March 6, 2022
Part of life with a three-year-old is that she loves the stories, songs, and princesses of Disney. We’ve been on a rotating kick of movies—right now it’s Beauty and the Beast—but a while ago we watched Moana, a story about a Polynesian daughter of the chief who has to rescue her island from the evil that is finally reaching their shores. Like so many Disney movies, it’s got some great music, but there’s one song that I’ve had in my head for a while now called “We Know Who We Are.” In it, the memories of Moana’s ancestors sing about their voyaging prowess and how they would sail from island to island, exploring new lands and seeking adventure.
January 23, 2022
Have any of y’all ever looked at one of those mid-century editions of magazines like Popular Science? There was an astounding level of optimism from the fifties about what would be possible in the next century or so. And it makes sense, because there were some amazing things that were just starting to happen in that decade that it seemed like the world was just going to get better and better, to the point that problems known in the fifties would be unimaginable by now. And while we haven’t quite matched those dreams, those midcentury hopes really captured the spirit of what we think when we think about the future.
January 16, 2022
Some time in the fifth century, the Church made it official that one of Mary’s titles would be “Mother of God.” And I think nowhere in scripture does that title become more apparent than in this telling of the wedding at Cana. She and Jesus, along with his disciples, were all attending a wedding, having a good time. But at some point in the night, Mary notices a disaster brewing. The wine is about to give out. This poor couple, on such a happy day, were about to experience the embarrassment of having not planned for enough guests. But it’s how Mary handles this information that really seals her title.
January 2, 2022
One of the traditions we have every year during Christmas time is to watch Home Alone. If you haven’t seen it—where have you been the past few decades? Y’all know the story. Kevin, the bratty and dependent youngest son of the McCallister family, is accidentally left behind at their ridiculous mansion of a home when the whole family takes a vacation to France for Christmas. He gets into some wild hijinks with the would-be robbers Harry and Marv, but meanwhile we get snippets of his mother’s frantic journey to get home as soon as she realizes he’s missing. She is absolutely tireless, trading her valuables for a sooner ticket back home. Immediately trying to book another flight once hers is cancelled. Riding in the back of a Budget rental truck with a very moderately successful polka band. All to get home to find her son.
December 24, 2021
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus, that all the world should be registered.”
We hear those lines and are immediately transported into this Christmas story that we’ve heard every year. We know the contours so well: there was the census that forced Joseph and the very-pregnant Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There’s the overcrowded little town and the way Jesus was born and placed in the manger, a feeding trough for the animals. There’s the shepherds who heard the joyful news from the angels. Memories of Christmases past are a part of this story that we hear, whether that’s the program we just did last Sunday that you were a part of, or the first time you saw A Charlie Brown Christmas and heard when Linus put down his blanket to tell the reason for the season, or the memories of a grandparent who read the story each year before you went to bed on Christmas Eve. We know this story, because we repeat it every year.
December 19, 2021
One thing I think we all do during this Christmas season is, either on or around Christmas day, we’ll either pile into a car laden with gifts and travel to a relative’s house who hosts the annual Christmas get-together, or we’ll be that host, waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s really one of the more wonderful parts of this season, that it’s a time when even people who don’t get to see their family very often still get the chance to get together, exchange gifts, tell stories, and be with each other for a little while. But sometimes, that trip can’t wait. There are some circumstances where a trip has to happen now.
That’s what Mary did in our reading this morning. Right after she had gotten news from Gabriel that she was chosen by God to bring the savior into the world, after she had agreed to the plan and prepared herself to be a teenaged mother, maybe the possible consequences of that decision started to occur to her. She was engaged, but she wasn’t married. She lived in a small town; people would talk. What had she gotten herself into? She didn’t have any idea what to expect! But she remembered that her cousin, Elizabeth, was in her own unique situation too. And she lived far away; far enough to insulate Mary from prying eyes and gossiping tongues, at least until she could figure things out. So she got her stuff together—much like we do for our Christmas get-togethers—and travelled the eighty some miles from Galilee to Judea to see her cousin.
December 12, 2021
Today is the Sunday of joy. Like I was telling the kids, the third candle of Advent is the pink one, representing the joy of this season of waiting. That pink is a leftover from when Advent was a season that echoed Lent—and there is a Sunday in Lent that’s also meant to be a little bit of joy during the season. As the days are getting shorter around us, as the busyness of the holidays might be getting to us, and as we might be distracted by all the expectations of the holidays, it’s good to have a day in this season where we just take a moment to remember joy.
Like the joy Zephaniah prophesied about. Rejoice and sing Zion! Why? The great reunion is approaching! He insists on joy because the people of Israel have been in exile in Babylon for seventy years, and the day is fast approaching when they would have a joyful homecoming. These people had lived in a foreign land, unable to go home, for decades.
December 5, 2021
I’ve always loved history books. I know that the joke is always about how boring history is, but to me, it’s the most fascinating story of all of us. And there was, for the longest time, a particular trend in writing history called the “Great Man History.” Basically, all of history could be understood by tracing the actions and lives of the powerful people (who were almost always men) and ordering history around it. It’s why we see the fall of the Roman Republic through the lens of Julius Caesar, or the course of modern history through the lens of Queen Victoria. Basically, any time you read a history where the chapters are based who was in charge at the time, that’s Great Man History.
So it should come as no surprise that Luke’s gospel decided to list off a series of Great Men for us to find the historical setting of today’s gospel reading. Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, and don’t forget the high priests Anas and Caiaphas. These were the names that shook the world. They ordered the course of world history, so much that whole historical periods could be referenced simply by when they were rulers. But then Luke does what the Bible always seems to do in these cases: he undermines that powerful set.
November 28, 2021
Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention to the world. Knowing what’s going on is one thing, but really paying attention to the world can be exhausting. Paying attention makes it feel like the portents of doom that Jesus predicted seem to be happening all the time. The signs in the heavens speak of a climate in rapid change. The nations in an uproar as the world feels like it’s tottering, war breaking out and regional rivalries threatening to undo peace so carefully crafted. People seem to be going crazy, with a man driving an SUV into a Christmas parade just the latest example. A pandemic that is just too persistent, threatening to cast a cloud over another holiday season. Paying attention to the world can be exhausting.
It makes sense that there are people who are paying attention, who have moved toward despair. I think especially of the youth summit that preceded the COP26 climate talks. These youth leaders seemed convinced that climate change would not be realistically confronted, that they were doomed to reap the interest on their ancestor’s loan from the earth. And that kind of despair can be tempting. It can beckon when the world seems to be shaking, when the stars appear to be falling, when doom seems to be the order of the day.
November 21, 2021
Christ the King is always an interesting day in the church calendar. It’s always the last Sunday before we start the blue season of Advent. Today, we celebrate Jesus as our king—in fact, king of everything! And we have all this great imagery to describe Jesus as king, from our Daniel reading that depicts him as the glorious Son of Man descending with the clouds, to hymns like Come, Thou, Almighty King and Lead On, O King Eternal. When we imagine the return of Christ, we always see him depicted as a great and victorious king, conquering the world.
But then we look at other people we call “king.” In the United States, the last king we had was King George III, and we liked him so much one of our founding documents is basically a Dear John letter to him. And if we don’t think of real-world kings, maybe we think of fantasy shows like Game of Thrones, where kings are horrible, cruel, destructive people. Or maybe we think of silly kings, like King Arthur in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Kings, in most of our experience, are either incompetent, cruel, or irrelevant.