To hear the unfiltered reality of Ash Wednesday is surprisingly refreshing. This day, this service, this time together is a little like naming the elephant in the room.
It’s refreshing in a way that only the truth can be… because we know deep down that we live in a death-denying culture which tries to tell us that we can live forever with the right combination of exercise, yoga, vacations and elective surgery. And it’s all very tempting.Continue Reading
The Gospels, the life portraits of Jesus, often encourage you and me to think about what we are asked to leave behind to follow Jesus, and what this Jesus teacher is getting us into. We do not often think of what he might be leading us out of. In her novel The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver gives us a blindly stubborn Baptist missionary leading his wife and four daughters into the Belgian Congo of the late 1950s. His family makes it clear that all they have left behind is good. But after they have had their assumptions tested, and they are scattered and threatened by revolution, they find that the America they were led out of carries its own hidden dangers. “You learn to love what you have to lose,” says one character, speaking of dangers the family never imagined.Continue Reading
A priest preaching on this text surveys his congregation. “Raise your hands if you have a lot of enemies in your life,” he says, and about half the people raise their hands. “Raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” About a quarter of them raise their hands. “Now,” he says, “raise your hand if you have no enemies at all.”
Way at the back one very old man shakily raises his hand. “How wonderful!” the priest says. “What a fine Christian life you lead. How old are you, sir?”
“I’m 98,” the man answers.
“And how is it possible that you have no enemies?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” the man says. “All the so-and-sos have died!”Continue Reading
“I’m so blessed.” “Have a blessed day.” “Ooh, God has blessed us.”
We say that all the time. Often we don’t even think about it. There are even songs that dwell on how very blessed we are. “With showers of His goodness, I’m blessed.” Is it possible that when we say, “I’m blessed,” we mean something very different from when Jesus tells us that certain groups of people are blessed? Is it possible that we say, “I’m blessed” when we mean that we have material possessions.Continue Reading
If you want to catch the fish, you have to leave the comfort and familiarity of the shallows and go out into the deep. If you and I are looking for abundance, or wisdom or healing or love, do we have the courage to break free from our nice cozy ruts and head into uncharted waters? Here be dragons. Or, at the very least, new hymnals.Continue Reading
And it was going so well.
Jesus had returned to his home village, to the people who knew him when he was an adorable child, and maybe a not-so-adorable adolescent. He read out a prophecy from Isaiah, not one of the harsh ones that make listeners squirm, but good news for the poor, the broken-hearted, the oppressed. He even said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Continue Reading
In her book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling begins with a scene in which 15-year-old Harry uses magic outside of school. He does so not to get himself out of a scrape or for his own benefit, but to protect his cousin, Dudley, from Dementors, evil creatures that suck the soul out of a person. Even though he is defending his unappreciative and unkind cousin from the Dementors, when they return home, Harry finds a note from the Ministry of Magic informing him that because he has broken the rules, he has been expelled from school.
At that, his Uncle Vernon, who despises Harry and is frightened and distrustful of the wizarding community, turns and gives him a wicked grin. “Justice,” he hisses.Continue Reading
The wedding at Cana is recorded as the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of John refers to the miracles as signs, because in this Gospel, the portrait of Jesus that emerges is one in which Jesus’ every word and every action points people to the Father. Everything that Jesus does in this gospel reveals something about God and about the Kingdom of God. And the more we explore this story, the more it shows us about the Kingdom of God.Continue Reading
The Start of a Journey
Baptism marks the start of a journey, the end of one kind of life, one world, one identity, and the beginning of another. The Baptism of Our Lord, which we celebrate this day, takes us back to the very beginning, to the first Once Upon a Time, when, “In the beginning, when God was creating the heavens and the earth.”
As anyone who sews can tell you, when you take your needle and draw it back, stitching over the stitch you just made, it strengthens it. Makes it stronger. So we are strengthened in baptism by the knowledge that this act connects us back to God in creation, to the beginning of time.Continue Reading
Fear or Faith?
Of all the events that make no sense in the Christmas story, this is one that has always snagged my attention: And Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod, the ruler over all Judea. Herod, the man who to most ordinary people in Jesus’ day would seem to have infinite power. Why in the world was Herod troubled about a birth? Even if there was a portent attached to it?Continue Reading