John the Baptist has been our constant companion on the journey through
Advent and into Epiphany. First, it was his task to make ready the way
of the Lord. Next, it was his privilege to baptize Jesus in the river
Jordan. Now, it is his purpose to bear witness to Jesus’ identity,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Some of my favorite words from the United Methodist Church’s liturgy
for Holy Baptism are the first ones spoken: “Brothers and sisters in
Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s
holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
For a preacher, the challenge of Epiphany is that it comes every year.
The story unfolds as it always does: King Herod, the wise men from the
East, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By now, the pageant is
overplayed. The star of wonder has lost its awe. How, in this
over-handled text, can anything new break through?
Time is being stretched in the gospel narrative. With several
allusions to the wise men, we look forward to next Sunday’s celebration
of Epiphany. With the several allusions to the Exodus we also look back
to the Israelites held in bondage in Egypt. With the future, the
present and the past seemingly all at hand, how do we draw out for our
congregations a message from the manger?
Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over.
"I eventually realized that leaders are not made by books or workshops," says Lisa Yebuah of Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Leaders are people who marry their knowledge to action."
"I've been given an opportunity to color outside the lines," says Nanette Sawyer of Grace Commons and St James Presbyterian Church in Chicago, "the permission and charge to be creative and experimental."
"Progressive Christians do a good job with issues like LGBT rights," says Dennis Sanders of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis. "But we're less good at helping people become disciples of Jesus."
"Religious commitments are no longer taken for
granted as part of North American people's lives," says Scott Kershner of Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State. "So space opens up to
ask very basic and interesting questions."
Nov 30, 2011
| An interview with Carol Howard Merritt
"What would happen," asks Carol Howard Merritt of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., "if we coupled baby boomers' prophetic focus with the pragmatism of my generation? What if the church unleashed us to plant churches?"
Jul 28, 2011
| An interview with Katherine Willis Pershey
"People need to hear the good news," says Katherine Willis Pershey of First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois. "If the church doesn't take on this
mission, I'm afraid—well, that's where that sentence can end. I'm afraid."
"We have rejected much of our immediate [evangelical] past," says Josh Carney of his church, University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Looking to older traditions, "we found that some of our objections had already been
Jamie Coots was a Kentucky preacher who took Jesus literally when he said that he gave his disciples the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and that nothing would hurt them (Luke 10:19). Coots’s son Cody thinks his father was bitten about eight times. He would always refuse treatment or hospitalization, go home in pain, pray, and eventually pull through. But last month Coots was bitten by a rattlesnake in a church service and died. Coots was an outspoken critic of a Kentucky law that forbids handling snakes in church services. The local police chief thinks the law violates free speech rights, so he won’t enforce it unless other people are endangered (Los Angeles Times, February 16).