Archives: Easter

Gambling and Math: Methodology of the Holy Spirit

Well, folks, we’ve got some real crazy going on in our lesson from Acts today.

Ascension Day was on Thursday, and Jesus has left.

Now what are we supposed to do?

And Pentecost is some days off both for us and the original disciples. The Holy Spirit, called the Comforter, has not arrived yet and we find ourselves rather at a loss as to what to do next.

Luckily, Peter has an idea.

Peter always has an idea, and he always wants to share it. Whether it is building booths on the mountainside for Jesus, Elijah and Moses or jumping out of a boat in a storm to walk on water to test if Jesus is a ghost, Peter is nothing if not a man of action.

So Peter says that the next step for us to take is to find a replacement for Judas.

Jesus wanted twelve apostles, and so, by God, we’re going to have twelve apostles.

Who has been with us since day one? Who has been here since we first saw John the Baptist baptizing in the River Jordan?

Everyone looks around the room and two names come up: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

I see two very different men when I picture these two in my head. Continue reading

Preparing for Priesthood by Failing My Ordination Exams

There are a number of good ways to study and interpret scripture, but one of the ones I enjoy the most is to take details within a particular passage that jump out at me and ask what they mean in my own life.

The people who wrote the books of the Bible were trying to communicate the events of stories, but part of what makes these writings Holy Scripture is the fact that they are layered with meaning.

Each time we come back to them we find a new echo, a new resonance in our own lives. This is why the Bible is our heartbeat as the people of God.

Our lesson from Acts today is rich with sentences and phrases we can mine for meaning in our own lives.

The basic story is about Philip the Evangelist and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

This Philip is not the Philip of the Twelve Apostles. Rather, this Philip was a member of the early church who was chosen as a leader to help administer and organize the church so the apostles could go and pray rather than sort out disputes about food and money.

At some point Philip becomes known as a talented evangelist, and begins to go on conversion missions under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

He finds a eunuch traveling from Jerusalem back to the court of the Ethiopian queen, where he is a high official. This eunuch is reading the text of Isaiah in his chariot.

Philip interprets Isaiah to him in the context of telling the story of Jesus, and the Ethiopian man is so moved that they stop and baptize him on the spot.

Philip is taken away by the Holy Spirit to evangelize elsewhere, and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. Excellent story, the end.

But like I said, it’s worth slowing down and taking a look at the details of the story. I find some of my most fruitful prayer and insight about my life come from this type of Bible study.

I’m fascinated right from the beginning of this passage. “An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.”

This is a wilderness road.

What does it mean to be called by an angel of the Lord to go to a wilderness road? Continue reading

Worth the Death of God

Today we’re going to talk about something difficult.

Today we’re going to talk about sacrifice.

Sacrifice is hard to talk about for three reasons: first, because it can be taken to an unhealthy and exploitative extreme, second, because we don’t want to do it ourselves, and third, because it’s hard to accept on our own behalf. We’ll work our way through these problems with sacrifice one at a time.

Sacrifice is what our lessons are about today.

It is described in a vivid, elegant and emotive phrase.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says.

In our text from 1 John, we read, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

What does it mean to lay down one’s life for another?

In the most basic and obvious sense, it means to die.

But not just to die randomly and pointlessly, but to die with purpose.

To lay down one’s life for someone is to voluntarily accept death that another might live.

That is terrifying to imagine.

Our lives are what we defend most aggressively.

There are few biological instincts more powerful than simple self-preservation.

The will to live is built into our very DNA, our primitive lizard brains will take over to help us defend ourselves in case of danger.

To lay down one’s life for another is to override one’s own humanity for something greater.

It is to defeat biology for an abstract idea.

Paul recognizes how difficult it is. In Romans, he says, “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.”

And Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It is never something that happens by accident.

It is a choice, and it is a choice with a cost. 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

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