Living in Grace (123)

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. IMG_3665One 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)”

Through Water and Word (122)

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. scrollThe  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)”

Do not be Shaken or Alarmed – A Sermon for Peace Sunday (117)

If you have a Bible, on your phone or one of the traditional codex versions, take a look at the second to last verse in II Thessalonians. It’s verse 17 of chapter 3. You’ll want to see the context for these lines, but what I want to draw your attention to is this strange statement: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. scrollThis is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.”  This begs us to play literary detectives for a few moments. Why would Paul write these lines? Does he have some sort of fetish with wanting people to recognize his handwriting? Is he looking for the respect that some graffiti artists or taggers want when they sign things? What’s going on? Continue reading “Do not be Shaken or Alarmed – A Sermon for Peace Sunday (117)”

Is this a Political Meeting?

Not all Christians vote. I do. For me it’s one of those privileges I’ve been given that I don’t want to take for granted. I’m  skeptical about what actual goods state politics can realize. I doubt, for instance, that our governing authorities can make us better people. They can’t do much to make us more patient, more loving, more honest or more courageous. I vote, though, because it’s a modicum of power that’s been given to me and I want to use it to help our communities be more just. Not everyone has that opportunity.

There are two passages that frame the possibilities of governments biblically. One in Romans 13, where Paul describes governing authorities as God’s servants. They keep chaos in check by preserving a basic civil order. For that reason they deserve our support. beastThen there is Revelation 13, where governing authorities are depicted as a diabolical beast. The beast is worshiped because of its immense power and its seeming invincibility. For that reason they deserve our skepticism.

I vote, but I don’t think that’s the most ‘political’ thing I do. This evening I meet with the committee that plans our congregation’s worship life. It will be a political meeting. We will talk about allegiance and sovereignty. We will talk about how to cultivate certain virtues and ways of being. We will talk about economics and global alliances. We will do all that without mentioning a national government. It will be political, but it will have virtually nothing to do with a state. My point is not that state politics don’t matter—of course they do. My point is simply that Christians always hold more than one form of citizenship.

Restoration (104)

Last winter my family and I decided it was time for a real dining table. Having moved from a small apartment, we didn’t really have a proper table. We certainly didn’t have one that would accommodate guests. We thought about buying something nice but inevitably what we liked was too expensive wood shaving(I’m sure we aren’t the only ones to whom that’s happened). There was another factor at play as well—the fact that I wanted to try building one. It had been years since I had the chance to do any woodworking beyond putting up paneling and tacking together garden boxes. I sketched a few options—variations on a traditional farmhouse table—and we agreed that I would give the project a try. “Trying” in this case wouldn’t be risk free. There was the possibility of humiliating failure: the thing collapsing under the weight of Easter lunch. There was the expense: hardwood lumber isn’t cheap. There was the required time: making stuff with your own hands takes time, especially if it’s something new. Continue reading “Restoration (104)”

But will there be Baseball? (SD #98)

Spring is a time for wondering about things: When will the tulips come up? What will summer camp be like? How many miles can I do on my bike before it snows again? Will the rhubarb come back this season?

Every spring I wonder if there will be baseball in heaven. If there will be baseball then there will be those we love and they will have bodies. If there will be baseball then there will be burgers and beer and soft pretzels drenched in butter. baseballThere will be ice-cream. If there will be baseball then there will be movement, speed and grace. There will be the luster of grass and sunshine. If there will be baseball then there will be agriculture and music. There will be the fabric and plastic arts. If there will be baseball then there will be nature and culture, story and statistic, spectacle and minutia. Baseball includes the world. It even includes cats, Detroit’s mascot is a tiger. Continue reading “But will there be Baseball? (SD #98)”

In the Dappled Light of Providence (sermon detritus #82)

It is not far from the hill on which Herod’s temple sat, the temple Jesus and his followers knew, to the hill cloaked in olive trees. To call either a mountain, as they are sometimes designated, is a stretch. photo 9That being the case, the distance between the two and the short climb required to reach the top of the ‘Mount’ of Olives is enough to make one want to rest. Jesus and his disciples did so under the shade of the trees. The temple was still within their view. In fact, it was hard to miss. Continue reading “In the Dappled Light of Providence (sermon detritus #82)”

Christian Community, the Basic Movements (sermon detritus #78)

Let me begin by going right to the point, which is the simple claim that Acts 2:42 describes the basic movements of Christian community. The verse reads this way: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” There you have it, the basic movements required for Christian community: devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. If we do these things we’ll be a ‘church’ in the full, deep sense of the word.

In the early part of the 20th century a young French marine named Georges Hébert was posted on the island of Martinique. While he was there a volcano erupted with disastrous results for the populace. hebertHébert was a part of the rescue effort. That experience convinced him of the importance of well-rounded physical fitness. He believed one should stay fit in order to be ready to serve. Hébert looked for models of this sort of thing—of people prepared for just about any sort of physical challenge. He found them in various indigenous communities. These people, he thought, had a natural fitness that prepared them for all manner of unexpected challenges. Hébert then developed a ‘system’ of training designed to produce the same results. His system became known as the “natural method.” Continue reading “Christian Community, the Basic Movements (sermon detritus #78)”