointments, some of which are posted on office doors or recorded in daily planners, and some of which are simply inscribed in our daily habits. Read more
At the conclusion of the film version of the rock opera/musical Jesus Christ Superstar, a solitary cross is depicted on a hilltop against the backdrop of the setting sun. Barely perceptible in the foreground is a shepherd leading a flock of sheep. This caravan adds a serene quality to a powerfully intense finale for the film, almost as though the viewer hears a whisper in the background: “The Lord is my shepherd….” Read more
Due to recent tragic events, offering reflections on the lectionary texts for this week is a daunting task, perhaps only eclipsed by the pastoral task of ascending into the pulpit last Sunday to name the powers and declare the fullness of the gospel. In times like these, we can often struggle to find the words to say. It seems to me that this is the beauty of the lectionary, though. When our words struggle to take shape and emerge, the lectionary calls us back to the story of God’s work in the world, a story that we must continually recount and rehearse because we will not find it anywhere else. These texts call us to remember and embrace that story. Read more