The Emmaus Road

What’s goin’ on?

Luke 24:13-35

“Are you the only person who doesn’t know what’s been going on for the past few days?” Apparently Jesus had not been reading Facebook. Or listening to NPR. Or reading the newspaper.

Seriously—how could this guy not know what’s been happening? In the last few days the whole world has been in an uproar over the death of one man. Some people thought he should be killed. Others mourned his loss. Others didn’t know what to think.

Sound familiar? One man, killed at the hands of the government, whom many religious people were glad to see murdered. Read more

Whose Word is It Anyway?

In late summer 2004, I was approached by the Chair of the Democractic Party in the county in which I lived to offer a prayer at an upcoming appearance of John Edwards, then-Vice-Presidential candidate and pre-fall media darling. I received this phone call just weeks after returning to full-time pastoral ministry from maternity leave. I hemmed and hawed in response to her invitation, explaining that I was still trying to figure out each day how to get a shower, tend to pastoral duties, and be my son’s main food source. She was shocked at my lack of enthusiasm. Even though we had never met and she did not know me, she exclaimed, “I thought you would be honored to do it!” Truth be told, I faced the prospect with dread. The maternity issues were only part of my concerns. I knew I would have to speak the truth.
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Unrealistic Stories and Beginning…Again

Transfiguration Sunday (Revised Common Lectionary): Luke 9:28-36, (37-43); Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Catholic Lectionary): Luke 6:17, 20-26

On this Sunday before Lent, when Christian traditions have every reason to be on the same page (the Orthodox, too, begin the Great Lent this coming week) it seems the lectionaries are going in different directions. The Revised Common Lectionary reads Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, while Catholics read Luke’s rendering of the Beatitudes.

Yet these two very different stories – one strangely apocalyptic, the other a pastoral exhortation – both speak to a reality of lived Christianity: the tension between a Kingdom already here and (for all appearances) not yet, between promise and pleroma. Read more

Who Bears the Weight of Empire?

Luke 3:1-6

In today’s gospel, Luke moves rapidly from Emperor Tiberius, in Rome, through a cascade of governors, tetrarchs and high priests, to an eccentric Galilean hayseed (the sort of misfit you’d expect in a Flannery O’Connor short story, with his weird clothes, overwrought speech and hyper-religious obsessions) on a riverside in the nether regions of an inconsequential Roman province. In terms of historical, social and political importance, the downhill slope here is dizzyingly steep.

Still, Luke’s concern – for now – is Elizabeth and Zecahriah’s John-boy, not the movers and shakers of first century Judea. Augustus may have proclaimed a census in the chapter immediately preceding this, but it’s John, not Tiberius, making proclamations now: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The words Luke quotes from Isaiah (40:3-5) speak of reckonings and reversals, themes careful readers of Luke 1 and 2 are well prepared for. (Don’t trust me; read them yourself!) Luke’s narrative delights in paradox and inversions, and rarely strays from the marginalized and cast-offs of the world, those who weep and mourn, forever living in the hope.

As I write this, the President of the United States is announcing his plans to send 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, a land which – for sound historical reasons – is called “Graveyard of Empires.” I’m not competent to critique the geopolitical rationale for this decision. I have no idea how this will end, or when anyone will be able to say with confidence that it has ended.

I only ask followers of Jesus in this season of waiting to hold in their hearts the many who will weep in the months to come. Reckonings and reversals await, and few or none may resemble what the movers and shakers of our day imagine. The marginalized in the US, Afghanistan and elsewhere will almost certainly suffer these more so than you or I or Barack Obama or Hamid Karzai.

Where, in the ongoing narrative of contemporary empires, do you hear the voice of one calling in the wilderness? Where do you hope to see the Glory of the Lord revealed to all flesh?

Ultimate Imagination

Daniel 7:9-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-38a

Some years ago, a friend of ours who was a major player on the Nigerian political scene nearly met an untimely death but survived. After confronting his mortality—his end, Takai abandoned his ascendant career trajectory and told his children that they would receive no inheritance from him. Their inheritance would now come in the form of a ministry he would establish to care for needy widows and orphans. Today that ministry cares for and brings together hundreds of Christians and Muslims in fractured northern Nigeria. Takai’s confrontation with the end unleashed imaginative energy for discipleship and ministry.

Admirable as it is, Takai’s story makes little sense to us because we believe something entirely different: it’s a world without limits that allows for creativity and life at its fullest. Read more