Power Politics and the Politics of Weakness

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

In this election year, the headlong scramble for power is front and center. Candidates, political parties, and super PACs climb over one another to gain access to the levers of power.

Could it be that the church is little different in its craving for potency? Waning influence in American culture, declining membership, or just the plain desire for some kind of noticeable impact on our communities makes us long for the capacity to make stuff happen. If only we had more money, more influence, more people, more resources, our congregations could really execute on our mandate to be the church.

At first glance, Jesus’ ministry looks emblematic of the kind of ministry we wish we could have. Jesus exercises the kind of power that changes lives. Jesus heals the sick and liberates the demonized. He “gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:2-4).

And people stand up and take notice. Mark tells us that “the whole city was gathered around the door”—something we wish could happen in our ministries. If only we had that kind of “juice”, we could really make a difference.

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The Living Gospel

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Advent has a powerful way of clarifying our vision because it takes us back to what is most basic. This week the gospel is front and center as our texts identify the content and shape of the good news.

Too often, however, we can assume we already know what the gospel is. Namely, the gospel is a static body of knowledge we already possess. Central tenets or creeds, Four Spiritual Laws, Seven Habits, or a political platform consisting of one issue or several—give assent to these things, and you know the gospel. And once possessing the gospel, we move swiftly to implementation.

Such reductionism inevitably leads to deformity.

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Fallible Church, Deliberate Grace

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:1-11
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20


It is strangely comforting to hear Jesus talking about a sinful church.

Some heap admiration on Jesus’ teaching, and then dismiss it as too lofty to be attainable. Turning the other cheek is for the spiritual elite. Loving one’s enemies is for the age to come. The Beatitudes are true spiritually, but not in practice.

But if ever we wondered whether Jesus were a realist or not, his words in Matthew 18 put that question to rest. The church Jesus envisions is not some idealized community we have not yet discovered or planted, or can’t belong to. The church Jesus envisions is entirely realistic: it is my sinful congregation and yours. We don’t need to be told that sin exists among the saints. We see the havoc wrought in our parishes by pride, greed, and sloth. We know the devastation of own wrath, envy, lust, and gluttony. Consequently, these words hold out the hope of experiencing grace because they reveal that Jesus knows full well the half-born condition of the community he leaves behind. His words take hold of us as we and our congregations are today and not as they can never be. Read more

Gospel Sequel

Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

While last month’s headline grabbing prediction of Jesus’ return, the rescue of believers from the earth to heaven, and the onset of tribulation for an unbelieving world (now revised to October) belongs to an extremist Camp(ing), the basic eschatological question underlies much of American Christianity.

The apostles’ question sounds contemporary two millennia later as believers gaze heavenward and count down until the end of the world, while others with a less definite timetable still await a rapture.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, scoffing at such expectations is easy, especially after announced deadlines pass. Jesus’ own response resounds as an all-too-obvious rebuke to Rapture-enraptured Christians: “It is not for you to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.” Read more