What Do You Expect? Harsh words from John, part of what I like to call the hairy-scary stuff of Advent. And how do those hearing such imprecations respond? “The people,” Luke tells us, “were filled with expectations.” What are our expectations? Continue Reading
Today’s Gospel reading gives us the unlikeliest of instructions: In the desert, prepare a highway for our God. If we’re going to prepare a highway, common sense would dictate that we build the road where it is most needed: that is, where there is already a great deal of traffic. In the desert, instead, are pitiless, endless expanses of sand, where you and I can wander for days, even years, in unrelieved solitude. The desert would seem to be the last place to prepare a highway.Continue Reading
We begin our Advent journey in darkness. We are in the season of the shortest days of the year, the days when we are farthest from the sun. Darkness abounds. Yet all around us, displays and commercials create a sense of urgency, communicating that the darkness is something to be banished, the waiting something to be rushed through. What if we did not rush?Continue Reading
My kingdom is not of this world, Jesus says to Pontius Pilate when challenged. Jesus had not come to advocate regime change. It was not his plan to supplant the reigning earthly king and bring in simply a different ruler. Rather, Jesus had come to usher in an entirely different way to be in relationship. We do live in the world, and most of our lives are devoted to the things of this world. But at the same time our goals and our principles, the guidelines of our days, are in the realm of the Kingdom of God. That means that the rules and laws of this world can be improved by human efforts. We can make strides toward non-retributive justice, toward ensuring a seat at the table for every one of God’s beloved children. But we cannot fully usher in the justice, the equity, the shalom that God has promised. So we live in the tension between the realized Kingdom of God that is said to be all around us and the reality that the Kingdom of God would have fewer homeless people.Continue Reading
Nations shall rise against nations and kingdom against kingdom. We could certainly make a case that we are living in the end times as Jesus describes it. But many people over the centuries have all insisted that theirs was the end times, and they all have one feature in common: every one has been wrong. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus makes a point of telling us that we are not to speculate on when the end times will come. That is not for us to know. So what are we to do if we seem to be living in a time when nations repeatedly rise against nations and kingdom against kingdom?Continue Reading
At first glance, today’s Gospel reading sounds like a rousing sermon on stewardship. Give everything to the church! But that’s an overly simplistic reading of the Word, and one that, in truth, is squarely at odds with Jesus’ message.
You will notice that the widow is not following Jesus’ suggestion when she puts her last two coins into the Temple treasury. Jesus doesn’t advise her to part with the little that she had. “Sell all that you have” is something he advises the wealthy young ruler, enslaved by his wealth and his possessions and blind to those around him.Continue Reading
What makes a saint? How do we define the term? Typically, we think of saints as possessing qualities that elude many of us: we see them as patient and serene, forgiving and clean: in a word, flawless. Today’s reading from Isaiah promises a feast for the faithful, but much of his prophecy is far harsher and judgmental. In the previous chapter, we hear: Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter the inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress. The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word. Continue Reading
Strange, isn’t it, to be talking of reformation when we gather each week in a structure of liturgical worship that has changed so little, not only in 500 years but in several thousand years. Still we gather in a tradition whose founder, Martin Luther, said that the only absolutes for worship was that the Gospel was rightly preached and the sacraments properly administered. Everything else – everything else – was adiaphora. Open to interpretation.
And come to think of it, perhaps it’s not so strange. In nearly 55 years as a congregation, St. Michael has experienced at least one significant change, becoming a part of the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after its creation in 1988. Much more recently, the people of God at St. Michael’s have had to re-form as a congregation when the time came for a beloved pastor to step down after four years here and more than 60 years in ministry. When Pastor Pete arrived, you accustomed yourself to a particular style of worship leadership. But that changed over time as Pastor Pete’s health declined. Gradually you stepped up to provide your own worship leadership, fulfilling Luther’s ideal of the priesthood of all believers. When I arrived, you and I had to become accustomed to a very different style of leadership. But virtually all of these changes are adiaphora. That is, they are all open to interpretation without harming the central core of worship, which is the right proclamation of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments. Continue Reading
The Japanese call it kitsugi. It’s a technique for mending a piece of pottery that has been broken. With this technique, the lacquer used for mending is mixed with powdered gold or silver. Once the broken pieces are lacquered together and the piece is once again fired in the kiln, the result is that the cracks and breaks are highlighted – and the object ends up more beautiful than ever.Continue Reading
Harsh words from Jesus this week, who seemingly instructs us to mutilation. If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. If your foot offends you, tear it off.
Even if we accept that he is speaking metaphorically, what can such a call toward violence mean for us? What message does Jesus have for his followers today?Continue Reading