So That

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Sarah Locke about the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 16.16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17.20-26). Sarah is the pastor of Hickory UMC in Chesapeake, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including earthquakes, real prayers, freedom, hardhats, believing on Jesus, mountain melting, the idolatry of image, Christian hatred, the alphabet of faith, Between Two Ferns, unity, and love. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: So That

The Lamb Lamp

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 16.9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5, John 14.23-29). Teer is one of the pastors of Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including hymnody, marriage, vikings, dreams, communal discernment, ecclesial friendship, world-turning, the joy of judgment, Eugene Peterson, fear, timelessness, church architecture, peace, and endings. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Lamb Lamp

The New Newness

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 11.1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21.1-6, John 13.31-35). Teer is one of the pastors of Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including love, books, ordination, dietary restrictions, the rule of threes, kingdom expansion, the praise of creation, funeral texts, tangible promises, commandments, Makoto Fujimura, and newness. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The New Newness

On Thinking Theologically

Psalm 23.4

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

In the 1990’s Jerry Falwell, bastion of theological conservatism, pleaded for funds for his “Save A Baby Homes.” The organization was designed to establish homes, all over the country, where a young woman who decides to continue in a difficult pregnancy could go and receive free, caring support all the way through pregnancy and birth.

And, rather notably, Falwell ended his plea by saying something to effect of, “If we do not give our resources, our money, to this venture, if Bible-believing Christians do not demonstrate through our gifts that we are willing to give to, and sacrifice for, and to support these women, then we have no right to tell them what they should, or shouldn’t, do with their bodies.”

It isn’t easy for ordinary people like us to do some of the extraordinary acts as Jesus commands. “Turning the other cheek” is a lot easier to preach than it is to practice. The same holds true for loving our neighbors as ourselves, particularly when it comes into contact with our theological understanding of reproductive rights.

On Monday evening a draft was leaked of a revision to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that focuses on reproductive rights in the United States. In response, those in favor and those opposed to the draft have been celebrating/protesting in various parts of the country. 

Reproductive rights are often painted as a faith-based matter for a variety of reasons and there are a great myriad of theological positions with regard to the understanding of being bodily creatures. The United Methodist Church, in our Book of Resolutions, both affirms the sanctity of life for all persons born and unborn and, at the same time, we support those who choose the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. We are committed to ministering with those who have had an abortion, providing support and encouragement. (You can read more here: Social Principles)

The only time I can remember hearing about abortion in church, prior to becoming a pastor, was in a small group setting as a teenager when one of my peers asked the pastor how we should think theologically about abortion. His response has stayed with me ever since.

He said something to the effect of: “If a woman in our church becomes pregnant and chooses to carry the baby to term, then we have a responsibility to support her in any way that we can – meals, rides, prayers, etc. But the same holds true for the other side of the spectrum. If a woman in our church becomes pregnant and chooses not to carry to term, then we have a responsibility to support her in any way that we can – meals, rides, prayers, etc.” 

I remember thinking his answer was both deeply theological and faithful. I only realized, much later, that not every church feels and thinks that same way.

We do not talk of such things in the church today for a variety of reasons: we prioritize the privacy of the individual, we treat the church as a place to talk about churchy things and not worldly things, we are afraid of upsetting sensibilities, we don’t want to appear too political, etc. 

And yet, we, in large part, have fallen into a fallacy of believing that the most important things in the world are political and can only be handled in a political manner. We therefore worry and lose more sleep over who sits behind the desk in the oval office (or behind the rail in the Supreme Court) than we do over who sits at the throne of the universe (and who comes to be the Judged Judge in our place). 

The church is, and always will be, political but it is political on terms that run counter to the world. Put simply, the church does not exist to proclaim a list of do’s and dont’s, but rather to follow and point to the One who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

Therefore, the most interesting, creative, and faithful solutions we (that is: Christians) have to offer our weary world are not new laws, new politicians, or new social programs (though we certainly can support such efforts). The most important thing we have to offer the world is the church. We best serve the world by showing the world what it is not: a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.

We, the church, exist to be present for others not to judge them or to damn them, but to love them and support them to the end. 

It isn’t easy – but nothing really important ever is.  

Grace Like Rain

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Bryant Manning about the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 9.1-6, Psalm 30, Revelation 5.11-14, John 21.1-19). Bryant is the director of the Wesley Foundation at FSU. Our conversation covers a range of topics including the Greek exegesis of Mark, chapel shadows, resurrection reminders, a hopeful ecclesiology, little deaths, goodness and mercy, church camp, resolution, the great ordeal, unbelief, and prayerful discernment. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Grace Like Rain

It’s Better Than You Think It Is

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Drew Colby about the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 5.27-32, Psalm 118.14-29, Revelation 1.4-9, John 20.19-31). Drew is the lead pastor of Grace UMC in Manassas, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including strange intros, short sermons, eating in Eastertide, Raymond Brown, good trouble, Stanley Hauerwas, codas, timelessness, the firstborn of the dead, real peace, and the gift of faith. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: It’s Better Than You Think It Is

The Exodus For The Rest Of Us

Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 

Why is tonight different from all other nights?

That’s a worthy question for us gathered here for worship in a room that hasn’t held a worship service in a very long time. We’ve got different chairs, different lights, it all feels strange, in a good way.

But tonight is also different for another reason – tonight we mark Maundy Thursday. Maundy from the latin mandatum, from which we get commandment. In John’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples during the foot washing on his final evening, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

We moderns don’t really like being commanded to do anything, but surely we can get on board with loving each other a little more.

It’s the Gospel according to the Beatles: All you need is love.

Except, love ain’t enough.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why is tonight different than all other nights? That is surely a question for us, but it is also the question that all Jewish children are asked when they gather for the celebration of Passover. 

Long ago, God made it all – the tall and the small, the near and the far, from here to there and everywhere. God brought forth light and life.

Including us.

Later, God made a promise with Abraham to be his God, and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob. One day Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord on the banks of the Jabbok river and was given a new name, Israel. It means, you have struggled with God and prevailed.

Jacob begat Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. And yet, during his time as a stranger in a strange land, he was prosperous and eventually brought about the salvation of his kinfolk and they were fruitful and multiplied in a foreign land.

All was well in Egypt, until it wasn’t. 

The Egyptians grew jealous of the people Israel, and subjugated them. Out of fear the Pharaoh ordered the deaths of every male child born to Hebrew women.

Moses was born and saved by his mother who pushed him out in a basket into the mighty Nile river. He grew in strength and wisdom and was called by God from the burning bush to deliver God’s people from their captivity.

The Lord commanded Moses to have the people slaughter lambs and use the blood to mark their doors. This would be the sign for the Lord to pass over their homes while dispensing with the firstborns of Egypt. 

Passover is a night different from all other nights because it is a time set apart to mark and remember the sacred and profound work of the Lord in deliverance. God makes a way where there is no way.

Jesus gathers with his friends to celebrate the Passover.

He sends two disciples to procure a space for the occasion, perhaps the same two who found him the donkey for his triumphal entry into the holiest of cities.

And it came to pass that, while sitting at the table together, Jesus took a loaf of bread, gave thanks to God, gave it to his friends and said, “This is my body.” And then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks to God, gave it to his friends and said, “This is my blood.”

This is my blood.

And before the evening ends, those friends who shared bread and cup, body and blood, they’re all gone. Jesus is arrested and the cross waits for him on the horizon.

Why does Jesus die on a cross?

Another worthy question for reflection. The simplest answer is: Jesus died on a cross because the cross was how Rome made an example of those who questioned the status quo. But, for us, the question is confounding. We might answer by saying, “He died so that we can go to heaven” or “The cross is a sign of forgiveness” or “Jesus died to show us his love.”

Those answers aren’t necessarily wrong. Salvation is made possible by the cross, Jesus does pronounce forgiveness from the arms of the cross, and the cross reveals the heart of God.

But, if the only thing we needed was a little more love, couldn’t we have received it without Jesus having to die? If Jesus only wanted us to be a little kinder, why did his closest disciples abandon him in the end?

It’s notable that Jesus chose Passover for the time of his last supper. Because Passover isn’t about forgiveness, or love, or even mercy.

During the days of Exodus the Lord didn’t look at the misdeeds of the people Israel and say, “Okay, time to let bygones be bygones, I’m going to wash away your sins.”

No.

God said, “I’m getting you the hell out of Egypt. Let’s go!”

Passover is about freedom.

And consider the connections made manifest around the table:

Jesus was without sin and was innocent of the charges lobbed against him, just like the Passover lamb is supposed to be perfect and without blemish.

Jesus was beaten to the point of dead and stabbed in the side shortly before his death, just like the Passover lamb is supposed to be bled before being hung to roast. 

Jesus was hung up high and though beaten his bones were not broken, just like the lamb’s bones were to remain intact.

I know this is a lot, it’s gruesome and frightening and not for the faint of heart.

But that’s what communion is all about. It stands in stark contrast with those who receive it. It’s not just a simple meal at grandma’s house after church one Sunday afternoon. It is the Lord of all creation proclaiming his death at the hands not of his enemies, but of his friends. Its God looking each of us squarely in the eye and saying, “I know you deserve this not at all, and yet I’m giving it to you anyway.”

Yes, Jesus commands us to love one another. But that kind of love is made intelligible only in the light of the cross, and in the bread and wine of our Lord’s body and blood. 

Jesus is the exodus for the rest of us. He delivers us from our captivity to sin and death into a strange new world we call the kingdom of God.

I haven’t been here a year, but I have been here long enough to know that we are believers, half believers, and unbelievers. I know that each of us here has done something we ought not to have done, and we’ve all avoided responding to the confoundingly difficult commandment to love one another.

But I also know that we worship the Lord who makes a way where there is no way. That, as Robert Jenson so wonderfully put it, “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead having first raised Israel out of captivity in Egypt.”

Even today, we’re all stuck in our own Egypts and we are in desperate need of deliverance. We need rescue. We need freedom.

And that’s exactly what we get in Jesus, our Passover Lamb. Amen. 

The Divine Ellipsis

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Drew Colby about the readings for the Resurrection of the Lord [C] (Isaiah 65.17-25, Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15.19-26, John 20.1-18). Drew is the lead pastor of Grace UMC in Manassas, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including McDonalds, Easter songs, champagne, ecclesial delight, the super psalm, good verbs, lectionary podcasts, Adam’s helpless race, commandment keeping, the destruction of death, All Things Beautiful, skepticism, and brevity. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Divine Ellipsis

The Lord Needs It

Palm Sunday from the perspective of the donkey:

With palms beneath my feet, Jesus, there are so many things I wish I could tell you. Carrying you while the crowds scream on our sides, I wish I could share all the things I have seen and heard. This might be the only chance I’ll get, and it already feels too late.

I was there Jesus. I was there in the manger when you were born. Your parents had come into the tiny room and your mother looked like she was about to burst. I was but a young foal back then, but I remember. They were so afraid and alone when they cuddled together holding you close. While they were filled with fear, I was filled with joy. I knew from the moment I saw you that you were special, that you were the Son of God. The other animals could feel it too, and while your family fell into the familiar rhythm of sleep, we gathered around you to share our warmth. I watched you sleep all night and I could feel that our lives were connected, and I knew that I would see you again one day.

You left from Bethlehem but as the years passed I heard stories about your life. I would be in the marketplace, or moving about the village and rumors would fall upon my ears. 

When you were a child they said that you stood apart. Other children would spend their days running around and getting into mischief, but you would sit in the synagogue and teach the elders. Your command of the scriptures spread before you even started your ministry. I would watch the people while they talked about you and they were filled with such hope. Words like “messiah, lord, and savior” were used to describe you and I could tell that the Lord was among us.

Then it came to pass that you were baptized by your cousin John in the Jordan river. Witnesses said they saw the sky open up and they heard the voice of God. While others denied the claims, I knew it was true, I could feel that your ministry was about to begin and that everything would change.

You traveled throughout Galilee proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. You healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and restored the outcasts to their families. Everywhere you went stories about your love and mercy traveled ahead and the crowds grew larger and larger. You fed the multitudes by the sea, you walked on water, and you brought Lazarus back from the dead. You spoke of mustard seeds, prodigal sons, and good samaritans. You ate with sinners, worked on the sabbath, and argued with the Pharisees. Some say that even just a few weeks ago you were on the mountaintop when Moses and Elijah appeared and you were transfigured

This morning I was tied up near the door when two of your disciples came close. One of them spoke to my owner and said, “The Lord needs him” and they brought me to you. I knew the time had come when we would be reunited, but the joy I expected to feel has been mixed with trepidation. 

Jesus, how I wish you could hear me, how I wish I could tell you all I have seen and heard. We departed early this morning and the crowds gathered around us. It feels as if the closer we get to Jerusalem the people grow louder and more eager to cry out. Do they know what they mean when they say, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”?

I’m beginning to worry Jesus. I don’t think they know who you really are. The people sound more like an angry mob waiting for you to overthrow the Romans than a faithful group waiting for the kingdom of God. They want another Moses to lead them out of physical bondage, they want another David who can lead them into battle, they want another Solomon to build a giant temple. 

These people have suffered but they believe in you. Did you see them take off their cloaks and place them in the road? I have been walking over garments for hours. Did you see them rush into the fields for palm branches to wave them in the air and create a royal pathway? The palms beneath my feet are a sign of how much these people believe in you.

What are you going to do Jesus? I can hear people murmuring about your coming mission, some are saying that you are going to the temple and you are going to overthrow the tables. Some are saying that you are going to lead the rebellion and kill the chief priests and scribes. Some are saying that you are going to destroy the temple and then build a new one. 

Jesus I’m afraid for your life! These people don’t know who you really are and what you’ve come to do. They shout “Hosanna, Hosanna!” but I fear their shouts will soon turn to “Crucify, Crucify!” They are only concerned about themselves. Even your disciples on either side of us, I can smell their fear. 

Jesus, I was there when you were born. I felt God’s presence in you and I knew you would save the world. But please Jesus, let me take you away from this place. Jerusalem can only bring about your death. We still have a chance to turn around and head home. 

Or is it too late? 

The crowds are starting to thin Jesus. The people are beginning to head home. We are stepping through the gate and the palms are no longer beneath my feet. I want to believe in you and what you are doing. I want to believe this is God’s will. But I’m so afraid. 

Jesus, I am an old donkey and I don’t know how much further I can carry you. 

It’s just us now and the sun is beginning to set. 

What will happen? What are you going to do?

If this is the last time I will see you, I wish I could talk to you. I wish I could warn you about what is to come. I wish I could stop you.

You swing your legs around and are standing right before me. Your eyes contain the same hope they did the day you were born in the humble manger. As you pet my old matted fur I can feel all the people you have already touched and healed. I can feel the sick children and parents, I can feel the blind and the lame, the last, least and lost.

What a privilege it was to carry you today my Lord. I knew that we would meet again, I only wish I could do something to warn you. 

You’re now leaning in close to whisper in my ear. Is this goodbye? Is this the end?

You said, “No my old friend. I know exactly what I am doing. And this is only the beginning.” Amen. 

Passionate Palms

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Combs about the readings for Palm Sunday [C] (Psalm 118.1-2, 19-29, Luke 19.28-40). Alan is the lead pastor of First UMC in Salem, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including intergenerational trauma, the whole story, Holy Week, difficult hymns, The Wesley Bros comic, responsibility, the elected reject, singing stones, choices (or the lack thereof), and the not normed norm. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Passionate Palms