This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jason Micheli, Teer Hardy, and Stanley Hauerwas about the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent [A] (Genesis 12.1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4.1-5, 13-17, John 3.1-17). Our conversation covers a range of topics including righteousness, So I Married An Axe Murderer, Nicodemus, tribal identities, young theologians, agency, lettuce sermons, control, salvation, recapitulation, the crucified Christ, David Bentley Hart, and eschatological tension. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: How Odd Of God To Save This Way
Tag Archives: Lectionary
The Party Before The Penitence
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Drew Colby about the readings for Transfiguration Sunday [A] (Exodus 23.12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1.16-21, Matthew 17.1-9). Drew is the lead pastor of Grace UMC in Manassas, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including slinkies, transfigured observances, liturgical timeliness, weekly communion, bookends, Sufjan Stevens, mountains, glory, divine laughter, eyewitnesses, Simeon Zahl, and crucified horizons. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Party Before The Penitence
Everyone Has A But
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murder shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or a sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or a sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your bother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your member than for your whole body to go into hell. It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, cause her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let you words be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
The narthex is buzzing at First Church Galilee.
A young seminarian, the son of a construction worker is the rumor, just finished preaching a sermon and the amount of responses was staggering.
It started with oohs and ahhh. A scattering of amens. But then there was silence, and head scratching, and even a few audible “Excuse Mes?”.
Mrs. Smith, the dedicated Sunday school teacher has amassed a crowd by the coffee decanter. “The nerve!” she begins, “Can you believe what we just witnessed? Don’t you think that boy would’ve had the good sense to know that we don’t come here to be told what to do, but instead to hear about who God is?”
Parishioners shake their heads in affirmation.
Mr. Cline, the head usher, then steps in, “Well now. He is young and so full of the Spirit. Maybe he didn’t really mean it.”
“Give me a break Jim,” Mrs. Smith retorts, “You know he meant it! You don’t get up in the pulpit and say things like that if you don’t mean it!”
And right then the preacher stops shaking hands at the door and walks up to the small but rather agitated crowd. Before he has a chance to speak, Mrs. Smith lights into him, “You’ve got a lot of nerve you son of a carpenter! It’s not responsible to tell people to pluck out their eyes and cut off their arms! There were children present during your message! You know, I have half a mind to send a note to the bishop about you!”
And, oddly enough, the preacher closes his mouth into a smile and says nothing. In the oddity of his silence, the congregation awkwardly begins to disperse, and they leave amazed and astounded at his teaching.
It is a strange sermon that our Lord preaches, a sermon we call the Sermon on the Mount. I think we can agree to an extent with my fictional parishioners who witnessed his proclamation – it is a bit weird to hear such word from the Word made flesh.
It’s one thing to tell people their blessed when they’re grieving and mourning. It’s still yet another thing to talk about being salty and shining your light into the world. But it’s another thing entirely when Jesus takes the law and cranks it up to eleven.
You have heard that it was said that you shall not murder, but I say that if you are angry with a brother or sister you’ve committed just as bad of a crime.
You have heard that it was said you shall not commit adultery, but I say that if your eye lingers just a second too long on someone other than your spouse, you’ve become an adulterer.
You have heard it was said that you shall worship the Lord your God, but I say to you that if you miss even one Sunday at church you are liable to the H E double hockeys sticks of fire.
Geez Jesus. What’s the deal? What happened to loving our neighbors as ourselves and doing a nice thing for someone else every once in a while?
And that’s not even mentioning the abject craziness of being told, by the Lord, that it would be better to rip out our eyes and cut off our hands than to continue living in the sins of our imaginations!
Now, we all know that Jesus spoke in parables. It’s important, of course, to note that Jesus also spoke in hyperbole, exaggerated speech, what Stephen Webb calls, “blessed excess.”
Though, it doesn’t sound very blessed, even when Jesus does it.
Hyperbole – overstating something in order to underscore. We do it all the time do, we add for emphasis. We spice up our stories for effect, we exaggerate in order to drive something home, we give ourselves over to hyperbole.
Even in the church we do it. Have you ever heard the hymn “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing”? I don’t see 1,000 people here today…
I mean, it would be irresponsible for us to take Jesus at his word, to take him literally. If we did, this congregation would turn into a bunch of one-armed cyclopses. And that’s just the verses we read today. He keeps going!
And yet… and yet…
Might it be that we don’t feel comfortable with these words from Jesus not just because of how graphic he is, but also because of how close it hits to home?
I suspect that only a very small selection of Christians enjoy this part of Jesus’ sermon. Honestly, this preacher didn’t want to have to preach a sermon on Jesus’ sermon on the mount this week. It’s a lot. But there are some out there for whom this sermon, these words of Jesus taking the people to task, it rings of truth because they know there is more at stake in the Kingdom of God than merely being accepted.
Acceptance is a passive reality that actually runs counter to God’s nature.
God doesn’t just accept us otherwise God, in Christ, would never heave preached this sermon. Acceptance isn’t enough. Neither is tolerance.
Nobody wants to be accepted or tolerated.
We want to be loved.
And Jesus does love us, even me and you, but his love is intense, frightening, and overwhelming. In fact, Jesus loves us so much, he’s willing to do something most of us avoid at all costs – he tells the truth.
But there’s a reason we avoid the truth – that we run from it whenever it rears its ugly head. No one wants to be told they are a sinner, let alone admit it themselves.
We all have our “buts,” our excuses, when it comes to Jesus’ sermon.
Just because I looked it doesn’t mean I acted on it.
C’mon, what’s a little grudge got to do with me being able to come forward to the altar?
So what if I get a little judgmental every once in awhile, it’s not like its hurting anyone!
Sure, maybe I went a little too far but I’m not as bad as some other people!
Okay, I’ll admit that I said some thing that I shouldn’t have, but words are not the same things as actions.
Yeah, it was a mistake, but I won’t do it again.
Everyone has a but, and each of those buts is just a further reminder that, at the end of the day, we’re all sinners! And, to be honest, the sermon only gets worse. Jesus will shortly command his followers to turn the other cheek, love and pray for their enemies, and more!
The whole thing builds and builds with a crescendo, like many good sermons, until Jesus hammers it all home with this: “Do Not Judge lest ye be judged. Why do you seek the speck in your neighbors’s eye and neglect to see the log in your own?”
In other words, the sermon functions to help us see that we can’t judge anyone else for what they’ve done or left undone because, according to Jesus, all of us are incompatible with Christian teaching.
Any straight reading of scripture, Jesus’ sermon included, shows us that the Law is inflexible and total. Do your best and God will do the rest is not the message of the Bible.
The Law functions to drive us out of our propensity toward sinful self-sufficiency. That’s why Jesus preaches his offensive sermon. Otherwise, we are doomed to remain exactly as we are. And the Lord doesn’t arrive to keep things the same – the Lord arrives to make all things new. Including us.
But there is no resurrection without crucifixion. Hence the expression: The Gospel can only make alive those whom the Law has killed.
Jesus’ sermon accuses us – you are dead in your sins – and it also promises us new life – for the One who preaches these words is the same one who mounts the hard wood of the cross for people like us – people who don’t deserve it according to the words of his sermon.
It’s a bit odd to claim Good News in the midst of the sermon on the mount that sounds like such terribly bad news. But there is Good News because God in Christ does for us that which we cannot do on our own.
We can’t live up to the expectations of Jesus’ sermon, but that’s kind of the point. Again, it reminds us that we are no better than anyone else. In fact, it helps us to see that we’re all in the same boat. Therefore, like Peter who jumps out of the boat, Jesus’ sermon give us the strength to call out, “Lord, save me.”
And that’s exactly what Jesus does.
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with the youth of Raleigh Court United Methodist Church about the readings for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany [A] (Micah 6.1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1.18-31, Matthew 5.1-12). Our conversation covers a range of topics including youthful church members, confirmation, divine requirements, humility, the outward signs of a Christian, foolishness, sanctuary signage, preaching, Karl Barth, and blessings. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: #Blessed
The Best Laid Plans
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany [A] (Isaiah 9.1-4, Psalm 27.1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1.10-18, Matthew 4.12-23). Teer is one of the pastors serving Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including church insurance, false backgrounds, repeating readings, the great light, fire, prayer, divisions, ecclesial growth, Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God, the foolishness of the Cross, and podcast reviews. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Best Laid Plans
The Gospel According To Francis Spufford
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany [A] (Isaiah 49.1-7, Psalm 40.1-11, 1 Corinthians 1.1-9, John 1.29-42). Teer is one of the pastors serving Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including sin, coffee and contemplation, Prayer School, sharp swords, prophetic preaching, miry bogs, Pelagius, trust, sanctification, gifts, blame, low anthropology, the Lamb of God, and discipleship. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Gospel According To Francis Spufford
Water Is Thicker Than Blood
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Combs about the readings for Baptism of the Lord Sunday [A] (Isaiah 42.1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10.34-43, Matthew 3.13-17). Alan is the lead pastor of First UMC in Salem, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including Pulp Fiction, adult mission trips, tiredness, the NT in the OT, expectations, flames of fire, the voice of the Lord, Dogma, passivity, Jayber Crow, baptism, Karl Barth, and good questions. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Water Is Thicker Than Blood
The Politics of Christmas
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Combs about the readings for the First Sunday After Christmas [A] (Isaiah 63.7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2.10-18, Matthew 2.13-23). Alan is the lead pastor of First UMC in Salem, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including band names, timeliness, gracious deeds, Christmastide, corporate worship, belonging, praise, Winter Camp, Karl Barth, sanctification, reality, the implications of the incarnation, and presence. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Politics of Christmas
Preaching With The Angels
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jason Micheli and Teer Hardy about the readings for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day [A] (Isaiah 9.2-7, Psalm 86, Titus 2.11-14, Luke 2.1-20). Jason is the lead pastor of Annandale UMC in Annandale, VA and Teer is one of the pastors at Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including funeral sermons, merchandise, Christmas Unicorns, transitional themes, the truth, pageantry, the Prince of Peace, homiletical imaginations, Joshua Retterer, new songs, judgment, gifts, Sufjan Stevens, fear, and Karl Barth. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Preaching With The Angels
The Mother of God
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and can choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
That’s a strange way to start a sermon.
The practice of using gender-inclusive language for the divine has been around for awhile but it really came into vogue shortly before I arrived in seminary. It’s a willingness to confront the masculine pronouns often attributed to God: God as he.
The reason being that God is not a he, unless we’re talking about Jesus.
Of course, scripture and grammar lends itself to this. We pray to God as Father and all of that. But there are actually plenty of moments in the Old Testament when God is given feminine attributes, and even Jesus uses feminine attributes for God in the New Testament, we just rarely talk about them.
Again, what’s at stake here is the fact that God is not like us. God is, to use an expression of Barth’s, totally other. Therefore, to use human attributes, particularly gendered attributes for God, makes God like us.
And so there began a push while I was in school to stop referring to God as he. True story: we would have one point taken away per gendered reference to God in our papers, which taught us how to adapt quickly.
Perhaps you have noticed, but maybe not, when I preach I try my best to not masculinize God. In other words, I try to avoiding pronoun-ing God. And sometimes it makes for a strange sentence. But it’s important. God is not a man. God is God.
Of course there are some, who in order to offer a corrective to the masculinity of God rendered in church, will feminize God and refer to God as she, or mother. Which, I think, can be helpful. God is both paternal and maternal. But it still puts God in our own terms, rather than letting God speak to us about who God is.
And yet, there is a more radical notion about the identity of God that we often overlook or downright ignore.
You know what’s more radical than talking about God as our mother? The fact that God has one.
700 years before the Advent of Christ, the people of God were in a time of war and fear. The city of Jerusalem was besieged during the reign of Ahaz and there seemed to be no hope on the horizon. And in the midst of this terror, the Lord asks Ahaz if he would like a sign of God’s power. And, inexplicably, Ahaz refuses! Which leave the prophet Isaiah to lament, “Is it not enough to weary everyone else, now you’ve moved to wearying God?”
And the Lord offers this sign whether Ahaz wants it or not: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Notably, Isaiah does not say that “a” young woman will bear a child named Immanuel. Isaiah says “the” young woman will do so. “The” is the definite article indicating that not just anyone will give birth to this Promised One, but someone in particular would do it. We, of course, did not know who the “the” would be until Mary was singled out to be the Mother of God, the mother of Jesus. Not just any young Jewish girl would do. The one to carry and birth Jesus is Mary.
It’s difficult, I fear, for us to imagine the bewildered reception of Isaiah’s proclamation. We are so storied by the story of Christmas, moved by its majesty, that we can scarcely fathom the oddity of the prophet’s promise.
The city is under siege, hope is lost, and the Lord says, “A baby is coming.”
A baby? What about a ruthless warrior, or a fearsome king, or a charismatic leader? Surely that’s what God people needed! And yet, God says the sign is the woman who will bear a child named Immanuel.
That God chooses the woman as the sign, that God enacts God’s purposes through this young woman is so confounding.
What we dare to proclaim about God is that God willingly gets involved in the flesh and blood and bone of human life. The God we worship is en-wombed in Mary.
There’s a reason we don’t talk much about Mary. There are a lot of reasons actually. Most of them stem from our patriarchal renderings of existence. Some of them stem from the fact that we are Protestant and don’t want to be associated with the Mary-worship that happens in the Catholic Church. And yet, to ignore Mary, is to ignore the radical notion of the Incarnation.
The ignorance of Mary results in a form of Christendom in which men continue to feel as if they are superior to women.
Patriarchy is real, the unjust rule of men over women exists and its wrong. And not just because of our modern sensibilities of equality, it’s wrong because of the fact that God is born of Mary!
Listen – Mary, as we say in certain theological circles, is the THEOTOKOS, the God-bearer. And, so named, she safeguards the fleshiness of God. Without her the God we worship remains aloof, but with her, the God we worship becomes one of us.
There is something almost outrageously particular about the fact that God’s fleshy presence in the world is localized in the womb of an unmarried teenage girl from Nazareth. Which is made all the more wild when we realize that Isaiah told God’s people this would happen 700 years before it did.
We tend to lob all these titles and distinctions upon God. God is almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, or whatever big seminary word we want to use. And all of that is fine. God is the author of the cosmos after all. But to claim God as enfleshed, that God has a birth and a death, is at the heart of the scandal that makes our faith, faith.
Even Martin Luther, who so famously broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, (which was simply called church until Luther started something different), Luther was wary of the church’s veneration of Mary and how close it was coming to idolatry. But even Luther was quick to note, “Mary breastfed God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God.”
Have you ever thought about the Gospel that way before?
If we take the strange new world of the Bible seriously, then Mary also changed God’s diapers, taught God songs to sing, taught God the stories of the faith, even the promise of the coming Messiah who was rocking in her arms the entire time.
Similarly, Charles Wesley praised Mary as one, “Who gave all things to be, what a wonder to see, God born of this creature, and nursed on her knee.”
Mary, an ordinary young woman from Nazareth, keeps the incarnation scandalous.
Not to jump too solidly into the New Testament, but, Mary’s “Let it be” opens the way for a new eruption of grace into the world. We might call “Let it be” the Gospel according to Paul McCartney, but its actually the Gospel according to Mary!
Mary writes the best (can we say that?) song in the Gospels, a song we refer to as the Magnificat. It demonstrates her profound knowledge and love of the scriptures, and is perhaps the must frequently sung song throughout all of church history.
Mary is present and is also the instigator of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (water to wine). And she and others are present at the cross when the disciples flee.
Moreover, Mary is in the upper room at Pentecost, the only woman present who is named, and she receives the same Spirit that sets the church in motion.
But wait, there’s more: Throughout the early history of the church up through the Middle Ages, there were more paintings done of Mary than of Jesus!
The young woman with child of Isaiah’s proclamation is Mary, the flesh and blood Mother of God. Mary is not an idea, she is not a myth. She is a real person, as real as you and me. She is a real person who made decisions upon which our faith depends.
We often fail to embody the embodied nature of our faith because, at some point, we assume that whatever our faith is it is at least a set of ideas or slogans. Ideas that help us make sense of the world, or slogans to help us behave better and therefore fix the world.
But the witness of the faith cannot be summarized on a bumper sticker or in a tweet. It cannot be expressed through ideas or slogans.
It cannot because our faith, oddly enough, hinges on a young Jewish woman named Mary.
Here we are, at the end of Advent, preparing to dress up the kids next week for a pageant, and perhaps we do well to remember that Mary was not only real, she was also unlikely. That God chooses her, from a forgotten town with no bright hope for tomorrow, is wild beyond imagining.
That God chooses any of us for God’s purposes is outrageous.
We would never have chosen to do it this way.
But, then again, we are not God. Thank God we are not God.
Because of the proclamation of Mary’s womb, God has given us more than we deserve, God has given us reason to be patient because the cosmos hinges not upon what we do, but upon what has been done for us.
Therefore, here on the last Sunday of Advent, we are given the hope that we can learn to wait. Not unlike the Israelites waited for God to keep God’s promise. Not unlike Mary waited nine months with her belly swelling. Not unlike the disciples waited three days after the crucifixion.
Waiting is part of the discipline of learning what it means to be creatures of time.
Time is a gift and a burden. That we have time at all is nothing short of God’s grace. But our time is limited. We must be born and we must die – Advent refuses to let us pretend otherwise. And yet, at the same time, Advent stories us. That is, Advent teaches us who we are and whose we are.
Stories, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and some are long. Some are funny and some are not. Some are defined by all sorts of words, and others can be summarized with “Let it be.”
We, all of us, are storied creatures.
And, strangely, the great Good News of Advent is that our time has been storied by Jesus Christ, born of Mary. Mary makes possible our stories because she bears God into the world. God takes on flesh and dwells among us which gives us the grace to be, and become, fully human.
It’s rather extraordinary, when we can take a step back from it all, that we know the name of the Lord’s mother! And yet, even more extraordinary is the fact that God chose to come and make time for us, redeeming out time, and making possible the salvation that disrupts time forever.
Our time is so redeemed because Mary’s son is Immanuel, God with us.
No matter what.
Whether we are on the naughty list or the nice list, God is with us.
Whether we have gobs of presents under the tree, or if we haven’t had the time to get a tree at all, God is with us.
Whether we have more Christmases ahead of us, or only a few left, God is with us.
Behold! The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Thanks be to God.