God is coming into the world – not to condemn but to save.

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Hope despair SBI 300278972I wonder if we sometimes lose the main thread of Advent in our zeal to differentiate our season of quiet preparation from the secular celebration of the “holidays.” It feels like we’ve overcorrected and inadvertently send a message that God’s advent into our lives needs to be anticipated with dread rather than joy. I know that’s not what we intend in our Advent traditions, but given that Advent carries a penitential cast for some, it is how our actions are received.

So this week, when we hear of John preaching a baptism of repentance, I fear we miss the reason for his baptism – which is the forgiveness of our sins. It’s a cosmic reset of our relationship with God. We are not getting what we deserve; we are getting what God longs for, a healed and restored relationship.

When I look at the lights in the darkness and the decorations hung up well in advance of Christmas, I see a message of restoration and hope. Many may have forgotten the more profound truth of the solemn joy of Advent, but I hope those of us who remember the whole story, can by our quiet preparation, recall them to the hope that is breaking has been breaking into the world since Jesus’ birth.

There is a direction to time and history, a purpose that is being worked out by God.

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Glowing wooden cross SBI 300278804When Jesus speaks to his disciples about what is to come in history, and explains to them that this is a reason to have hope, it can be hard to find comfort in what he’s describing. At first hearing, it sounds like a cataclysm is coming which will bring destruction and turmoil. But what he’s describing are the birth pangs of a healed and restored Creation.

The Biblical stories insist that God is active in history and that there’s a purposefulness to the events that unfold. For people who see injustice and long for a new order, this is the primary reason to have hope.

A king who conquers by dying, not killing

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Chess pawn with the shadow of a king SBI 300278366The Episcopal Church is the descendent of the Church of England. We still sometimes jokingly describe ourselves as the Anglican franchise in the United States. And with that history comes a complicated relationship with power.

The Church of England and its role as an established part of the British Empire was seen by us as something to be achieved in our context. At the height of the Empire’s power, we started building large Gothic cathedrals in the United States, seemingly to connect ourselves to their power and prestige. I suppose that’s an understandable human desire, but it’s not a godly one.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus standing before the sheer power of the Empire in his context. Pilate has no time for confusing riddles or to match wits with a rabbi. He needs to identify a threat to the power of the Empire and deal with it. And he does that – except by dealing with it, he sows the seeds of the Empire’s transformation and its end.

Jesus as King comes not to kill but to accomplish God’s reign by dying. It is something that the world’s powers, and often the Church, still struggle to recognize.

Grammarly desktop update – now appearing everywhere

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This is a quick note that will only be important to a few of you, I imagine. As you probably have noticed by now, grammar is not my strongest gift. I sometimes struggle (ofttimes?) to get the words to communicate the thoughts I want to express. I’ve subscribed to Grammarly for a while now, but it’s been hard to access the service when writing on a desktop computer. (Either a windows pc or a Macintosh.) Generally, I had to compose in one program (like Pages) and then copy and paste it into another (Grammarly Desktop), make corrections, and copy the corrected text back into the original document.

It’s a painful workflow and one that I don’t use often.

There’s a new update to Grammarly today that installs it as a service available in pretty much any program that uses text input fields. I’m using it to write this post in my blog editor software called MarsEdit. Grammarly automatically appears and starts fixing things. It’s a treat.

So, if you’re a Grammarly subscriber or have been thinking about it, this latest update is excellent. And I’m as happy to have it because I believe you will be as a reader of my prose…

How do we best respond to the crisis of climate change today?

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A city showing the effect of climate change SBI 326468513This week’s reading is taken from what is often called the mini-apocalypse of St. Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is predicting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the suffering that will be inflicted upon his people by the Roman legions. It’s a powerful passage made more powerful by the visuals of the setting in which Mark presents Jesus’ words.

But is there something deeper here than the situation that is being addressed? Is there a universal truth of denial of impending catastrophe? And if so, can we learn a new kind of response?

I believe that it is the Gospel of Jesus that will give us the ability to respond effectively to the present climatic crisis confronting the Earth and its inhabitants. But to respond we’ll have to understand both the challenge we face and the way that the Gospel can transform us into a new kind of society.

What if we went all in and trusted that God had our back?

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Dollar cents SBI 300262010The story of the widow’s mite, the story that is assigned for the regular Sunday readings this week, sounds like a call for people to impoverish themselves to support large religious institutions. And because that how it seemed to me for years, perhaps that’s why I always transferred the lessons for All Saints to this weekend – so that I wouldn’t have to preach on it.

But when you look carefully at the account, and hear what Jesus’ says, there’s another message. It’s not a message about stewardship or proportional giving as much as it’s a call to live our lives believing that we could trust that God would provide what we need – if not what we want. Jesus’ words commending the poor widow for putting in her whole life into the House of God that day were likely remembered later that week as he put his own life on the cross and trusted in God’s ultimate vindication. 

A faith like that is really something. It’s the sort of faith that can change the world.

Love the person, not the idea

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Love heart on vintage wood background texture SBI 301087686While it’s relatively unusual to read this particular Gospel as part of this particular liturgical week – given that All Saints which begins this evening usually bumps this reading – the words that Jesus says are very familiar. This is St. Mark’s account of Jesus giving the summary of the Law in response to a question from a scribe.

What Jesus says here by way of response isn’t unique. It is in keeping with other rabbinical tradition and that, in of itself, helps us Christians to remember that he was a Jewish person speaking to other Jews within a Jewish context. This lesson is less about something particularly Christian as it is about something that is shared by our common tradition.

Loving God is the greatest commandment – and loving our neighbor is like it. What I’m struck by is the word “love” as a verb here. It’s decidedly different that “fear” or “hold in awe” or “respect”. Love is, to my mind, something you do with another person, not with a thing or an idea. And that, in of itself, tells something about who God is, and what God is not.

The last miraculous healing of Mark’s Gospel; Bartimaeus becomes the model of discipleship.

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Marigolds blooming in garden close up of beautiful orange flowers marigolds is herb fl SBI 300870052The story of the healing of Bartimaeus at Jericho, on the banks of the Jordon River, is a chapter marker in Mark’s Gospel and a summation of all the teaching about discipleship that has been presented since the story of Peter’s Confession that we read at the beginning of this summer.

Mark’s Gospel is a complexly written and theologically dense account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The story this week serves to delineate the structure of the larger account of Jesus’ life and presents a summary of a major section of the Gospel.

The Gospel, as Mark recounts it, asks us to make a response to what is being presented. Who do we say Jesus is? What do we want from him? What will we do in response?

Jesus comes to bring a new kind of community, one built on a foundation of love.

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Group of people showing the heart shapeJesus is asked by two of his disciples to “do for them whatever they ask of him.” What they specifically want is to be given higher status than the others in the community. Jesus uses the moment as an opportunity to teach a foundational truth.

He summons the whole group of disciples as they climb up the road to Jerusalem, and tells them that their relationships going forward need to turn from a self-centered focus to other-centered focus. He tells them that they need to put others first if they themselves want to have higher status in the new community.

That needs to be unpacked a bit, and it needs to be understood within a context of mutual submission to each other, but his charge is the foundation of the community that will spread like fire throughout the world after his Passion.

In this week’s sermon I spend some time talking about why living into this new spiritual discipline is so hard, and why it’s so important.

Wealth confers powers we are not morally ready to receive.

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Golden coinsIn this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life. (Interesting way of putting it.) Jesus tells him to obey the moral law. The rich man professes that he has always done so.

Jesus, lovingly, tells him that to be perfect, he must give away his wealth. And the young man is shocked and leaves, unable to do so.

It isn’t the wealth per se that is the problem, at least when you read the rest of the scriptures, it’s the danger that the wealth posses to our souls. Wealth gives us the power to do things that we would not otherwise have. And we rarely use that power well. In truth, we use that power in ways that unthinkingly harm others.