Closer to the Brink

Last Sunday’s readings (the First Sunday of Lent for the Western Church) were stories of destruction turned into rescue and peril into triumph. Noah, at God’s urging, saves a remnant of Creation and receives God’s covenantal promise. Jesus, upon being baptized, is immediately (euthus, one of Mark’s favorite words) driven into the wilderness (the verb, ekballein, suggests being tossed, hurled, or expelled, as in an exorcism) where he is unsuccessfully tempted by Satan before being waited upon by angels.

This week – with the Revised Common and Catholic lectionaries diverging – peril and destruction are nearer than ever. In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” for advising against the path of suffering, death and resurrection. It doesn’t help that the phrase, “pick up your cross,” has lost its terrifying charge over the centuries. We might have to try a contemporary paraphrase, something like: “renounce your citizenship, lie down willingly on your waterboard, and die.” Yes, there’s the promise of the Father coming in glory with his angels, but Jesus makes plain you can’t get there from here except through the valley of death (not its shadow, mind you, but the real, mortal, unavoidable deal). Read more

Psalms for the Journey

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy . . . Psalm 16:11

It is fitting that we read, pray, and sing the Psalms during Lent—this season of the church year when we experience the full gamut of human emotions: sadness, doubt, confusion, rage, praise, thanksgiving, joy. The Psalms convey all of these emotions and more, and thus they place front and center something often lacking in our common discourse: honest speech. In their grappling with loss and abandonment, fear and pain, and in their ecstatic surrender to worship, praise, and adoration, the Psalms—the lamenting ones, the cursing ones, and the praising ones—help us to speak truthfully before God and one another. Read more

Light for the Journey

Transfiguration Sunday – Mark 9:2-9

The Gospel Lesson for Transfiguration Sunday suffers from something that lectionary texts often do: It begins in the middle of a longer narrative, the whole of which helps to situate and make sense of the lifted-out passage under consideration. The Mark reading begins with: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” We then go on to get engrossed in the familiar story of how the appearance of Jesus changes; how Moses and Elijah suddenly show up; how Peter characteristically misreads the scene.

But what happened six days earlier? Could it have any bearing on the journey to the mountaintop and on what transpired there? Read more

I Do Choose…

Epiphany 6B – Mark 1:40-45

The healing stories of Jesus are among my favorite stories of the gospels. There is something deeply honest about persons in considerable pain—a woman bent low, a man born blind, a father pleading on behalf of his ailing daughter—coming to Jesus in desperation and placing all their hopes upon Jesus’ willingness to make them well. Jesus never disappoints, either. He always meets their desperation with compassion, their suffering with relief, their isolation with restoration. In this week’s gospel lesson, the same is true for the leper who comes to Jesus kneeling at his feet begging, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Rather than be repulsed by the man’s potentially contagious condition, Jesus moves toward the leper reaching out to him and touching him saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Read more

Is Your World Shaped By the Gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39 (Epiphany 5B)

Each of the New Testament lessons this week make reference to Jesus and Paul’s felt responsibility to proclaim the gospel message wherever they were. In the gospel, after healing Simon’s mother-in-law as well as many others who were brought to him, Jesus demands of the disciples that they move onto other towns so that he might “proclaim the message; for that is what [he] came to do” (vs. 38). Similarly, Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians about the obligation he feels to proclaim the gospel to all people at all times. The question left for us, then, is “Do we also feel that obligation to proclaim the gospel in all times and places?” Read more

By Whose Authority?

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

A little word history from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Authority: First written appearance in English: 1230, autorite “book or quotation that settles an argument,” from from L. nom. auctoritas ,”invention, advice, opinion, influence, command,” from auctor “author.” Used to mean “power to enforce obedience” is from 1393; meaning “people in authority” is from 1611. Authoritative first recorded 1609. Authoritarian is recorded from 1879.

Power: First written appearance in English: 1297, from L. potis “powerful” Used to mean “a state or nation with regard to international authority or influence” dates from 1726. Powerful is c.1400. The powers that be is from Rom. 13:1. Read more

Epiphany 3B

Mark 1:14-20

I have a brother who is a bit of an adrenaline junky. In many ways he is not unlike most 26 year old boys who have no house payment, car payment, girlfriend, wife or kids: footloose and fancy free. On the other hand, there is something quite unique about my brother. It is the fact that, on average, he risks his life 2-3 times per day. You see, my brother has made a life for himself out of pushing the envelope. If you were to ask him, he would tell you that airplanes were invented to be jumped out of, mountains were made to be crawled up and then skied down, and waterfalls were created in order to slide off in 6’ pieces of molded plastic. My brother’s primary raison d’être is white water kayaking. He has traveled all over the world finding and conquering the world’s wildest rivers and creeks. If we didn’t share the hallmark Shuman nose, you might wonder how we are related. When it comes to taking risks, we are as different as night and day. Read more

Planning Our 2009 Gathering

Over the years, many EP endorsers have asked us to hold a Gathering dedicated to talking about economic issues, and at the end of last summer’s gathering, the board agreed that we would move that direction for next year. Little did we know at that moment just how big an issue the economy was about to become in the U.S.

But as the planning committee began working, first we had trouble sorting out exactly which kind of economic issues we would talk about. Then, although usually a gathering is organized around a scriptural passage or theme, we could not settle on just one. Ultimately what struck us was less the importance of any one passage and more the importance of the scriptural story as the story of God’s economy. Or to put it another way, what struck us was the idea that the true economy is the work of God. Read more

King and the Kingdom

Today as we commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s easy to forget how despised King was in his own time by many on the right and the left, by many within the church and outside it. As the frequency of his public speeches increased toward the end of his life so did his visible rage; as his preaching evolved in the last years, he moved from what Richard Lischer has called a “homiletics of identification” to a “homiletics of confrontation.” The radical politics of the Kingdom that King envisioned—for the church and the nation—did not endear him to either; it got him killed. Read more

Heaven and Earth

Second Sunday After the Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Each year on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, the lectionary steers us away from the Synoptics, where we have been immersed in birth narratives, visiting magi, and the baptism of Jesus, and into the first part of John’s gospel, which contains none of these historical particulars. But the Johannine detour is significant for Epiphany, for these texts deal with the revelation of Jesus to Israel and to the world, making the claim that this One from Nazareth (“can anything good come from there?”) is the eternal Logos, Word made flesh, whose glory we have beheld. Read more