Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary

Direct and to the Point

For Sunday, December 18, 2016 – Matthew 1:18-25

Don’t you appreciate people who get right to the point without embellishment or meandering down countless trails? When they tell a story, they tell it in the most direct way possible. When they preach, they use fancy language only as seasoning, not substance, avoiding sentences like, “The Lord is like unto a rose red serpent rising,” for more straight up pronouncements: “God shows up as both beauty and danger.” When they pray, they say what they mean instead of softening it in fluffy garments: “Lord, we’re in a real fix here! We can’t see where we’re going. Help!” These are the people who gain our trust because they say what they mean and mean what they say. Even the hard-to-believe becomes believable.

For Matthew, the tax collector turned disciple, telling the remarkable story of the arrival of Jesus is like that, straight up and direct. “Now the birth of Jesus,” he says, “happened like this.” Then he summarizes the greatest of all mysteries in about seven sentences. The entire course of history changed, the path to and with God opened to all, a way for humanity to live into our fullest potential for love and redemption—contained within these few words.

At the center of the story is an ordinary, open-hearted teenage girl; a fiercely faithful young man; and Emmanuel, the meaning of which lasers in with pinpoint precision: “God is with us.” In such simple ways, all things become possible. Anything in the world becomes everything that matters. What might it mean for each of our own personal universes, and the one we tenderly, tenuously share, if we were to commit ourselves to becoming more simple and direct, more humble and ordinary, more fiercely faithful, more “with” one another, and more aware of God with us?

Life still can be that uncomplicated, you know. We can say and do what we intend to say and do. We can settle down in mind and spirit and make room for a more direct experience of God and one another. We can expect God to come quietly, simply, directly to us.

What Are You Doing?

For Sunday, December 11, 2016 – Matthew 11:2-11

During this season of your life, what are you doing? What are you expecting? Where will you go for fulfillment? What are you likely to find there?

What is John the Baptist doing? Once a popular reformer drawing crowds to the wilderness with his fiery call to prepare the way for one coming who is greater than he, now he sits abandoned in a prison cell paying a steep price for his faithfulness. John wonders, what is the heralded Messiah doing? Is he fulfilling the prophetic promises John had dared to speak? Is he healing the blind and lame, the deaf and even the dead? Are the poor truly being lifted up? Is there evidence of God’s good news in the land, or will John’s work have been in vain?

During this season, what are you expecting to see? Jesus asks the crowds who followed John: Why did you go out into the wilderness? Did you expect a grand rally, a phenomenon, a motivational preacher in soft, extravagant robes? You could go to the palaces for political pleasures like these. Or did you go to John because you were truly ready for your lifestyle to be called into question, your habits reshaped, your old ways relinquished? What did you expect to see in John, to receive from John? What do you expect from me?

Two guiding questions for these remaining days of Advent and for the remainder of our lives:
What are we doing?
What are we expecting?

Even from the confines of a cell, John continues to serve God’s purposes. We, too, whether in public or hidden ways, are in the right place for the right purpose if we keep listening and following, expecting a new path, helping to create a new path. Our small deeds become the evidence of our faithfulness, the way we help spread the good news that God is coming—indeed, is already at hand.

Disturbed by God

For Sunday, December 4, 2016 – Matthew 3:1-12

Followers of Jesus do not think alike. Why does it surprise us when we learn we are divided on many issues? Maybe it is because we segregate ourselves according to theological understandings and differences in class, race, styles of worship, levels of education, and we begin to believe that most people are like us. We travel the wide path, choosing churches and friends through the lenses of conservative, liberal, or progressive, as we might choose universities or political parties. Then we learn that even within our selected church, we disagree about who Jesus was and is and whether we are called to a “change of heart” or a “change of direction.” Sometimes we simply don’t talk about substantive topics at all because we still have not reached consensus as to what time to meet, the best way to distribute communion, how to decrease congestion in the parking lot, and on and on we go.

If we are among the blessed, and we are, God is faithful to interrupt us. Someone unexpected breaks in from the wilderness, and we are jarred awake. A Muslim refugee family needs sponsorship and no one in town welcomes them. A transgendered woman/man seeks full inclusion in the church to serve as deacon, Sunday School teacher, or liturgist, as well as the opportunity, as simple as it sounds, to use the bathroom. Someone loves the wrong kind of person, has the wrong kind of disease, espouses the wrong kind of care for nation or creation—in some way or other, God sends a messenger, crying out, “Rethink what you think! Turn around and walk in a different way.”

So it is for the people of Judea when an unkempt preacher blasts forth, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Curious, people go to listen and are moved by his challenge to turn their lives around. To mark the moment, he baptizes them in the muddy river, this wild man they call John the Baptist. A radical departure from their religious norms, he stirs the depths of their hearts and also calls them to action. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” he says. From within or outside our circles of sameness, someone’s voice is trying to break in right now. Whose is it? What fruit will be borne if we dare to listen and turn? Will we let God disturb us and use us to disturb others?

Wake Up

For Sunday, November 27, 2016 – Matthew 24:36-44

In the dream I am en route to an unknown destination when the pilot announces that all who are going to change planes should now gather their belongings and prepare to transfer. I am one of the transferring passengers so I scoop up my carry-on and join about five or six others in the aisle. We move forward and each one, in turn, steps through the door. At the threshold, I am startled by what I see—we have not yet landed! Each person ahead of me has stepped dutifully through the door and plunged into a vast abyss of air and space! I stumble back to my seat, relieved to have saved myself from death, proud not to have been as foolhardy as the rest, yet perplexed as to how I will now find my way to the other plane.

Jesus continually calls us from our safe and familiar lives, beyond our current perceptions, calls us to die into a realm we do not yet know. In my dream, who is right and who is wrong? Is it right to follow instructions blindly and endanger one’s life? Is it wrong to hear the call to new planes, but to choose safety and return to my previous seat? Jesus says two will be in a field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken and one will be left. He does not say one is right and one is wrong, only that both should keep awake, pay attention to what is happening right now that might be heralding a new day.

My dream continued: On the news later that day is a report of a strange occurrence. People changing planes mid-air were swept mysteriously into a spinning capsule and carried safely to their next destinations! Not a foolish leap into nothingness after all. The others, more faithful than I, had been taken and I was left. I awoke filled with regret, but also more AWAKE. One thing is sure: God is not finished with us yet. Whether we cower in fear of what lies ahead or rejoice in the coming collapse—yes, rejoice that the life that is not really life is being uprooted day by day—the only question that matters is, are we waking up? Oh, God, in your mercy, wake us up!

Remember For Us

For Sunday, November 20, 2016 – Luke 23:33-43

Despite all that his life has meant for others and for God, Jesus ends up among the least of the least, the despicable and desperate, criminals against humanity, suffering the ultimate desolation of crucifixion. Right in the middle of his compelling and fruitful ministry, just as his healing mercies seem to be flourishing, they abruptly give way to harassment and accusation. Not for wrongs committed, or good deeds left undone, does he hang on the cross, but simply for being himself, for generating light and love. Just as we were growing more accustomed to following him, now here he is, stripped naked, beaten, unfairly accused, hanging in public humiliation, reduced to the lowest denominator of humanity, unwanted and alone.

What sort of life is this that even our heroes must suffer degradation, even our favored leaders fall? How shall we respond? Shall we rise up in a great clamor of protest? Shall we resist the forces we see as enemies, demean and ridicule them, barricade ourselves against them, keep them from causing us harm? Jesus, even at the point of death, shows us another way, a way nurtured through his continually seeking alignment not with the world but with love. From his mouth come words strange to our ears—not of anger or accusation, no call to arms or self-pity, but words stronger and more provocative than these. Loudly they echo down through the ages, echo so clearly that we pretend not to hear or to understand because to admit that we hear would be to admit our responsibility. Three words that hold the essence of his life and love, his purpose among us and his primary calling to do the same: “Father, forgive them.”

Forgive them all—these criminals around me, these mockers and marauders, enemies and friends, those who are hiding in shadowy corners denying they ever knew me, and all the rest, throughout coming generations, who will blame and crucify one another and feel righteous in the act, who will violate the best and the worst of their humanity and give in to their despair, claiming to be doing God’s will. Forgive them for being so convinced they are right that they fail to notice their common humanity, their common need. Father, forgive them for forgetting who you are, for letting the flame of hope die, for letting distrust win. In their pain, they don’t realize what they are doing or remember who they are. So I will remember for them.