It's easy—from the comfort of my desk, where I’m healthy, well fed and
securely employed—to experience a sense of "enough," as I wrote last week.
It’s easy to champion compassion, justice and peace (what's not to
like?), even when it puts me at odds with a few biblical texts.
Before my Great Aunt Esther died, she lived in downtown
Minneapolis in poverty. Oddly, this is not embarrassing to my proper,
upper-middle-class, Christian family. Esther simply continued to live as she
had when her husband, my grandmother's brother Ludwig, was alive.
This week's readings include sentiments that appall me: dashing children's heads against rocks; applauding the idea of Jerusalem as a woman abandoned and abused because she had it coming; accepting the idea of slavery and the "proper place" of inferiors. I cannot go where these texts would lead me. I will not follow them.
Security and risk are nothing new. Today's biblical texts deal not with
stocks and bonds exactly, but with living in the real circumstances of
a difficult and uncertain world while also accepting the possibility of
good, of help and support, comfort and security.
A 2007 Kelton Research survey revealed that people know more about what goes into a Big Mac than they do about the Bible; they can name members of the Brady Bunch better than they can name the Ten Commandments. Twelve percent of adults think that Noah’s wife was Joan of Ark, and about half don’t know that the book of Isaiah is in the Old Testament. The situation might have comic possibilities for Jay Leno and other comedians, but for preachers working to craft a biblically based sermon, the situation is confounding. If parishioners can’t follow references to significant people, places or things in the Bible, they may miss or misunderstand the whole message.
It's one thing to profess; another to do. Christians put a lot of
emphasis on professing—belief, repentance—but we also know that without
doing, those words are just so much hot air. Still, how do you know how
to be what you believe? Paul says, "Work out your own salvation with
fear and trembling.” This suggests to me that Paul didn't have an easy
I got a delightful report from a colleague's gregarious seven-year-old
the other evening about summer church school. When the little girl
asked what my favorite Bible story is, I hemmed and hawed. She quickly
confessed that hers was Ruth and then dashed outside to demonstrate the
Sometimes liberation is not enough. When the Hebrew people finally
escaped Egypt, they might have shaken off their shackles, so to speak,
but they still weren't done. Pharaoh and his army came barreling after
them. So they had to keep going as hard and fast they could, and their
faith had to keep going too.
Like it or not, our lives inevitably intersect with the lives of
others. Sometimes these intersections are happy ones, with people who
support and sustain us and whose full humanity and potential we
likewise respect and encourage. But some are full-on crashes with all
the hurt and destruction of a vehicular collision.
When I read Romans 12:9-21, I think: this is the best of it, this is
what marks and makes a good Christian. Love truly and even more
generously than the next guy. Seek out goodness and turn your back on
evil, be untiring in service to God, be hopeful and steadfast in the
face of disappointment, be compassionate and humble. Universal and
timeless, these instructions are the real deal.
About 150 years ago, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed,
"There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know
how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming." The biblical
texts for this Sunday all have something to do with being and becoming,
with living as you are, in who and how you are, whatever the
circumstances, and in so doing, contributi