Morning Prayer, 2.17.13, Lent I

Almighty God –

You have created us in your image, and yet we so rarely reflect your presence. Out of our ashes, show forth your beauty. In our dust and frailty, enliven and embolden us with your grace and spirit.

We know that you created us, you love us, you call us good. And yet, we deny that creation, that love, that goodness.  You love us anyway. You sustain us anyway. You forgive and extend your grace anyway.

Thank you for the beauty you create out of our dust.

Out of our violence and thirst for retribution, create the beauty of reconciliation and peace.

Out of the reality of not enough – the ashes of hunger, thirst, injustice, create the beauty of enough – of enough food, water, resources, for all the world.

Out of the embarrassment of our abundance, create the beauty out of our willingness to share.

Out of the bonds of oppression and humiliation, create the beauty of freedom and dignity.

Out of the alienation of illness, or displacement, create the beauty of your healing and reunion.

Out of the suffering your children experience of body, mind or heart, create the beauty of wholeness, in this earthly life and in eternal life.

Out of our own division and wavering – in our politics, in our churches, and in our families – create the beauty of your unity and compassion.

In the ashes of these days and weeks of Lent, O God, create the beauty of a renewed spirit and sense of purpose.

God, you are our refuge and fortress, our shelter and our shade; we pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.

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bright sadness

I’m already a little prone to melancholy. Sometimes I feel like I live life dancing in a minor key, so it’s probably not a surprise that I’m a bit partial to Ash Wednesday and Lent. It probably started because I like purple so much. And it’s hard not to love a season when Spring is on the other side, but it’s bigger, deeper, holier than that.

Ash Wednesday is certainly not convenient. It’s in the middle of the workweek, after all. I don’t know about responsible adults, but I can barely get my head wrapped around the mundane, let alone pause in the midst of it all to meditate on my mortality and figure out what to give up for the next six weeks.

This Wednesday was the first Ash Wednesday when the ashes settled into my own fingerprints. When I heard my own voice over and over again utter the truth: ash-wednesday_tRemember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The steadfast love of God is forever. When I met my eyes with the eyes of children, teenagers, elderly, friends old and young, and recognized face to face our own frailty. When I was struck in a new way the preciousness and the beauty of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is different because throughout our singing and praying and scripture reading and listening we are talking about ourselves more than normal. And it’s not comfortable. Ash Wednesday is a day to honor, to acknowledge, even to celebrate our humanness. It is a celebration because we are released from any veil of independence or perfection. It is a day to celebrate that God did not create us to be perfect, that God did not create us to be independent, that God created us for God and God created us for one another.

We talk about our mortality in frank and honest ways. We sit in silence and we confess our frailty and our emptiness. It is a day to live into the reality of our brokenness and broken-heartedness.  It’s a day to celebrate death, and yet to rest in the grace of God. While we are dust, God’s love is forever.

I also like Ash Wednesday because it is one of the few days when we so clearly and fittingly speak in the second person. You are dust. To dust you will return. When we offer the bread and the cup to one another during the celebration of the Eucharist, we name the body and the blood; we name the elements. On this day we name one another. We stand close – close enough to see fully each other’s imperfections – wrinkles, sun spots, smudged concealer, out-of-place hairs – and we name one another: you are dust. We look one another in the eyes and recognize the fragility of life and yet the grace that embraces and saves us all.

And we turn around, and walk out the doors into the season of Lent. It feels to me the most liberating day and season of all. (Which sounds pretty counterintuitive with all the focus on giving up things, denying ourselves.) For forty days and six Sundays we are called to do nothing else but show up and be broken, weak, and humble humans. The only work we have to do is open our hands and our hearts to the eternal love of God.

Recently, a friend of mine shared with me the orthodox description for Lent – the season of bright sadness. What a perfect juxtaposition (the Orthodox are good at juxtaposition, at holy tension). We are human. We are broken. And yet it all points to the reality of Easter. The already-but-not-yet truth that we live in the truth of a God Who Resurrects, and yet a world saturated in brokenness.  Bright sadness, indeed. 

And when from death I’m free,
I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, by Louis Untermeyer

Shut out the light or let it filter throughImage
These frowning aisles as penitentially
As though it walked in sackcloth. Let it be
Laid at the feet of all that ever grew
Twisted and false, like this rococo shrine
Where cupids smirk from candy clouds and where
The Lord, with polished nails and perfumed hair,
Performs a parody of the divine.

The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm;
Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth
To find a lonelier and darker height.
The church grows dingy while the human swarm
Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth.
Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light.
 

a strange kind of grief.

February 9, 2012 introduced me to a new kind of grief. 

The grief of blurred memories; the grief of vague identity lost; the grief shared, and grief led.

I was teaching a rhetoric course – it was a laid-back day. We were discussing mostly current events, and claims, warrants, evidence found (or lacking) in various articles from The New York Times. The students would receive their first essays back, graded.  (It never ceases to surprise me, the way students always seem surprised by their grades, bad or good. The good writers still haven’t found the confidence in their abilities, and the not-as-good ones not quite grounded enough in reality to realize their own room for improvement.)

This particular semester I had two sections of the same class. The afternoon class had a much different spirit – perhaps it was as simple as they’d been awake more than 10 minutes by the time they saw me. I enjoyed my morning class; I loved my afternoon class. Though on February 9, I hadn’t quite gotten in a solid rhythm with any of my classes. It was still early in the semester.  So early, in fact, that on February 9, the one empty seat in the 12:30 section seemed an anomaly.  But not so unusual.  The absent student, to that point, had hung back in the back row, was reluctant to talk. It is not wrong to say he was one of the least prepared students, generally speaking.  He was pledging a fraternity.  I knew all this.  So his absence, on a day with an assignment due, did not seem so out of place.

Class ended – a bounce in my step as I could feel the positive rapport amongst the students, with me, building. It was Thursday. I was ready to pack up the assignments, and get a run in before the weekend started.  I was stopped cold when I got back to the office.

Questions came – was he in class? Had I heard from him? What kind of student did I know him to be? (No. No. And, um, wait. Why? What’s going on…)

Details seemed to trickle in.

But I felt like I could only hear with a fraction of my ears and my brain. I could absorb nothing.

A car was found a few miles from campus. (Not far, incidentally, from this tragedy.) It was completely incinerated. They were pretty sure the (only) person inside was this student.

After returning to my tiny office I stared at my computer screen, trying to find the news reports. Mostly questions, accompanied by horrific photos of the car. The walls seemed to close in. I didn’t want to be in the office anymore. I didn’t want to be on campus anymore.

I went home. I walked across the street to my friends’ house (my friends who, callously, unthoughtfully, were packing up to move the next week). I tried to explain what happened, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know enough to explain. I didn’t have words to explain.

I don’t remember feeling much of anything that night. If I felt anything at all, I felt fear. It seemed like some kind of untouchable, unseen darkness now hovered over my world. (To make this grief thoroughly personal.) As more details trickled in, as this became a news item (I turned off the news), everything started to sink in. The news reports ruled out foul play, but I never heard anyone publicly utter the s-word. Only in the empty, lonely, cavernous echoes in our own heads I suppose.

I wouldn’t see my students for 5 days – not until the following Tuesday.

I remember feeling incredibly distant and detached from them. It was a hollow feeling. I remember a sense of helplessness. I couldn’t help this student. And I wanted to help his classroom survivors. He died alone. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want my students to feel alone. I wanted to protect them.

This death came amidst a winter of tragedy. A winter of suicide. At my church we grieved as a community three persons for whom the demons and darkness of this world became too much to bear. The reality of darkness, and our own helplessness in the face of that, weighed heavy on me in those weeks.  And then, I remember, worrying, wondering, how I would return to my students? How would I be strong for them, knowing that I could not fix the world for them, knowing that I could not protect them from other people, from the difficulties of life, or even protect them from themselves?

I remember when the grief finally crumbled my reserves of strength.  During church, I finally had the freedom to be still. The tears threatened to rain down. Not until after worship – I walked up to my pastor and began to weep. And weep. For what, exactly? I still do not know.  Grieving for all of us, in some way.

We had to return to class. I remember feeling alternatively paralyzed and horrified that we could ever dream of carrying on following something like this, and blasé, wondering if I needed to acknowledge it at all. Both wholly unsatisfactory responses.

But return to class we did.  I remember how quiet the room was when I walked in (which was extremely unusual for this group of students). I read the words that I had prepared the day before. They were the only words that came to me – the only words I knew to say. And with those few words I felt I had exhausted my entire vocabulary.

Sometimes in the face of tragedy we can do nothing but sit and hold onto the heaviness in our laps. Other times all we can do is get up and move forward knowing that the best way to refuse death the final word is to turn and face the light. I don’t know which our class will need. My hunch is that we will need both—today and in the coming weeks.

And with the cruelest twist of fate that day we had to proceed with our class discussion. On Machiavelli. On Valentine’s Day. And proceed, those students did.  We carried each other that day, and for much of that semester.

I’ve hesitated to tell this story. A year has passed, and it still haunts me.  I haven’t wanted to tell a story that isn’t mine to tell. So little of what happened feels like it is mine to tell. But some part of it is mine to tell. That’s the holy truth of doing life together – is that parts of your story get wrapped up in everyone else’s.  And it’s messy, and blurry, and profoundly humbling. 

Fierce? Let’s talk fierce.

Let’s talk about Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé. My good friend Erin taught me (and some other friends) how to really dance to Beyoncé at dinner in the seminary cafeteria. Since her days as the anchor of Destiny’s Child (sorry Kelly & Michelle), she’s been a favorite of mine. And I have nothing but admiration for the lady who can snag Jay-Z.

destinys-child-600

Fierce.

Then came her halftime show.

Then came the response to her halftime show.

Even though I couldn’t hear the audio very well, her performance was stunning.

I abandoned a game of Uno Roboto at the church Super Bowl party to catch Beyoncé’s show (at first also hoping for a cameo by Jay Z, then, surprisingly relieved when it never came). I’m a sucker for a good halftime show – the mashups, the choreography, the “surprise” guests, the fireworks – and this was no different. And yet this was different.

I had a hard time putting my finger on why.

Then I read this post on Patheos, shared by a number of Facebook friends Monday morning.

And lots of other people have written about this. But I just need to riff on it a bit.

The Super Bowl is already sexist enough. Organizing church events – or even youth group specific events – centered on this sporting event runs counter to a lot of my idealistic ethical bars. But I suppose the allure of cocktail weenies, monkey bread, queso, hot wings, brownies, bacon explosion, cookies, salsa, etc., etc., has numbed my call to higher standards. Just drown out the sexism and violence with gluttony, that’s my tack.

The appropriate response to our own unease at seeing Beyoncé – a strong female performer – in less clothing than we would like, or at choreography than reminds us of (shhhh) sex – is not to lock her away, drape her in more layers of clothing – it is not to deny her sexuality at all. I think that the conversation is a good one, and it is a revealing one. Are we really okay with adults embracing their sexuality (Beyoncé is after all, an adult), or is any form of sexual expression a violation of our latent puritanical weak stomachs? The difference between an over-sexualized culture – think of any number of ads that run during any sporting event – and Beyoncé’s performance, is that her sexuality is clearly her sexuality. She owns her body, her strength, her voice – it is no one else’s but her own. Which is why, although I love Jay Z, I was glad he didn’t cameo. She doesn’t belong to him. She doesn’t need him on stage with her to control the stage, the arena, herself. Quite the opposite. And think of the message that gets communicated with most female performers who dance around with men – Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Britney Spears, etc., – they are dancing for the men, or they are play-acting some sort of sexualized dynamic where they control the men – through their sexuality. The women in this case are valuable only insofar as their sexuality can manipulate or subdue males.

So should Beyoncé’s performance set some kind of model we should show off to our daughters. Not necessarily. As my friend Jon pointed out on Facebook: “Beyoncé is not 3 years old; she is in her 30s, married, and a mother.” It’s a false dynamic on any level to hold up an adult human as a perfect role model for a child – especially a young child. There are lots of things adults do that children should not imitate, but that doesn’t make those things wrong. Just because we don’t want our young children imitating sexualized behavior (and this is not exclusive to choreography – though have you seen the kind of dance moves high school – or younger – dance teams perform? “Dance Moms,” anyone?) does not mean adults embracing sexuality as part of mature and appropriate adult identity is wrong. Jon went on to say this: “What should be emulated from Beyoncé, in general and among others, are her singing talent, her athleticism, or dancing talent, her choreography, and her song writing, along with all the hard work it took to be as good at those things as she is. Focusing simply on her body, the way she moves and the images it creates in our minds, is missing the point.”

I would also add to that, that to throw the burden of responsibility for how we respond to adult sexuality back on the individual (i.e. to blame Beyoncé because “she made me think dirty thoughts”) is just all kinds of twisted. What I wrote on my original Facebook post was this: “For her to show her body, move her body, own her body, does not necessarily turn her into a sex object. I appreciate Beyoncé because she so clearly owns her body, her curves, her sexuality and sensuality outside of any man’s claims on that. She cannot or should not…be held accountable for how men look at her. It’s the whole trouble with a culture that would rather tell young women not to get raped than to tell young boys not to rape or violate females.” And this same kind of motif gets played out over and over again.

In many ways it’s a good chunk of the reason young girls and young women make some of the questionable clothing choices they do: we as a culture have communicated to females that the primary – or perhaps only – source of our power is in our bodies, our sexuality. And not in how we claim that for ourselves and celebrate it as a piece of our whole identity, but in how we use our bodies, our sexuality, to manipulate, to woo, to seduce.

The whole thing is twisted.

So. Was Beyoncé’s halftime show some kind of apex of wholesome family entertainment? No. Of course not. But neither is professional football. Or most of the commercials that are as much part of our entertainment. We celebrate and embrace violence, hyper-masculinity, the civil religion of first downs and special teams, and then turn around and flip out because a woman knows how to move her hips. We laugh at commercials that play into the dumb-girl-who-doesn’t-know-football stereotype, and shrug off the bro-talk about babes and beer – all of that is innocent, right? (wrong.)

Did I feel a little odd watching the halftime show in the church fellowship hall surrounded by at least three other generations? Maybe. But if so, I should have also felt as odd for watching the whole thing at church, surrounded by at least three other generations.

One more video for good measure:

Familiarity Breeds Complacency – Sermon 3 February 2013

“Familiarity Breeds Complacency”

First Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kansas
3 February 2013
Luke 4.14-30; 1 Corinthians 13.1-13

god is love

“God is Love, Love, Love” Eric Smith, http://oldandnewproject.com/portfolio/god-is-love-love-love/

Familiarity breeds contempt.  Or so the saying goes.  But perhaps more accurately on a day with quite familiar and beloved scriptures – Jeremiah’s call story, Paul’s “Love Chapter,” – is that great familiarity often breeds complacency.  This is a truism Jesus faces in today’s Gospel story.

Jesus goes home.  Jesus returns to his homeland – to the tiny throwaway hill country town of Nazareth to start his ministry.

Why does Jesus start in Nazareth? What is going on here? Here we could rely on the platitude that we ‘can’t go home again’; anyone who has returned home after any time away knows the truth of these words – are we ever fully realized as adults in our childhood homes? It’s challenging at least, and impossible at worst. Jesus returns home, and by the end of the story he narrowly escapes the crowd’s wrath. This is a pretty popular story among seminarians – but this is not a story about how difficult it is to return to your home church to preach once you’ve studied exegesis and homiletics and all sorts of other things, prepared to enlighten and rattle the folks at home. (Though it is, also about that, I believe.)

Rather, this is a story about Jesus declaring and realizing his mission.  The Spirit, we hear, has descended upon him at his baptism, declaring Jesus God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased. The Spirit has followed him into the wilderness, sustaining him through temptation, hunger, and sleep deprivation. Through his wilderness exile, the Spirit has guided Jesus, and now the Spirit has empowered him in returning home to initiate his ministry.

The beginning of the passage reports on the gathered crowd – folks who remembered Jesus in diapers, his first word, his first attempts at carpentry, learning alongside his father – the folks who know the altogether and thoroughly human Jesus. The crowd is gathered in the temple for worship, and Jesus, invited to read from the scrolls of scripture, turns to a familiar passage in Isaiah, one that promises justice and freedom:

He reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

            because he has anointed me

                        to bring good news to the poor.

            He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

            and recovery of sight to the blind,

                        to let the oppressed go free,

            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then Jesus, rolls up the scroll, hands it back, and looks around the room, and meets the eyes of men and women who fussed at him, fed him, doted on him; he catches the gaze of peers, young men and women with whom he’d run and played pranks, and alongside whom he had learned about the religion of their ancestors – he looks these folks in the eye and places himself and his ministry at the center of Isaiah’s proclamation.

Jesus tells those gathered in the synagogue, “Today this scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.”  The crowd, hearing these words, were, Luke reports, “amazed.” They “spoke well of him,” looking at each other asking, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” You know those moments when a child grows up and starts to behave with responsibility and maturity, or when someone you’ve known since birth speaks with grace, intelligence and wisdom, and you can hardly believe that this is the same person? Sometimes it’s hard to believe. Often those folks at home can’t get past the days of your youth and seem not to be able to embrace fully your adult identity.  That could be part of what’s going on between Jesus and the worshippers in Nazareth.

We could also hear in this story a bit of provocation on Jesus’ part.

In the midst of their amazement, he jumps in with some assumptions about what they’ll say in response to his words, his identity, his ministry: “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ …Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” He seems to be telling them how they will respond before they’ve actually had a chance to respond. He goes on to compare himself to Elijah and Elisha, both prophets who had better news for those outside Israel, those outside their hometowns, than those closer to home.

Much like a politician, who returns home to begin a campaign, Jesus returns to Nazareth to initiate his ministry – his call to be the Messiah – his call to fulfill the words of Isaiah.

Likely most politicians aspire to a warmer welcome and response to their platforms than Jesus received.

Most politicians, though, show up to tell us what we want to hear – everything will be exponentially better, and we won’t have to try as hard or give up as much to achieve better results.

Jesus, though is telling people God’s own truth: that God is for the oppressed. That God’s m.o. is release from captivity, and good news for the impoverished.

Something clicks for the crowd between his homecoming and his elaboration on what it means for Jesus to fulfill the scriptures.  Maybe he doesn’t think they’ve actually listened – perhaps the message has gotten lost in the puffed up chests of the crowd’s pride at a hometown son made good. Amidst their pride, Jesus might be looking around asking, “But did any of you even hear what I said?”

Maybe it’s just gotten lost in the familiarity.  Whatever is going on here, the people turn on him, “le[ading] him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”  Jesus escapes, though; Luke reports that “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Luke doesn’t give us many details here about Jesus’ escape, so I prefer to think of this more like “The Princess Bride,” and Jesus responded, like Wesley, “Aaaaaaaaaaas Yoooooooou Wiiiiiiiish,” hurling himself down the hill, back through the wilderness and onward to continue his ministry. (It could have happened.)[1]

We turn to this passage today, along with a couple of other likely familiar passages, and perhaps, like some of the folks in the crowd, the message has been buried in the familiarity. Perhaps, familiarity has bred complacency.

We read the story in the Gospel and fancy ourselves one of Jesus’ nameless followers standing silently by, though offering definitive judgment on the crowd who rejects Jesus and his message.  Or, we fancy ourselves like Jesus, rejected among those who know us best. At worst, this story has been used to fuel latent or even explicit anti-Semitism as proof text for Christians superseding the Jews as God’s chosen.

What gets lost in the re-telling of the story, though is the response of a crowd to the message of well-known words. Jesus is not reading from an obscure, apocryphal text, nor is he telling them that their scripture is invalid or wrong.

He angers the crowd at least in part because he is telling them, in no uncertain terms, that God’s message is what it has been since at least the time of Isaiah, and Jesus has come to fulfill that message. He is saying that God really is for the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, the downtrodden.  That the fulfillment of the messianic promise, that the year of the Lord’s favor will be a fulfillment of the promise for good news, liberation – for filled stomachs, hands, and souls.

We, too, often turn to the Bible looking for comfort or reassurance and miss the ways that the scripture calls us to change, incites us to anger – if we are really listening to the proclamation from the prophets through Christ – on some level we ought to identify with the crowd’s response of fear and anger.

The Gospel is and ought to be thoroughly unsettling. These are not words fit for framed calligraphy or embroidered pillows.

Paul’s words that we read earlier are even more familiar to us; we likely recite them over and over with images of romantic twitterpation, forgetting the Corinthian ChurchLove-is-patient-245x300 to whom Paul addressed his letter. For much of this letter, Paul focuses on the toxic conflict that threatens to undermine this church. The Gospel has been lost in competition, ego, and forgetfulness about the church’s purpose. In the previous chapter, Paul elaborates on spiritual gifts and the integrity of all forms of gifts from the spirit – all have a place of importance in the body of Christ – you know how this goes. He follows this exhortation with poetic words about love.

After assuring the Corinthian Christians that all have spiritual gifts, and all are important, he goes on to say that the exercise of any of these gifts, apart from the exercise and attitude and reality of love amounts to noisy gongs or clanging cymbals – you know how it goes.

We can understand, speak well, posses all amount of faith, but devoid of love, we are devoid of everything. We have turned these words into special occasion scriptures for use in celebration of love in the context of marriage vows.  And that is lovely, it really is.

But Paul here is speaking of love’s even bigger embrace than two persons making vows of ‘for better and for worse.’ Paul’s words on love echo with the greater and all-encompassing reality of God’s presence – God is love. This is God’s kind of love – perfect, eternal, abiding – patient, kind, humble.

What we forget when we rely on Paul’s words as a riff on romantic love, is that he begins by acknowledging the sheer un-human quality of this kind of love. He is, of course, talking about agape love, God’s perfect love, which is not a feeling, not an emotion, but is, at its very core, “embodied;” it is “God’s love for humankind in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[2]

This love is not, and cannot be reduced to romance. It is the love of Jesus that confronts a hometown, it is the love of Jesus that speaks of release and liberation – it is, as pastor Lewis Galloway describes, “active, tough, resilient, and long-suffering.”[3]

What do we do, then, with these familiar passages, now, this Sunday, straddling that all-too-human space between the light of epiphany and the darkness of Lent?

In light of Luke’s story of Jesus’ declaration of his ministry, Paul’s words here demonstrate the “inclusive nature of God’s embrace.”[4] When the reality of God is one of good news, of liberation, that God’s own self is love – perfect, patient, eternally faithful, hope-full, abiding, and enduring – then we are called to live out God’s love in the pattern and example of Christ.

These passages ought to prompt us to question ourselves: What if – What if we declared, like Jesus, in the words of Isaiah, this will be the year of God’s favor – meaning the year of God’s good news, God’s liberation, God’s release?  What if – What if we acted on love – not trite, superficial, romantic, or mere feeling – but love that embraces, behaves, challenges, welcomes all?

On a day with such familiar words – the comforting words of Paul’s poetry on love, the familiar story of Jesus – the prophet without a home – how are we challenged to make the familiar strange again? The promise of today’s scriptures is that we, too, gifted by the Spirit, emboldened by God’s love, will do the things that Jesus promised and proclaimed – that Jesus initiated in his ministry as the Messiah. The promise of God’s Kingdom is that Jesus remains at work through us, in the work of “proclaiming, freeing, comforting, releasing.”[5]

The challenge is to take these familiar words and see them as calls to concrete actions – to comprehensive changes in how we live.

The Good News of God’s liberation is that it cannot be contained. It is inclusive and for all. No wonder the folks in Nazareth responded with hostility – God is supposed to be for us – to the exclusion of those not like us – whether race, gender, denomination, any of those dividing lines that separate us from them.  God is supposed to be comforting – to the exclusion of any challenge or call to change the way we live, the assumptions we have, the rules by which we play and live and work.

What Jesus declares is that all the lines and boundaries that separate us from them exist because we created them – not God. God’s release is for us – from our pettiness, shame and fear – and it is also a challenge for us – to release others from their own captivity – the captivity of cycles of despair, fear, poverty. Even more than proclaiming release from emotional and psychological oppression (which are – to be clear – real and present forms of oppression), Jesus proclaims that God’s release is also – and foremost – social and political: Theologian Letty Russell puts it this way: “The oppressed whom Jesus has come to set free are the crushed ones, the bruised of society; the nonpersons who have no room to breathe or live as human beings…”[6] If we are paying attention, if we are willing to hear the word anew, if we are willing to ask how we might take part in this good news, it ought to upset us on some level.

This is uncomfortable news, but it is good news. The promise of God, through these stories, is good news. It is troubling news, but it is good news. May we, as partners in God’s church, be agents of God’s love. May our love not be reduced to sentimentality, but, when called for, confront and provoke ourselves, our neighbors, our systems and structures, out of what is comfortable, out of complacency, into actions that embrace the stranger, the oppressed, the captive.

We sing that old song, “They’ll Know We are Christians, by Our Love.” May they also be troubled and transformed by our Love – by God’s love.


[1] If you’ve not seen The Princess Bride, (shame on you, really): here’s the clip.

[2] Lewis Galloway, Feasting on the Word, Year C., vol. 1, p. 304

[3] Galloway, p. 306.

[4] Peter Eaton, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol.1, p. 311.

[5] David Lose, “Three Questions and a Promise,” The Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreaching.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=663.

[6] Letty M. Russell, “Prophet Without Welcome,” Christian Century, 1992.