Idiot Faith

Right.  This has got to be one of the most messed up stories in the Old Testament.

Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, I mean.

And it’s not like we have a scarcity of truly disturbing stories in the OT.

There’s David deliberately sending Uriah to be killed so he can hook up with Bathsheba.

There’s Cain killing his own brother Abel over an agricultural misunderstanding.

And that favorite for family fun, Jael inviting Sisera into her tent, tucking him in for a nap, and then driving a tent peg through his skull.  Charming!

I mean, it’s just terrifying and there’s no other way around it.

Put Abraham and Isaac into a modern context.

Picture a man holding a gun to his ten-year-old son’s head, ready to pull the trigger.

There would be SWAT teams aiming laser-guided assault rifles at him from behind parked police cars, police and news helicopters buzzing overhead broadcasting the standoff live around the world, and a hostage negotiator over a bullhorn, begging the father to stand down and asking him why he would want to kill his son.

The answer?

“Because God told me to do it.” Continue reading

Six Weddings and a Funeral for My Arrogant Discipleship

“One midnight hospital vigil, one funeral, one new job, one dead mouse under the kitchen sink smelling up the whole church, one brave parishioner kind enough to deal with said mouse, one interview with the paper, one never-ending church directory project concluded, two sermons written…and six weddings. A week in the insane and fabulous life of being a priest.”

That’s what I posted on Facebook last night thinking over the adventure of the last seven days.

Last Monday when I looked over my calendar and across the expanse of the week ahead, I could never have imagined everything that would transpire.

I thought it would be relatively quiet, organizing everything I need to arrange before I go on vacation, making sure the wheels of the parish will continue to turn while I’m gone.

Little did I know that in one short week I would have some of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my ministry thus far, and learn that I was completely wrong about my own role in them. Continue reading

The Slave and The Virgin

Jesus in the gospels is like that friend who 50% of the time is awesome to be around and 50% of the time is saying the most awful, awkward things that no one wants to hear.

We get a little bit of both in our gospel story today.

We have the beautiful teaching of the value of the sparrows and the hairs of our head being numbered, and then the somewhat less beautiful teaching of Jesus coming to bring a sword instead of peace and the guarantee that dysfunctional family life will continue well into the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

It is passages like this that make me admire Mary, Jesus’ mother, even more than I already do.

She has seen Jesus act out this very teaching. From his seeming lack of politeness at the wedding at Cana to asking people who are his mother and brothers and sisters, appearing to reject her entirely, she has seen it all and still sticks by him all the way to the Cross.

But we know of course that Jesus loved his mother, even valued her highly in the leadership of the disciples, in which she took an even greater role after his ascension.

The gospels don’t tell us of the more tender moments between them, we have to imagine those. Continue reading

God’s Losing Bet

God is a reckless romantic, driven by love to the point of poor decision-making.

That is what is revealed to us by the actions of the Trinity in creation, which we read today.

Far from a dry and repetitive etiology, the first two chapters of Genesis are a shockingly intimate portrait of the inner nature of God.

Through this outpouring of creativity, in the midst of this transcendently powerful generation of new life, we see the most hidden and intimate desire of God—to share God’s love through every atom of creation.

Creation is the work of the Word in the largest sense, the trees and the sky and the waters and us all spoken into existence on the breath of the Spirit from the mouth of God, for which Jesus will live and die and live again.

The nature of Trinity Sunday encourages us to think and talk about big, beautiful theological concepts, ideas that are too large for our minds but somehow fill our hearts with energy and light.

We are invited to dwell in the mystery of God, marveling at how God reveals Godself to us and longing for the day when we leave this earthly life and finish looking through a glass darkly, finally seeing God face to face.

But what does it all mean practically?

How can the theological doctrines of our faith, the ideas about God that are a hard-won mix of gut-level instinct about God and carefully worked-out intellectual exploration of God, help us to live better and deeper Christian lives? Continue reading

Cast All Your Anxiety on the Fire Marshal

It is a rare and disorienting event indeed to experience scripture and the government communicating the same thing to me.

Believe it or not, that’s what happened this week.

The Shelbyville Fire Department stopped by to make their annual inspection of St. Luke’s, and 1 Peter 4 and 5 came up in our lectionary.

“An inspection of your facility revealed the violations below,” the fire marshal’s report says. “An approved fire safety and evacuation plan shall be prepared and maintained. Fire protection systems required by this code shall be installed, repaired, operated, tested and maintained. Failure to comply with this notice may result in penalties provided for by law for such violations.”

“Discipline yourselves, keep alert,” says 1 Peter. “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you.”

I guess 1 Peter and the fire department want the same thing from us: not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal, be it literal or spiritual.

And so that got me thinking.. Continue reading

Leaping Into the Sea of Light

Today is a day of boldness and bravery.

Today is a day when we step off the edge of a cliff, on purpose and with our eyes open.

We are stepping off a cliff because we are telling the world, as our lesson from Romans says, that we hope for what we do not see.

We are proclaiming our faith in the Holy Trinity, the unflawed source of grace, and our love and commitment to the Holy Church, a flawed but very dear vessel of grace.

We are placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability, opening the most secret places of our hearts and minds for the world to see by publicly proclaiming our faith, because it matters.

When we go through the process of confirmation or reception, we take a journey that ends in a place of trust.

Today we stand up and say that we are going to serve and follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior because we have come to trust him.

It is a trust that can often be intermingled with doubt and fear, but that is not only acceptable but necessary.

A faith that never questions is both blind and shallow. Continue reading

Becoming an Ancestor: The Life of a Living Stone

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The image is a fascinating contradiction that immediately draws us in: living stones.

Stones are associated with many images and ideas but rarely are they called living.

We think of them as permanent and lasting, but as dead and inanimate, void of spirit and life.

Peter, the one who was named “The Rock” by Jesus himself, asks us to rethink our assumptions about cold, dead stone.

And really he is carrying forward Jesus’ own teaching.

In the Gospel of Matthew, when Simon Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus did not say, “On this river I will build my church,” or “On this tree I will build my church,” or “On this metaphysical theory will I build my church.”

Jesus said, “On this rock I build my church, and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Jesus built the Church of the Living God on living rock. Continue reading

God Our Mother

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t want to preach “The Person Who Went to Seminary Sermon.”

This is a sermon I’m sure you all have heard before, maybe from me and I didn’t know it.

This is the sermon with fancy words like “soteriology” and “the eschaton” in which the preacher just has to show off the fantastic theological concepts she has learned and is sure are very, very relevant to everyone if she could just make them see it.

This is the sermon that sounds vaguely like a term paper and might even have footnotes and definitely drops names like Karl Barth.

The eager preacher rushes on earnestly, unaware of the glaze creeping over the faces of the congregation as they stop trying to care about hypostatic union of three persons in one godhead.

Well, like I said, I didn’t want to give that sermon but I think there must be some kind of law that everyone does it at some point.

But I don’t think you’ll find it boring because I think some of you may find it a little controversial.

This is not a dull theological concept, it’s an innovation in prayer that I found quite shocking myself the first time I heard it.

No doubt some of you are already very comfortable with it and others of you will leave here today thinking it’s a load of junk, but I hope many of you are like me—skeptical but willing to hear it out.

I knew that today was the day I must talk about it of all days.

Today I’m going to talk about taking prayer to God the Father and adding to it something new: prayer to God our Mother. Continue reading

Breathing in April

Last Sunday after I got home from church, I called my parents like I do every Sunday.

“How was your day?” I asked them. “How was church?”

“Church was great,” my mom said. “But we turned on the radio on the way home, and honey, there’s been a bad shooting here in town.”

I turned on CNN and there was the bizarre feeling of seeing my hometown on national news.

“Three shot and killed at Jewish Community Center in Kansas City,” the headline said.

My heart sank. The initial fearful speculations were borne out. It was a hate crime, committed by a neo-Nazi man who was a leader of the Carolina Ku Klux Klan.

I was horrified at what had happened, how these people had been gunned down at a Jewish Community Center right before the beginning of Passover.

The day had begun with violence.

We read the passion play in church, the account of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Now here was more violence intended to kill more Jewish people.

It was a grim ending to Palm Sunday, painfully appropriate to enter into Holy Week, the week in which we contemplate the consequences of sin and the violent death of our Savior Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Friday: The Rock and the Handmaiden

All week we have grappled with our dual nature.

It began on Palm Sunday. We started by shouting Hosanna to the Son of David, and ended shouting for his crucifixion.

It’s bewildering and exhausting being knocked from pillar to post, being confronted with our best selves and our worst selves, hardly knowing from one minute to the next who we will be.

Are we Jesus’ faithful disciples, pledging to be with him to the end and actually going through with it?

Or are we his betrayers, selling him out to those who would kill him and running and hiding when the trial comes?

We face the dichotomy of our divided selves one more time today, on Good Friday.

We are two people in this story.

We are Peter, and we are Jesus’ mother Mary.

We are the ones who deny him, and the ones who will not be kept away from him but stay at his feet until the bitter end. Continue reading

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