The video of this sermon being preached appears at the bottom of the post.
This morning’s reading from the gospel according to Luke, his account of the ministry of John the Baptist and remarkably brief telling of the baptism of Jesus, starts with a litany of governmental leaders. Luke tells us who all the powerful people are in the Roman world and in the regions that will be important in Jesus’ ministry – Judea, and Galilee, and more. He mentions by name not only the governmental leaders of the leaders of the Jewish community who work in some relationship with the governmental leaders, a relationship that will become important to remember several years later when all of these empire leaders conspire to put Jesus to death.
Luke starts with this time stamp and this recognition of the “powers and principalities,” but then very quickly pivots and in the same sentence says the word of God came not to these, but to John, the son of Zechariah, who was in the wilderness. The word of God, Luke is telling us, the words that John delivered, the ministry he was about, is for and among the people of God. John’s words that we heard, and will hear more about, are kind of harsh, right? They do not tiptoe around and make the people feel good. They do not allow the people who hear them simply to cast judgement on the evil empire or those corrupt rulers in Rome (or liars in Washington) and absolve themselves from any guilt. They confront us, and they call us to listen up and pay attention. This repentance stuff starts at home.
It is impossible, and maybe even irresponsible, to read this story on this Sunday, after the conversation that has been going on nationally this week and for some months, and not take some time to acknowledge the painful reality of sexual violence and the injustices that can occur when there is an imbalance of power between two people.
In Joseph’s story the genders are likely the reverse of what we typically hear about in reports of assault, but again, the power imbalance is recognizable. A majority person with social, racial, and economic privilege, in this case an Egyptian woman, the wife of the captain of the guard, Potiphar, in our context more often a man with similar privilege, attempts to take what they believe they have ownership of or access to, the body and agency of a minority person, in this case an enslaved Israelite man, while in our context it is most often a woman or a person who is a part of a racial or sexual minority.
The situation, sadly Scripture tells us, is not new. And I wish, I so desperately wish this story, or really any story in the Bible spent a lot more time declaring what I am sure we all agree on – – This is wrong. This is sinful. This is contrary to anything God desires for humanity. Even when the story turns out good in the end, it is not because God is using assault to prove a point. And I wish, I so desperately wish I didn’t have to say that in 2018, but I do because there are people out there who will say the exact opposite – that God will put someone through a sexual assault to make them stronger, make them better able to help others, or even to punish them. But that is false, and that is the kind of dangerous faith-based talk that keeps some people from speaking up sooner.
If there is anyone in this room that has been made to think that about the violence inflicted upon them, hear me now. That is false. God’s love does not work that way. God’s love believes you. God’s love sees you. God’s love weeps with you. And God’s love desires and works for your healing and wholeness. There is nothing more sure to me than this. You are not at fault, and if you ever need a place to share your experience of what makes you able say “me too” I will listen. Me too.
2 Corinthians 2:1-10
Relationships are messy. Family relationships, friendships, relationships between governments and citizens, even relationships within the body of Christ, the church. Or maybe especially in the church. Relationships are messy. All sorts of different feelings and emotions drive the way we behave in our relationships. Love is certainly one of them. But so are worry and fear and sadness. Desire and joy and delight. Companionship and concern and compassion. Jealousy. Oh, jealousy is a tough one. Most of our relationships are held together by an intricate web of any number of feelings, and since feelings themselves can get quite messy, relationships are almost always the same. Continue reading
As a colleague of mine and I were writing commentary on this whole sermon series together, she pointed out, “Books of the Bible rarely get much attention, but things were different when Second Corinthians was quoted by Donald Trump, back in January 2016. It made the news because Trump mistakenly called it “Two Corinthians.” He used it in a speech at Liberty University, quoting verse 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (Rev. Lia Scholl at RevGalBlogPals)
While there are a few very well-known passages within this letter (the treasure we hold in clay jars, if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed we have a house not made with hands, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation), as a whole it is not one with which many of us are familiar as a whole. I had to do some research myself to get ready. Continue reading
A good joke is fun to pass on. Happiness is infectious. Joy travels quickly. Like a pebble dropped into a still pond the ripples move out in increasing larger circles until the entire surface of the water is moving, is dynamic, is dancing because of the one simple act that started it. Continue reading
The way a story ends can make or break the impression we carry of it. Think of some of the all-time great TV shows and how they ended. Do you have any favorites?
M. A. S. H.? Cheers?
I very clearly remember the end of Family Ties as a good ending to one of my generation’s favorite childhood TV shows.
One of the things we tend to like about a good series finale is when it leaves us feeling like there aren’t too many loose ends. There can be some wondering about what comes next, but all in all we like to know that even if our favorite characters don’t come out alright in the end, their lives and the story had a purpose.
When I was at the grocery store earlier today I overheard one customer say to another, “Have a happy Good Friday,” and it, well, brought about mixed emotions in me, to say the least. On the one hand, in a time when our culture is growing more and more secular I wanted to jump up and down excitedly and shout, “Yes! It is Good Friday! Someone knows it!” On the other hand – – happy Good Friday? Really? I’m not so sure that’s the exact emotion we’re going for here. But I think I’ll stick with my first impulse – – gratitude for the recognition that this isn’t just another day, that something happened, something important and horrific and life-changing, earth shaking, and kingdom altering even. Something happened on that Friday in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and it wasn’t good, and it most certainly wasn’t happy, but it was something that changed the world forever, changed the world for the better. Continue reading
On Sunday the proclamation of the word took place through the words of Scripture themselves. It’s not often that many of us hear this whole story – – from the anointing of Jesus through the last supper with his disciples to his death and burial. It’s not often that we hear how the crowds shouted “Hosanna!” on Sunday, wondered what’s coming next on Thursday, and then denied Jesus and scattered in the days that followed. It’s not often that we hear the fear of Jesus’ enemies turn into anger and, ultimately, violence.
And so as the words of Scripture proclaim the love of God in the suffering of Jesus, as the story is opened for us in word and symbol and song – – May we listen for our place in it. May we find ourselves in the passionate anointer, the nervous disciples, the tragic deserter, the mocking soldier, or the compassionate provider of the tomb. May we find ourselves and use these first witnesses to guide our devotion and reflection not just this morning, but this whole week, and even next Sunday when we hear the good news of the resurrection, good news for all people. Continue reading
Mark 13:1-8, 24-37
The end is near! I imagine most of us, either in person or on TV or in the print media, have seen someone like the person who probably drives this van. He or she is usually around at events or occasions that draw a big crowd. They don’t even have to be religious events, although I’ve seen people like this warning us “apostate” Presbyterians at our General Assemblies in the past. But I’ve also seen and imagine you have, too, these poster waving, self-identified prophets declaring “The end is near!” at football games and festivals. It may even be just what they call “Tuesday” in popular tourist spots like Times Square or the Washington DC Mall of monuments in the busy summer season. These prophets (I use the term loosely, very loosely) may turn up anywhere there are a lot of people around because they are trying to announce what they think is a very urgent message – “The end is near!!!” Judgement is coming! You better get your stuff in order, because this is your last chance. Continue reading
Yep. I did just read the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
By Wilhelm Morgner – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain
Nope. I didn’t mix up the calendar. Yes I did just read the story about Palm Sunday. No, next week is not Easter.
Bear with me here for a little.
In our worship for a few years we have followed the Narrative Lectionary, a schedule of readings that brings us through the Bible chronologically even if that doesn’t always line up with the traditional celebrations of the church year. Continue reading