by whitneyrice

True Confessions of a Convicted American Consumer

I finally did it.

I finally got rid of the stationary bike in my apartment that had long served as an impromptu clothes rack.

Even the shame of admitting I never used it could not overcome the freedom I felt when it was gone.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consumption. The verdict: I am a big-time consumer.

A series of blog articles and books has led me to evaluate the amount of “stuff” I have in my life, and I don’t like what I see.

I have long felt convicted by Jesus’ economic teachings. Over and over in the gospels he says things like, “Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and then come, follow me.”

And I feel exactly like the rich young man in that story, who goes away discouraged and downhearted “for he had many possessions.”

That young man gave up the chance to travel and learn and live with Jesus because he loved his stuff so much.

His stuff kept him imprisoned.

I’ve finally realized that I’m running much the same risk. Continue reading

Wars, Elections, and All Souls

How is everyone this morning?

I wondered how I might need to open this sermon on the first Sunday we join in worship after our midterm elections. But it turns out that no matter what your political affiliation, you ended up getting some of what you wanted and some of what you didn’t want.

And you are more than likely asking yourself: given the situation we are in now as a nation, what is our role as people of faith? How can we go forward together with integrity and compassion?

The election is of course not the only thing on our minds and hearts on this Feast of All Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls’ Day.

We gather together today to remember those we love and see no longer, the people who have formed us, loved us, hurt us and healed us, called us to deeper faith and blessed us with their lives.

Some of those people died far too early, others lived long and rewarding lives.

Some lingered through painful illnesses, some were taken away swiftly.

Some of our beloved departed are vivid in our memories, with years of stories and songs and laughter that come to mind.

Others are only imagined composites we’ve pieced together because they are too many generations back for us to have known them ourselves.

In a confluence of spiritual ideas that I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit, today we walk through the aftermath of a hotly contested election and celebrate All Souls’ Day on an important historical anniversary. Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—the guns fell silent and what was known at that time as the War to End All Wars concluded at last.

Place yourself, if you can, in the shoes of an Indiana Episcopalian on November 11, 1918. Continue reading

HIV/AIDS, Opioids, and The Public Health Crisis of Moral Blindness: We Need Bartimaeus

I have long held that Blind Bartimaeus is not the main character in his own story, or at least the only main character.

When we take Bartimaeus as the focus of this passage in Mark, we do receive many important lessons. We reflect on things like persistence, trust, and responding to the call of Jesus, being brave enough to walk toward him even when we can’t see where we’re going.

There’s also a deeply meaningful interpretation around the significance of Bartimaeus “throwing off his cloak,” as the text says. A beggar’s cloak was a vital part of his economic viability and daily survival, and to throw it away was a huge risk.

But I realized several years ago that there is another moving story layered under the main story in this passage.

Bartimaeus is not the only one whose life is changed irrevocably in this encounter with Jesus.

This is a conversion story, but it’s not necessarily Bartimaeus who is converted. Continue reading

James’ and John’s Terrible Interview Skills

My exegetical life began very early.

When I was little, I frequently heard in church about Jesus “sitting on the right hand of God.”

And when I was about 5 years old, I asked my father, “Dad, doesn’t God’s hand get tired if Jesus is sitting on it all the time?”

I may have been a literalist, but you have to admit it’s a good question.

Of course my five-year-old self was not only anthropomorphizing God to an extreme, but also did not understand the cultural significance of sitting at God’s right hand.

This was an allusion to monarchy. When the king sat on his throne, someone sat immediately to his right and immediately to his left. And those people were his trusted aides and agents.

We still hearken back to this custom when we call someone “my right hand man.”

The people seated to the left and right of the king are second only to him in authority and power. When they go out into the world, they speak with the voice of the king. They act on his behalf.

And they are treated with the same dignity, pomp, and circumstance as the king, because they are his hands and feet in the world.

James and John, in our gospel story today, definitely understood this. In fact, they were counting on it. Continue reading

Kavanaugh, Empire, and Confession

I’ve come to a new understanding this week of how the wrath of God can be comforting.

Now that’s a pretty scary statement, isn’t it?

Well, I’m just trying to make sure you’re awake, and after all, Halloween is only a few weeks off. Let me explain what I mean.

I don’t mean “the wrath of God” as in God dangling people over a lake of fire and taking delight in punishing them for their sins.

What I mean is that there comes a time when human beings really lose their way, when they elevate petty, selfish goals over ideals like truth, defending the oppressed, and protecting the vulnerable.

We do that as individuals, and most of all we do that as a body politic.

And when that happens, in the church and in the world, we lose both the ability and the credibility to articulate justice.

At moments like that, we need something more and something higher than humanity’s best attempt at righteousness. We need God’s righteousness.

We need the searingly clarifying reminder that the other pole to God’s mercy is God’s justice.

Mercy always triumphs, but justice creates the conditions for mercy to flourish. Continue reading

What To Do When You Don’t Like What the Bible Says

I came very close this week to doing something I have never done before.

I came very close this week to cheating and not preaching on the assigned scriptures for the day.

There’s no way around it, they’re just awful.

But I’m not one to run away from a challenge, so let’s see what we can make of them. Even if we come out of this only having learned that there are some parts of the Bible that just do not feel like Good News, at least we will have engaged honestly and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to us why we had to read these lessons today.

Job is a deeply problematic text.

People for generations have found comfort in Job’s stoicism through suffering.

I admire Job’s stubbornness, but God in this text?

As Virginia Woolf said, “I read the Book of Job last night. I don’t think God comes out of it well.” Continue reading

Arguing the Way

One of the courses I’ve put together in my teaching ministry is called “Questions of Jesus.”

In the gospels, Jesus asks 307 questions and only answers 3.

He clearly has a lot to ask of us, not only in terms of what he’s calling us to do, but in terms of what is going on in our hearts and minds—he wants to know.

What I do in the “Questions of Jesus” course is present Jesus’ questions with no context at all, no indication of the story, the situation, and the surrounding verses.

Then I let folks wrestle with them, individually, in small groups, and as a large group.  It’s always a fascinating process.

Jesus’ questions, taken apart from their familiar contexts, have a way of cutting right through our customary b.s. and assumptions, like a laser to the heart.

And the question he asks today is one of my favorites.

“What were you arguing about on the way?”

It’s a heck of a relevant question to us right here and now. Continue reading

Who Is Jesus Preaching To?

For words that are in fact so familiar to us, words like “Messiah” and “followers” and “cross,” they are hard to wrap our heads around, hard to implant in our lives, hard to make real.

This gospel contains some of Jesus’ hardest teaching, but even in our knee-jerk despair that we’ll ever be able to live up to this lofty calling and high destiny of which he speaks, we sense how important it is.

We can feel how grand the story is that Jesus is telling. We understand that he is inviting us to be part of events that change the world.

And the spark of the Holy Spirit within us leaps with excitement and possibility and hunger for living out the justice and love of the Christ-follower and the cross-bearer and the life-giver.

But a much louder part of our minds reminds us that we are also the person who routinely leaves the gas cap undone and is jealous of that one person at work and snaps at the kids when we’re tired.

How can there be room for someone like that in the group that recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and bravely follows him to the cross even at the cost of their own lives?

I noticed something about what was happening to Jesus in this moment.

Jesus’ words are strong and his manner is powerful. We are left in no doubt as to who he is, what he is determined to accomplish, the price he is prepared to pay for it, and the expectations he has of us as his followers.

But I think that his very intensity can reveal to us something very tender and real about Jesus in his humanity in this moment, something that might actually give us the courage to live and give as boldly and fully as we are being called.

But before we get to that moment, we begin in an interesting place. We begin with questions, questions that Jesus asks.

“Who do people say that I am?” he asks.

And then the follow up: “But who do you say that I am?”

The gospel story does not begin by saying, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he told his disciples, ‘I am the Messiah.’”

It says, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’”

Jesus wants to know what we think. Continue reading

Jesus Repents of Racism

Have you ever been new at something and just really wanted to get it right?

You’ve been given an unprecedented opportunity and all you can think is, “Don’t screw it up.”

It happens to me all the time.

Even though I’ve been working at St. Francis for two years and been ordained a priest for almost ten years, every day I pray to God, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me turn this dear lovely church into an ecclesiastical train wreck.”

I see other people engaged in new endeavors doing the same thing. A friend of mine and her husband are preparing for their first baby, due to be born at the end of November.

Of course, my friend Sara is nervous, wondering if she can handle the pain of labor, wondering if her child will turn out to be a ballet dancer or a serial killer or whatever.

But her mom is also a friend of mine, and talks to me about whether or not she’ll be a good grandmother.

Sara’s mom, Nancy, will tell me she’s planning to offer no parenting advice to Sara because she doesn’t want to be overbearing and interfering, while five minutes later Sara will be telling me she’s so glad she’ll be able to rely on her mom’s parenting advice.

The two of them get so worked up I start to wonder if I’m being too blasé about being a godmother for the first time.

Is it possible to negatively influence an infant in Iowa all the way from Indiana?

Could I singlehandedly turn him away from God and the Church and the Kansas Jayhawks and everything else I love if I don’t do everything exactly right?

Whether it’s a new job or a new baby or a new church, we all feel nervous when we’re venturing into the unknown and the stakes are high.

This is the situation in which we find Jesus in our Gospel today.

Jesus has traveled very far from his home in Galilee. He is ministering in Tyre and Sidon, what would feel to people in his time like a foreign country.

He is not among the Jews, he is in a country of Gentiles, Syrians and Phoenicians, foreigners with whom Israel has rarely been on good terms. Continue reading

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