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

People Will Say We’re In Love

The extent to which I care about end-times predictions and the Second Coming is approximately zero.

Yes, that makes me a terrible priest, but, well, it’s not my first sin and won’t be my last.

I just get so impatient with all the code-breaking of the Book of Revelation and all the calculating of who’s in and who’s out of the Magical 144,000 and especially all of the, “Why take care of the environment or address systemic injustices of racism and poverty? Jesus is going to show up any day now and blow up the whole Earth!”

I just…I just can’t.  I’m so sorry.

But our Gospel reveals that I am not on the same page with Jesus (again, not for the first time and not for the last). Continue reading

Striving for Sheephood, Stuck in Goatdom

I am always incredibly convicted by this story from Matthew 25 encouragingly called “The Judgment of the Nations.”

Any time I read the words “eternal punishment” attributed to Jesus, I get a little antsy.

It is probably not a coincidence that usually take my last vacation week of the year beginning on Christ the King Sunday every year.

What makes it so hard to hear is that Jesus is being really clear in this text.

He expects us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.

That is a very concrete set of tasks that do not need a whole lot of interpretation.

And I know I’m not living up to those tasks.

I feel rather goatish. Continue reading

The Kingdom of God is Not a Talent Show

Mark, a friend of mine who is a priest in Denver, wrote on Facebook this week, “When writing a sermon, it’s not that helpful or productive to keep saying to yourself, “This really isn’t my favorite gospel passage…”.”

And then Bill, a priest in Alabama, wrote back, “I often say exactly that in a sermon. Chances are it’s not the congregation’s favorite either.”

So I don’t know how you feel about the Parable of the Talents, but it pretty much left me cold this week aside from the usual interpretations about how fear limits our potential for ministry.

The traditional interpretation is to see God or Jesus in the role of the Master.

The idea is that the slaves with the two and five talents are good and faithful and did fruitful ministry because they were brave and took risks.

And the last slave who buries his talent is weak and foolish, and has wasted his ministry opportunity because he was afraid.

But we need to call this into question by taking a closer look at the Master on whom we have projected the person of God.

The Master is actually not a very good person. Continue reading

As For Me and My Household, We Have Decision Fatigue

Today is a day of choice in our lesson from the Book of Joshua.  And it’s also time to talk about choice for ourselves.

In the Book of Joshua, the people of Israel have a very a simple choice: worship the gods their ancestors worshipped in their former lands, or worship the one true Living God who had called them by name.

Our choices are a lot more complicated than that, but they come down to the same issue in the end.

We as modern Americans are bombarded by choice not just every day, but multiple times an hour.

The combination of our many resources, our fast-paced lifestyle, and our plugged-in technological interfaces subjects us to information overload.

We experience what psychological experts call “decision fatigue.”

Decision fatigue describes the phenomenon in which our capacity to make good decisions wears out if we have to make too many decisions, too often and too quickly in a row.

The more decisions we have to make, the poorer the quality of our decision making.

We begin by being very rational and careful about our decision-making, but by the end we’re choosing based on our desires rather than our values. Continue reading

For All the Saints of South Africa

This year the gospel text for All Saints’ Day is the Beatitudes, and I’m looking at it a little differently than I have in the past.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, we read.  Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

This time around I am thinking of the saints I met in South Africa.

We often think of the saints on All Saints’ Day as the great people of the past.  But it’s important to remember that the great saints of the past are inspiring the saints of today, all around the world.

Let me tell you about a few I met on my trip, and where I find myself. Continue reading

The Law and the Prophets Depend on Us

At first it seems as though there are very few surprises for us in our gospel today.

The scene is familiar to us: the Pharisees and Sadducees are stirring up trouble with Jesus, as usual, and Jesus masterfully handles them with a mixture of kindness, authority, and flawless command of the scriptures.

And, of course, Jesus’ answer to their question, what is the greatest commandment, is very familiar to us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

It’s hard to preach on this passage, because essentially, Jesus has wrapped up the substance and goals of our entire Christian life in a few short sentences.

Love God and love your neighbor. That pretty much covers it.

Simple, straightforward, easy to remember, and the work of a lifetime.

But the wonderful thing about Jesus is that every word he speaks is so rich with multilayered meaning that we can mine it for years and be struck by new revelation every time we open the gospel.

What intrigues me, as I study these familiar words this time around, is his final sentence: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Continue reading

The Pharisees’ Dwight Freeney Complex

Jesus is just in no mood to be trifled with in this Gospel.

He is a busy man and he does not have time to fool with a bunch of sneaky Pharisees who have a bad attitude.

You can just feel his frustration when he says, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?”

The Pharisees are a bunch of grown men, and more than that, they are religious professionals who presumably have duties to which they are supposed to be attending.

And yet they find time in their busy schedule to waylay Jesus in the street, an upstart rabble rouser who they’re really not supposed to be acknowledging, and try to trip him up verbally into either alienating his supporters or being arrested by the Romans.

It would be like if Dwight Freeney, all-star defensive end formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, saw a high school freshman quarterback at the mall and tried to sack him.

It’s overkill, it’s inappropriate and it’s just tacky. Continue reading

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