Jesus’ Premeditated Rage

This is such a fascinating Gospel story.

I think the reason many of us find it intriguing is because it cuts across our customary image of Jesus.

Jesus is so gentle and loving in many of the stories about him, taking children in his arms and blessing them, washing the disciples’ feet and so forth, that we run the risk of domesticating him, making him one dimensional.

Jesus as our Good Shepherd is tender and gentle, but he is so much more than that.

Jesus was a person, a man, and he experienced the full range of complex emotions that humanity has to offer.

Jesus is so intense in this story of driving the moneychangers from the temple.  It’s almost embarrassing to think about it, especially for us extremely polite Anglicans.

The last thing we would ever think of doing is creating a shouting ruckus in church, which is essentially what Jesus does here.

He descends on the Temple like a furious storm, sweeping through with incandescent rage and leaving wreckage behind him.

The difference, of course, is that instead of a harvest of death, the storm that Jesus unleashes on the Temple is in the service of life.

Rather than the people dying, Jesus offers his own life as the price of the sin and evil in the world being destroyed.

This event of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple is described in all four gospels, which lends it an extra force of realism.

Everybody who was writing about Jesus agreed that this happened, and that it was important to remember it. Continue reading

A Covenant Worth Our Very Lives

This sermon originally appeared on the Episcopal Digital Network’s Sermons That Work.

We human beings love our rules.

The security that comes from knowing how things should be done comforts us in our chaotic world.

God understands this about us, and so God comes to us in terms of covenant.

In our lesson from Genesis, God provides a clear agreement that Abraham can refer to and rely on to know that God will come through on God’s promises.

God willingly limits Godself out of love, knowing that making this clear and concrete covenant, promising to be our God forever and make our descendants fruitful, will bring us comfort and security.

Where we get into trouble is when we think that our ideas about rules and regulations should govern God.

Once we understand that God will always be faithful to us and care for us, we start to think we know better than God who God should be and how God should act. Continue reading

Saying Goodbye

It’s easy to get caught up in the supernatural fireworks of our stories today from 2 Kings and Mark.

People are flying around in the air, there are clouds and lightning and chariots of fire and prophets appearing and disappearing—it’s very Hollywood.

But the truth is that these stories are really about human relationships, and they have a lot to teach us about God and ourselves.

The story of Elijah’s departure from earth, taken up to heaven as Elisha watches, is incredibly poignant, partly because of the events leading up to it.

This is a long and drawn out departure.

They travel together from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the banks of the Jordan River—all powerfully symbolic locations for the people of Israel, and probably places Elijah and Elisha had traveled together to many times before in their prophetic partnership.

They weren’t alone.

The company of the other prophets was with them, and they kept asking Elisha over and over again, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?”

And Elisha replies, “Yes, I know. Keep silent.”

Elisha doesn’t want to hear it, hates the truth he has to admit that his beloved teacher and friend is about to leave him forever.

We don’t know what the tone of the company of prophets was.

They could have been mocking Elisha, taunting him about his pain.

Or they could simply have been trying to get through to a friend, seeing that he was in denial about what was coming and trying to prepare him for reality.

This gets to the heart of the human truth of this story: it is so hard to say goodbye to someone we love. Continue reading

Take a Deep Breath of God

What is the best thing you’ve ever done?

What is the moment in your life when everything you ever wanted came together with every ability you have and it just clicked?

For some people it might be the moment of giving birth, or the moment of making or accepting a marriage proposal.

Others might remember an ostensibly smaller moment that ended up having great impact, like helping a stranger who became a best friend, or making an apology and saving a relationship.

In the strange mix of hectic confusion and dull monotony that swirls through our days, we live for those moments when we accidentally step into the center of God’s will.

Today’s gospel holds just such an important moment for the disciples.

Jesus is still very new to them and they’re not sure if they’re witnessing a talented charlatan or a prophet sent from God.

They left their jobs and their homes under the strange power of his invitation, and they have witnessed a demon being driven out of a man in the synagogue.

In what will possibly be their last chance to turn back, they return to Simon Peter’s house because his wife’s mother is ill.

No doubt some of their family members are hoping they will see reason and go back to their fishing boats.

No doubt some of the disciples themselves are thinking, well, this was an interesting week, but it’s time to go back to reality. Continue reading

Things We Don’t Talk About: Jesus and Mental Illness

Today is Superbowl Sunday, that festival of all the sacred American traditions: football, junk food, and most of all, commercials.

If you think of the Superbowl as a high holy day of secular American culture, you will notice that people are much more demonstrative at this ritual than they are in most churches.

Even stoic, polite Episcopalians lose their inhibitions when their favorite team is down to 4th and goal with one minute to go.

Nor am I innocent of devotion to this American religion. I may be a priest of the Episcopal church first, but second, I love football.

I mean, I really love football, in the most undignified way possible.

I used not to care about sports at all, and then once I got to college and had a big state university team to root for, I started to get interested. Four years of college plus three of graduate school transformed me into a rabid fan–win or lose, rain or snow, you’ll find me in the stands for a home game and in front of the T.V. for any team I can watch.

I have to watch myself or I’ll be one of those crazies who paint their stomachs and scream like banshees into the camera on the front row of the stands.

What makes people act so crazy at sports events?

And why do we find this type of behavior perfectly normal and acceptable in this particular context?

Anyone who painted their stomach and screamed random slogans at church or in the office or at the grocery store would be thought to be insane.

And we Americans do not do well with insanity.

You can have almost any medical problem in the world and still be taken seriously and treated like a human being, except for mental illness.

Why is that? Continue reading

Seeing God by Letting God See Us

We often think of “Bible times” being so drastically different from our own.

We imagine that people walked around in a world where miracles and wonders happened left, right and center.

You’re walking down the street and boom! There’s the parting of the Red Sea, there’s a coat of many colors, there’s a kid slaying a giant.

But the fact of the matter is, most folks in the ancient near East, and even most of the big heroes of the Bible, lived lives very much like our own.

They had to pay the rent on time, they had to get food on the table, maybe they didn’t like their bosses and they gossiped about their neighbors.

There weren’t miracles and revelations dropping out of the sky at all hours of the day.

Our reading from 1 Samuel today says so: “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

That was true in the literal sense, but oh, what a richer and deeper resonance that can have for us as individuals and us as a church.

Do you feel like the word of the Lord is rare in your life? Continue reading

Why God Needs Small Churches

I’m going to say something that I know is going to shock you.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church is not the center of Christendom.

We are not Rome or Constantinople or Canterbury.

We’re not even Indianapolis

We’re not even Plainfield.

What are we?  We are a collection of faithful souls trying to find our way to doing God’s will.

We are the people who show up week after week believing that God has important work for us to do and offering ourselves to do it. Continue reading

The Gospel of John: Seduced by Unhelpful Poetry

Since 2014 seems to be a year of my reimagining my ideas around a lot of Biblical passages and Christian ideas, I thought I’d round out the year with preaching on what in the past has been one of my least favorite portions of scripture up to now, John’s prologue.

The first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John have summed up what for me has always been the problem with the entire Gospel of John. It’s too floaty, too esoteric, too obscure and abstract and idealized.

It’s poetry, yes, but it’s not particularly helpful poetry, and when I read the Bible, I’d like to gather some sort of concrete idea of what to do in my life on an everyday basis.

Even Jesus in the Gospel of John seems to float about three feet off the ground the whole time, aloof and distant and prone to giving long, repetitive speeches that create the same glaze over my eyes that I get when I read my IRS forms at tax time.

But the Holy Spirit is a sneaky and crafty adversary when it comes to my trying to dismiss entire portions of the canon of scripture. Continue reading

Ready or Not, Here He Comes

Well, folks, we’re out of time.

Christmas is a short three days away, and there is a rapidly closing window of time to accomplish whatever preparation you knew you had to take care of before December 24.

And I’m not just talking about the kind of preparation that immediately springs to mind.

I’m not just talking about the online last-minutes gift deals and the frantic rushing out for another roll of wrapping paper.

I’m not just talking about the dog eating the chocolate that was supposed to go in the stockings and the frantic rush to Kroger at 10 a.m. on December 24 to buy onion salt, cranberry sauce, a meat thermometer, and all the other once-a-year kitchen items you forgot to get to prepare food for your guests.

I’m letting you know that the window is also closing on the last opportunity for our spiritual preparation, which by the way is the original purpose of this entire holiday season.

We can be forgiven for perhaps forgetting from time to time—after all, the reminders to remember the “true spirit of Christmas” have become as trite as the twinkling lights and blaring songs about Rudolph and Frosty.

But today is our last Sabbath before Christmas. It’s time to pause, stop, and reflect on where we have been.

How did we arrive at the moment three days before our Savior’s birth?

What has been happening to you spiritually for the past four weeks?

What have you been doing to prepare a place to welcome the Christ Child within your life, your self, your mind, your heart?

How have you seen God at work in your life, leading you and guiding you toward the star in the East that grows stronger and brighter with each passing day? Continue reading

It Turns Out Advent Is Not All That Gentle or Tender

Sunday, December 7, 2014.

We expect today to be a pretty normal day, don’t we?

We expect to get up, think longingly of going to back to bed while drinking our coffee, hunt down some Kleenex to deal with the cold getting passed around, go to church, greet our friends, go home this afternoon, watch some Colts football, and call it a day.

A normal Sunday. Unremarkable, but satisfying.

Our world is stable beneath our feet.

A lot of Americans had similar expectations to ours on a Sunday, December 7 seventy-three years ago. They expected to wake up, go to church, spend time with their families, and call it a day.

Instead, their world exploded. Continue reading

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