It was early spring and raining. My family and I went looking for adventure in a woodlot near our house. A two-day downpour had melted much of the winter’s snow and the little stream that we could jump over in the summer now barely fit under the footbridge. When you walk in the rain you feel the relevant facts. Things are wet, cold, slippery. What’s true and important is obvious, which is to say it’s different than taking in the news.
As my wife and I talked, two of our boys ran ahead to explore. They had their bright rain jackets on and several layers beneath. It was still relatively cold. I was focused on our conversation when I saw a child in the water up to his shoulders. He was wearing a red rain jacket. For some reason, I did not comprehend what was happening. We learned later that our son had been walking through shin-deep silty water when he stepped over the submerged edge of a curve in the streambed. Immediately he was unable to touch bottom. He tried, quite calmly, to swim.
In Matthew chapter fourteen we find ourselves in the middle of a story about a massive picnic. It’s an appropriate passage to read as we worship here in the middle of the summer. When we read this story about Jesus feeding a crowd of people in the countryside we probably have a hard time getting beyond the miracle itself. The situation goes from food for one person to more than enough for 5000 in the span of a prayer. We should forgive ourselves if we imagine fireworks going off as Jesus prays, smoke rising as the bread is distributed and an end-of-the-period horn blasting as the last bits are collected. Waahmm!—times up, twelves baskets full of food left over. Jesus wins! Hurray!
It’s easy to read this story and think it is essentially a magic show. I had a student once that paid her way through school as a magician. She told me that every illusion is a story. A good trick is a story that pulls you in, just like a book or a movie. You can’t help but wonder how the rabbit got in the guy’s hat, or how the woman caught to bullet or how she knew which card you chose. A good magic trick gets you in a place where you can’t believe the story’s ending. Continue reading “We Have Nothing Here (140)”→
What can we say about a beginning such as Genesis describes? “Let there be light . . . .” A flash and, as it says, “there was light.”
The Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître developed a theory about the beginning of our universe. He hypothesized back from the observation of its continued expansion to the idea that at one time it must have all been concentrated in single point. Lemaître called this the “cosmic egg” or the “primeval atom.” The beginning of our universe, he suggested, happened with the explosion of this egg. As I understand it, it was Father Lemaître’s ideas that were the beginning of the theory we know as the Big Bang. For Lemaître there was no need to choose between a scientific description like his and the poetic biblical one. Both speak truthfully. Continue reading “Numbering our Days (137)”→
There is a rhythm life often takes. The Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr is one person who says this. The rhythm is simple, just this: order—disorder—reorder. Sometimes the same rhythm is described in these terms: orientation—disorientation—reorientation. (Rohr describes this in an interview with Krista Tippett here). Our reading from Luke 24, the one from Acts 2 as well, moves along to this same rhythm.
Let me sketch for you how that works in the Luke story. There are these walkers on the road. They have a relatively long walk ahead of them, something like 7 miles. They are discussing recent events in Jerusalem. They were followers of a rabbi, whom they thought had a special role to play in their people’s future. You see, they believed that their people had a special mandate from God to be a blessing to the world. And they thought this teacher, whom they had followed, was to play a key role in that. It was his life that had ordered theirs. Continue reading “‘They Stood Still, Looking Sad’ (132)”→
It has not been long since we celebrated Easter. Even so, the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter (John 20:19-31) begins by taking us back a week to the evening of the prior Sunday. The second part of the reading takes a week later. Jesus shows up on both of these days. It’s on the second encounter, the one that happens a week after Easter, that I want to focus our attention. In doing that we find a question that we can’t avoid. It’s this: What do we make of the resurrection?Continue reading “This Time with Skepticism (131)”→
You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.
I’ve always liked the way some older translations of the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Holy Ghost’. Ghosts are unpredictable, at least that’s how they’re portrayed. They show up unannounced and unbidden and scare the bejeebers out of someone. Maybe something like that has happened to you–a mysterious bang or bump in the dark of night and suddenly you found yourself believing in ghosts and feeling like you just lost control of the situation. I had a housemate once who had an experience just like that. The trouble for him was that he didn’t believe in ghosts in the daylight. He later put his world back together by diagnosing himself with a vitamin deficiency. I don’t really care if you believe in ghosts or not. It’s this Holy Ghost that the scriptures bring to our attention. Theologically we say that the love of the first two members of the Trinity for each other is so real, so solid, so vibrant, that we can speak of it too as an acting agent, a member of the Triune God—the animating power of the cosmos and the divine Spirit. One of the essential elements to the Christian way of life is the belief that this Spirit dwells in us. That is, Christians believe the Spirit dwells in the community of Jesus’ disciples. Continue reading “Housing the Spirit (125)”→
I require your imagination to get started. Imagine a little improv game with two people. It starts with one person pretends to give the other a gift. He picks up an imaginary box, determining its size and weight. He hands it off to a second person. She pretends to open, saying “Oh my, thank you for this beautiful . . . (saying whatever comes to mind) . . . this wonderful teddy bear’s foot.” The first person thinks of a quick reply: “Yes, yes, I got you the teddy bear’s foot just to say . . . I’d give you my right leg if you wanted it. That’s how much I value your contribution to the office.” It’s fun little game; give it a try sometime. I’ll say more about it in a moment. First, I want us to turn our attention to I Corinthians (our reading for Jan. 22 was I Cor. 1:10-18). Continue reading “Gifts—Disappointing and Otherwise (124)”→
I used to teach an Ethics course to undergraduates. It was fun because conversations in the seminar would move from the highly theoretical to the intensely practical quick enough to give everyone whiplash. One of the topics that almost always got students riled-up was distributive justice. This is the classic question of who should get what. I can remember one particular seminar where a student was trying to make the case for a libertarian approach by saying that those who develop skills more valued by society should be financially rewarded more handsomely than those who don’t. He said that the free market is a fine instrument for working this out. As you might expect, another student brought up professional athletes. Continue reading “Living in Grace (123)”→
We begin with ‘water’ and with the words of an ancient Hebrew poet.
The poet would have composed in his head and then dictated the lines to a copyist. The copyist would have written the lines out with a stylus on a papyrus scroll. The scroll would have been made from the stalk of a papyrus plant. The papyrus stalk would have had it’s rind removed and the inner fibers sliced lengthwise into long strips. These strips would have been placed side by side in two layers, each layer at a right angle to the other. The two layers would have been wetted and pounded together. The joined layers would have made a long sheet that, when it was dried, could be rolled up as a scroll. The scroll would have been divided into columns by the copyist and filled with the poet’s composition. Here are the words scratched down:
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
‘Ascribe’—the poet means ‘name God this way’ or ‘say these things about the divine’. He then encourages us to worship the LORD as one who is magnificently different. Sometimes, when a morning is bright and the snow is new it’s as though we can see these words, ‘glory’ and ‘splendor.’ They cling to the trees and lie heavy and thick on the grass. Continue reading “Through Water and Word (122)”→