Monthly Archives: April 2020

A Mind for What Matters: Philippians 4:1-9

The first instruction, given previously and now repeated, is to rejoice always.

Really, Paul? Rejoice always? You have no idea what you’re asking. Working from home amidst a thousand interruptions. The kids are out of control. Can’t find toilet paper. Didn’t get my economic impact payment from the IRS, which I need to pay the mortgage. Will probably lose my job, which means no insurance. And you want me to rejoice?

To which Paul (from a dank, dark prison cell, where he has been quarantined for a long time, separated from friends and family, and waiting to hear the outcome of his trial, which might be death by beheading) answers, Of course! “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And in case you missed it the first two times I said it, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Many people, hearing this, simply brush it aside as unrealistic and unfeasible. When you’re having marriage problems, when you can’t stomach your boss, when your hopes have been dashed yet again, when you’re sick, and tired, and in debt, how can Paul – how can God – expect you to rejoice? It’s impossible!

Yes, absolutely. It is impossible … for some people, but not for us – if our minds are undergoing a process of renewal. Continue reading

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Everyone Is a Storyteller: What’s Your Story?

Every grasping, hoarding, angry person is telling themselves a story. So is every generous, sacrificial, compassionate person – but they are different stories.

The middle school Spanish teacher is a storyteller. So is the foundry worker and the clerk at the gas station. The theologian is a storyteller, as is the banker, the automaker, and the spy. Even the middle school Spanish student is a storyteller.

The stories we tell frame our understanding of the world and explain our experiences. Much of our thinking is done in stories. History is an exercise in storytelling. So is philosophy. So is science.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. If you find a ten-dollar bill lying in the driveway, your brain automatically generates a story, or more than one. The bill slipped out of your pocket when you got out of the car to get the mail. Alternately, it fell out of the mailman’s pocket when he got out of his jeep to bring a package to the door. The story you tell yourself helps you know what to do with the ten dollars.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. Continue reading

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There Is Love: Our Astonishing Hope (1 Cor. 15)

In the resurrection, Christ cut death down to size. Through Christ, we can rise above our fear of death. The great English poet George Herbert said, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel” – he’s referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus – “has made him just a gardener.” When those who are planted with Jesus come up, they will be glorious as he is glorious.

But our hope is far greater than the hope that we will somehow survive death. The resurrection gives us reason to believe that we will be – that nothing can stop us from being – fulfilled, completed, perfected. Paul puts it this way: “The body that is sown” – gardener imagery again! – “is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…” (vv. 42-43). And verses 52-53: “we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”

Susan Sontag got it wrong. Earth is not a grave but a garden. This – weakness, sickness, inability, depression, aging, loss – is no more the whole story than the kernel is the whole stalk of corn or the acorn is the towering oak. God’s plan for humanity is not pain and suffering but joy and glory. It is not weakness but power. It is not sadness but joy. It is not the shame we know so well but a glory that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human mind imagined. (1 Cor. 2:9). Continue reading

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There Is Love: The Hope of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:19-28)

https://youtu.be/J8H7LpmRyes What are the implications of St. Paul’s teaching (and that of the entire biblical witness) on the resurrection? That is what this audaciously hopeful sermon explores. I invite you to join for the premier at 11:00 this morning or … Continue reading

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Too Sophisticated for Idolatry? Think Again

Moderns think of idolatry as something that died a natural death in the early centuries of the common era. Zeus fell on hard times. His children, no longer fed by the worship of the humans, grew emaciated and wasted away to nothing.

Hardly. They merely changed their names. Athena became Education. Ares became Technology. Hermes became Media. Plutus became Economy. Nike – okay, Nike stayed Nike. Humans merely shifted their hopes for success and security from the old gods to the new or, more precisely, to the same gods in different guise. Continue reading

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First Stone in an Avalanche

In the four Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus – this surprised me when I first realized it and it surprises me still – no one ever uses the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus’s return from death, neither the Gospel writers nor the people whose conversations they reported. They talk about how Jesus rose from the dead, but they never use the one word you would expect them to use: “resurrection.” It’s almost as if they were avoiding it.

That ought to raise a question in our minds: Why didn’t they use the word “resurrection?” The answer, I think, comes in two parts, the first of which is very straightforward: The Gospel writers did not use the word “resurrection” because the men and women whose story they were telling didn’t use the word. The fact that the writers refrained from using what is arguably the most important word in the vocabulary of the early church speaks volumes about their intention to faithfully recount what had happened. Continue reading

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Who Are You Looking For? (An Easter Message)

One of the difficulties in telling the Easter story is that there is almost too much material. Each of the biblical Evangelists gives us glimpses into the story from the perspectives of different people who lived it. One tells what Mary Magdalene sees. Another describes what the other women disciples see. Some tell us what Peter sees, one what John sees, another what Thomas does not see, and yet another what the Roman soldiers see. There are gaps in some stories and overlapping chronologies in others. Trying to put all that together into a cohesive narrative can be a challenge.

I’m not going to try to put it all together this morning – there is not enough time for that. Instead, I’m going to tell the story, at least for the most part, from the disciple Mary’s perspective. There are so many Marys in the Easter story that we need to differentiate between them. This one is routinely distinguished by the town she comes from: Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene or, for short, the Magdalene.

When Mary first met Jesus, her life was an absolute disaster. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “We all have our demons,” but Mary had hers and enough for several other people besides. She was alone, afraid, and confused. Her life was like a bad dream from which she could not wake up. No one was able to wake her up. For the most part, no one even tried; that is, until Jesus.

He woke her up. He gave Mary back her life. He drove away the demons and, in their place, gave her something she had never known: acceptance. And when he accepted her, so did his friends. For the first time in memory, she felt included, wanted. She was part of something, and that felt good. She didn’t always act right, and she knew it, but these people didn’t push her away because she was weird or because she didn’t have it all together. Continue reading

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RESURRECTION: Mary Magdalene (Part 2)

As the three of us approached the garden, I got worried. During the Sabbath, some of the men were saying that the stone had already been rolled over the entrance to the tomb. If what they said was true (and they were sure that it was), there was no way we could move it. I said that, and Salome said, “Well, who can we get to roll the stone away?” We were still talking about it when we came the garden. Because it was still pretty dark, we were almost at the tomb before we saw what had happened.

We just stood there. Nobody said anything. Nobody had to. I knew immediately what had happened. Those dogs who had murdered the best man who ever lived had taken his body out of the tomb so that we couldn’t give it a proper burial. They had taken it somewhere and were probably doing horrible things to it in order to disgrace him even more. They hated him so much that they weren’t satisfied with killing him, they had to shame him too.

The other girls just stood there, but I ran. They said, “Mary, stop! Where are you going?” But I didn’t stop. I just shouted, “I’m going to tell Peter.” If anybody would know what to do it would be Peter. Somebody had to tell him (and the others) that they had taken his body.

I ran all the way. My side burned like fire and I looked like a fool, running into the city like that, but I didn’t care. The men were still in that same upper room, and when I got there I had to stop and catch my breath. At the top of the stairs I pushed the door, but it was locked, so I knocked and called. I heard the bolt slide and John bar Zebedee stood there, blinking into the morning light. Continue reading

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Holy Saturday: Mary Magdalene’s Story (Part 1)

Here’s how Mary Magdalene might have told her story.

When they killed him, it was like they killed me too – the me I was becoming; the hopeful, happy me. The me that people liked, that had friends. Before Jesus, life was a kind of blur. I just moved from thing to thing, from person to person, but nobody really cared about me and, to be honest, I don’t think I really cared about anybody – including myself. My life was a nightmare.

Then I met Jesus and everything changed. It’s like I woke up. For the first time since I was a little girl, somebody really cared about me. And it wasn’t just Jesus; his friends cared about me too. They became my friends. They took me in, made me one of them. They talked to me, listened to me, laughed with me, sometimes laughed at me—but I didn’t mind because they really liked me. I don’t know how to say it… For the first time I could remember, it wasn’t just me. It was us. I was saying things like, “We should go to the market. We should bake some bread. It felt so good to say “We.”

But we were us only because of him. We all knew it. He was the only thing that held us together. He was our heart. One day I said to Mary and Salome, “We would never have become friends if it wasn’t for him.” Continue reading

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Oddest Things Jesus Ever Said: The Top Four

I’ve been thinking about the oddest things Jesus ever said, the ones his first hearers thought crazy. One could make a case for quite a few of them: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” or “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” There are many others but let me give you my top four.

Number four on the list: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.” That not only sounds crazy, it seems perverse. Jesus’s first hearers found it repulsive. It shocked his own disciples and many of them left because he said it.

Number three on my list is this: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus lived approximately two millennia after Abraham yet claimed that Abraham had seen his day – whatever that means – and rejoiced. When his hearers objected to this, he said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Those disputing with him had already accused him of being out of his mind. Now, they were sure of it.

Number two on my list of (seemingly) crazy sayings comes from the night Jesus was betrayed. His disciples were confused by something he had just said and Philip, who always appears confused when he shows up in the Gospels, said to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we’ll be satisfied,” (That tops the list of craziest things the disciples ever said.) Jesus replied, “Philip, don’t you know that anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?” That was like saying, “You want to see God, Philip? You’re looking at him.” Continue reading

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