Archive for December, 2008

Luke 2:8-20 Christmas 2008

December 27, 2008

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Tonight I simply want to tell you three stories.  The first is a well-known story about a baby born about 2,000 years ago.  No doubt God chooses carefully where every baby will be born, so this baby’s birth puzzles us.  This baby was destined to bring God’s love into the world in a marvelous new way.  In fact, this baby was so close to God’s heart, that people later said of him: to see him is to see the human face of God.  So why would God arrange for this special baby to be born in a cattle shed?  Let’s try to get behind the image of our little creche scenes – so clean, so sweet-smelling and sanitary – and face the truth.  Jesus was born to humble parents in a squalid setting.  The sudden bellowing of a cow could well have blasted Jesus’ little new-born ears.  Whisps of straw surely poked his tender skin.  And his very first breath would have filled his tiny nose with the pungent smell of fresh manure.  Some start for the one who would be called the Son of God! (more…)


John 1:6-8, 19-28 The Secret Panel

December 15, 2008

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Today’s Gospel began this way.  “There was a man sent from God… as a witness.”  Why did Jesus need a witness?  Couldn’t he have just started off teaching and healing on his own?  Wouldn’t people have flocked to him just the same?  What was essential about John the Baptist?  And if John the Baptist’s role was essential to Jesus then, what about now?  Who plays that role  for us?  To begin answering these questions I’ll describe an experience that you may have shared. (more…)

Mark 1:1-8 Two Baptisms

December 8, 2008

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This past summer up at Byrdcliffe I sat in on a conversation. The five artists-in-residence had arrived and they were relaxing on the porch at the Villetta, having lunch with Jake Berthot, the painter who would serve as their mentor.  They peppered Jake with friendly but hard-hitting questions, and Jake explained how he works.  Starting with a blank canvas, he draws lines, dividing the canvas into geometric segments.  Then he begins to paint.  In time, the lines no longer show, yet he continues to lay on paint.  One of the artists-in-residence asked him if the lines imposed limitations on what he could do with his brush or the paint.  Not at all, was the answer.  In response to another question he said that he tries to paint, in a landscape, for instance, what you sense is there but cannot quite see – a rock, say, or a tree.  Someone who knows Berthot’s recent paintings might say they depict dark smoke moving in a forest just as dusk turns to night.  Dull?  Not at all!  His paintings teem with excitement and mystery and an eerie beauty.  But what has all this to do with the biblical text?  Let it serve as a background while we sort out a long-standing point of contention with the Christian church. (more…)

Mark 13:24-37 The Second Coming

December 1, 2008

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Today’s Gospel reading brings to our ears a major theme in the biblical symphony. I say biblical, because it is not confined to the New Testament, but it is heard in the Hebrew Bible as well. In fact, it can be heard in Islam. The theme is called apocalyptic, a Greek word, meaning something hidden that was uncovered or unveiled. This morning I want, first, to describe the general features of apocalyptic writing, then look at the specific example that today’s reading puts before us, called the Second Coming; and then ask the question what does it mean? The answer to that question amounts to a watershed, dividing Christians into two streams. It remains an open question whether both streams actually reach the ocean. (more…)