Today’s Gospel Lesson puts together two seemingly unrelated stories: the story of what’s often called Jesus’ rejection by people in his hometown of Nazareth, and the story of the mission of disciples to extend Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee. To understand them and their relationship better, let’s pretend that we are, maybe, second or third generation Christians in about the year 75, listening to these stories from the Gospel of Mark that has recently become available for us to hear. We’re a mixed congregation. Some of us have Jewish backgrounds, some of us don’t. Our congregation isn’t doing very… Continue reading
Some of you grew up singing the old favourite song “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as I did. The title and some of the words draw on a biblical passage that stands out as something different in the midst of a complex response to tragedy that is the Old Testament Book of Lamentations. The five poems of this collection are laments that respond, at a deeply visceral and personal level, to the tragedy of the Fall and Destruction of Judah in 587 BCE that literally tore their highest values to shreds. They didn’t believe that they could lose their country by… Continue reading
From time to time, I mention books that I have found useful in my life in teaching and preaching,. As I look back, I find that most of these have not been, strictly speaking, about biblical studies nor pastoral work, or, even necessarily religious books. I think I have mentioned before that one such book is the slim volume called Purity and Danger by the late British social anthropologist Mary Douglas. In this book Professor Douglas discussed how various cultures have defined what is “clean” or “safe” to do, and what is “unclean” or “dangerous” to do. One of the… Continue reading
When I was a boy, one of the things my parents taught me was the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” which, of course, means that sometimes outer appearances are deceiving. What may seem humble and unassuming on the outside, may be wonderful and rich on the inside. This applies to actual books, of course, but also to people, places and things. The reverse may also be true, that what seems attractive and even flashy on the outside may be twisted and harmful on the inside.
I traced the saying back into the 19th century, but, surprisingly,… Continue reading
The Reconciling Good News (Ezk. 37:15-23; Eph. 2:11-13; Mt. 5::43-48)
A short time ago we looked at the first half of Ezekiel chapter 37 as an Old Testament Lesson. It’s that strangely rich vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. I suggested to you that the main point was that God is able to bring individuals and communities back from their graves literally, figuratively, and missionally. Today, we are back in Ezekiel 37, looking at what God does next after bringing dry bones back to life.
Now, Ezekiel was not the most “usual” chap in the roll-call of Israel’s prophets.… Continue reading
When Jesus was asked about the Greatest Commandment, do you remember what he answered? He said that folk were “to love God with all that is in them” (paraphrased from our Old Testament Lesson in Deuteronomy 6), and “to love our neighbours as intensely and with as much care as we love ourselves” (paraphrased from Leviticus 19). For those who follow Jesus these two are Policy from headquarters. Whatever else we do contextualizes either the love of God or the love of our neighbour. Today I want to think aloud about what it can mean for us to love God… Continue reading
Today we enter a long period in the church calendar that will stretch until the First Sunday in Advent at almost the end of the Calendar year. We call it Ordinary Time, which zeroes in on stories of Jesus’ life and work. After the season of Easter in which we emphasized the Risen Christ, and the new life he brings, and after we celebrated the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, with the new life the Spirit brings to God’s people, the Church, on this day, takes a moment at the beginning of this long period to reflect on how… Continue reading
Happy Pentecost! Today we celebrate the coming of God’s spirit in a new way. The story of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has been, shall we say, actively in the news here of late. There’s something in us that sort of resonates to love stories and stories about the British monarchy. Witness the popularity of such books and television programs as “The Crown,” and “Victoria.” Here we have a combination of the two. As Americans, we seem especially to love stories, in which, a little bit of a monkey wrench (or as our British cousins would say,… Continue reading
One of the things that we’ve been talking about during the 50 days of the Easter season is what discipleship is like looking back on the Resurrection rather than looking forward to it. The New Testament as a whole, and especially the four Gospels all look back on the Resurrection, even though much of the story they tell is set in the period of Jesus’ life before it. Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels was originally received by and is intended for people who did not know of the Resurrection, but who looked back to it as a glorious beginning. So… Continue reading
We preachers sometimes get cynical about churches. From some sermons I have heard or read, you might think that the main goal of the vast majority of Christians is simply to get to heaven when they die, and what they most want to know is the least they have to do to get to there. I understand the temptation, but it’s not been my experience. I do think that some of us preachers have taught people to read the Bible in ways that are so unhelpful, that, for example, if Jesus says, as he does in Matthew’s Gospel that the… Continue reading