Archives: Ordinary Time

Out of Our Poverty

Good morning, everyone! Let’s talk about sex.

Perhaps not what you were expecting to hear from me right off the bat in the pulpit.

Well, we’re beginning with our story from Ruth, and you need a little cultural context to get the full meaning of this story.

Ruth has followed her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel after the death of Ruth’s husband, and they’ve been living from pillar to post.

They have no source of income. They cannot open a small business or draw social security.

They subsist on the gleanings from the field, which are the little bits of grain leftover from the harvest that get left behind.

They are literally living on scraps.

It’s not a sustainable situation, and they know that.

So Naomi says to Ruth: “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

This is a euphemism. In this culture, to uncover a man’s feet while he was sleeping was to make yourself available for sex.

This is not the proper way of doing things, in case you haven’t noticed.

This was not an aboveboard courtship with polite chaperoned dates.

Naomi told Ruth to go to Boaz after Boaz had been drinking and make herself sexually available to him.

And she did it!

Ruth said to Naomi, “All that you tell me I will do.”

Ruth is taking an enormous risk. Continue reading

What Jesus Is Really Asking Us

Who doesn’t love blind Bartimaeus?

Here is a man who knows what he wants and goes after it no matter how much he embarrasses everyone else.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he shouts.

His fellow townspeople are mortified.

“Shut up!” they say. “Be quiet, you hollering maniac! The one celebrity we get in this town and you yell at him like a yokel!”

Bartimaeus doesn’t care.

He knows Jesus has what he needs and he is going after it.

He will not be silenced.

We could learn a lot about boldness in prayer from Bartimaeus. We could learn a lot about asking for what we need.

But even more important than Bartimaeus’ persistence in this gospel is Jesus’ response to him.

Bartimaeus is hollering and causing a ruckus, and “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”

This is one of the most important moments in the entirety of the gospels for telling us about who Jesus is and how he behaves in relationship with us.

Jesus does not assume that Bartimaeus wants to be made able to see.

He does not assume that Bartimaeus sees his blindness as a disability.

Furthermore, although Jesus undoubtedly knows what is best for Bartimaeus, Jesus does not force it on him.

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Neither does Jesus impose his will on us, or make any assumptions about what we need or want.

He asks us as openly as he asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The ball is in our court, just as it was for Bartimaeus.

We can’t rely on God to solve our problems for us.

We have to answer the question Jesus asks.

What do we want him to do for us? Continue reading

How to Fit Through the Eye of a Needle

This weekend is when I led the retreat for the undergraduate course I teach at the University of Indianapolis.

Last year it was kind of a big flop.

I have been a church nerd my entire life, and I often forget that not everyone else is.

“Go away in the woods and think about God in silence for two days? Sounds awesome!” I say.

That’s not what the undergrads said last year.

So the course I’m teaching is called Monasticism, New Monasticism, and Rule of Life.

For the retreat, I decided to have them live a day in the life of a monastic, praying the monastic offices in community, etc., according to the rule of St. Benedict that they had studied.

You can imagine the reaction of these college students when I told them they were going to be monks and nuns for a weekend. Continue reading

The Road to Heaven is Made of Band-aids and Duct Tape

I’ll admit that at first blush this gospel reading does not seem like “Good News” but instead “Confusing and Rather Alarming News.”

All of Jesus’ talk of cutting off hands and feet makes me a little edgy.

And by the time we get to the worm that never dies and the unquenchable fire, I’m squirming in my seat.

The bit about stumbling blocks brings back embarrassing memories.

I was an incurable klutz as a child.

Despite years of ballet lessons I continued to knock over lamps and crash into furniture until the immortal morning of the first day of my freshman year of high school when I opened the car door and promptly fell directly onto the ground in front of all my new classmates.

To add insult to injury later that same first day of high school—and I am not making this up—I fell over a rack of music stands in the hallway during passing period after fourth hour.

I went to lunch in tears, convinced I would be known for the rest of high school as that weird girl who falls all the time.

Luckily now I can hide my clumsiness most of the time but I still have the ability to wreak havoc both on my surroundings and my body.

Suffice it to say that if I took Jesus’ instructions literally about severing body parts every time they caused me to stumble I would be completely without extremities, missing my eyes, and probably bald since when I wore my hair long, I routinely shut it in car doors.

Those of us prone to tripping and falling get a little worried when the Christian life is described as a journey or path and Jesus himself is called the Way.

And yet who has ever walked the Christian path without stumbling? Continue reading

Bad 70s Pop Psychology in the Gospel

I have something I try to remind myself of on a regular basis.

And that something is that everyone can see through me.

Everyone can see through my posturing and my careful cultivation of a holy priestly persona and a polite and cheerful mask. I’m not fooling anyone.

And when I remember that it brings me back down to earth. I get this kind of mixed set of feelings in myself that is somehow a blend of chagrin, wry humor, and relief.

Why do we try to fool the world into thinking specific things about us?

Why do we act as though the false self of virtue or power is who we really are?

It’s because we are afraid.

We don’t believe that people would love us if they knew the truth about us. Continue reading

God’s Love Is Not Really Like You Think It Is

Margery Kempe, the great medieval English mystic, experienced God saying to her: “More pleasing to me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”

That is what our scriptures are about today, exemplified first in our text from Song of Solomon, which is most frequently used at weddings.

This is only time in the entire 3-year cycle of the lectionary that we read the Song of Solomon in worship, the book of the Bible that’s basically an ode to erotic love.

It’s a text about raw passion for the Beloved, and it may seem somewhat distant from how we experience God.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The dual forces of Western puritanism and modern scientific cold skepticism have driven out much of the spectrum of love in our relationship with God.

We are only allowed to glimpse a formal, distant, dignified love for standing up in church, and maybe a little hint of the love of a parent for a child.

It turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. Continue reading

Fear Is The Beginning

We’re going to talk about two themes this morning: fear and wisdom.

They move throughout our scriptures this morning, and are connected in one controversial Bible verse in our psalm: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

It’s controversial for good reason.

For centuries many Christians were trapped in a concept of an angry, vengeful God, a God who demanded restitution for their sins, a God who seemed almost to hate them.

It was a tragically narrow view of God that kept people afraid and made them judgmental because they were so sure they themselves were being judged and found wanting.

The more you feel you don’t measure up, the more likely you are to find fault in others.

It was a desperately insecure Christianity, and it felt the fear of the Lord in a visceral, literal, unhealthy way.

I do not think we should fear the Lord in that way.

But I don’t think we should just get rid of the concept altogether. Continue reading

Things We Don’t Talk About: Jesus and Addiction

We think of sin as the universal human problem, but I’ve been thinking about it this week, and I believe that sin may be actually only an outgrowth of a deeper problem.

I think we might be able to classify the true root of most of our troubles with a more modern word that no one in the Bible would have been familiar with: addiction.

It’s comforting to think of addiction as someone else’s problem. Addiction is the stuff of meth labs and crack pipes.

But as our St. Luke’s Bible study talked together on Wednesday, we agreed that addiction is actually a universal condition.

We’re all addicted to something.

For some it’s alcohol or prescription medication, for others it’s food or sex, for others it’s shopping or video games or gossip or exercise.

So why do I call addiction deeper than sin? Continue reading

A Tale of Two Kings

Today’s scriptures are a tale of two kings, both born in the city of Bethlehem.

One would lend his name to his birth city; it became known for ever after as the City of David.

One would bring a star to his birth city; people followed it there to worship him in the manger that was his cradle.

David was the great king of the Hebrew Scriptures, the archetype for all who came after him and originator of God’s favor on the throne of Israel.

Jesus was the great king of the New Testament, the king who cared nothing for political power and turned the definition of kingship inside out.

But this is not a simple story of compare and contrast.

David is far too complex a figure for us to simply dismiss him with the old interpretation of, “Well, the old kings of Israel tried but they were no good so it’s a good thing Jesus came along.”

David is one of the most deeply human figures in the whole Bible.

He reaches sublime heights of worship and leadership, and commits monstrous sins that result in almost destroying not only his life, but his family for generations afterwards.

Perhaps what fascinates us the most about David is the unique designation that he alone bears in the entirety of scripture: he was a man after God’s own heart. Continue reading

What To Do When Atticus Dies

When we meet Jesus and the disciples in our gospel today, two things happen: “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’”

But if we pick up the scripture right there, we miss a key ingredient of the story.

What just happened? What did we read about last week?

Mark doesn’t tell us what we know actually happened.

In the same conversation where the disciples tell Jesus all the good they have been able to do in his name, he has to break the terrible news to them: John the Baptist has been beheaded.

Can you imagine the grief and pain and fear that broke over them at hearing that Jesus has just lost his cousin and the world has just lost a great prophet?

So Jesus took them away to a deserted place to rest, not just from the clamor of the crowds and the tiring ministry work they’d been doing, but to give them some space to be alone as a small family to come to terms with the blow they’d been dealt.

It must have been a profoundly disillusioning moment for the disciples.

They’d just gone out and healed the sick and preached the good news to the poor.

They’d really seen people’s lives being changed by the message they had been sent out to deliver.

Then to come back and find that John the Baptist had been executed—it is one of those moments of wondering, “What is the point of all this? Where is God in the midst of this?”

We’ve all had moments like this lately as we’ve watched the news in our world around us, with one act of gun violence piling up on another.

And I have had one of those moments of combined disillusionment and grief in hearing the news about Atticus Finch. Continue reading