Trusting in the Wings (Sermon)

HERE is the audio of the sermon “Trusting in the Wings” (Psalm 61) that I preached for Trinity Chapel on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.


Greek Manuscripts, Mark 1 and Nomina Sacra

The Suffering Pastor

No thanks, Matthew Mason.  I don’t want to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col. 1:24).  I want my best life now. (Crying like a baby)

Er…I guess actually I don’t.  What I really want is to be conformed to Christ.  To follow Him in His life here and now.  To serve Him and His Church faithfully with His all surpassing love that does not look away from suffering, but embraces it with hands and feet scarred, with head beaten and bloodied, with the wounds of a back bearing the world’s rejection.  Make me like you Jesus…even though it will (and must) hurt.

[originally blogged June 19, 2012 at]

Please Don’t Prune Me!

Christ the True Vine (Greek Icon 16th C.)
Christ the True Vine (16th C. Greek Icon)

I heard a good message today from John 15:1-11:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. (CEB)

Essentially it was preached as I have preached this text myself: we must allow God to prune us that we might be more fruitful. However, I was struck today by the following thought: What if this is NOT about personal piety, but about communal life?

Here’s what I mean: Such texts seem readily enough at hand to describe the biblical notion of God purifying for Himself a people. He indeed is sanctifying us through and through as individual members of His Church. However, this text seems more intent on the notion of cleansing the community of all unfruitful members. This community that is God’s vineyard finds itself rooted in Jesus as “the True Vine”. All who will not abide in him are cut off and will be cast out.

Instead of this text being about how our God sanctifies individuals, it appears instead to be about how God creates His community, His people as a people. Israel of the flesh would be excised if they would not obey the commands of God and His Son. That is their abiding: to trust in Jesus as Messiah and as Lord. Any claims to belonging to that community apart from remaining in Jesus would lead to death and removal.

Further the community of those who abide in Jesus will have joy fulfilled and receive what they ask in his name. He will be the center of all existence for this community. Their very being is established in him and this because God will cut off all that is not to be found in Jesus.

While I still think there are notions of personal piety entailed (“You are already trimmed”), I think this still has community intent given those who had left Jesus in John 6 over his words about eating flesh and drinking his blood and then later by Judas at the supper in John 13. They had been pruned. Who would remain?

What do you think? Is this a faithful reading of the text? Has our personal pietistic reading hampered our ability to hear this text for its congregational (community) intent and force?

Who Was Joseph’s Father?

JosephI was asked today about the seeming disparity between the genealogy of Matthew and Luke, both of whom provide a different father’s name for Joseph the (supposed) father of Jesus: Jacob (Matthew 1.16) and Heli (Luke 3.23).

There are two basic proposals:

1) That both genealogies refer to Joseph, with Matthew’s account intended for Jesus place as heir to the throne of David and Luke’s account intended for the actual biological lineage of Joseph.

2) Matthew is recording Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is recording Mary’s. This is supported by numerous early Fathers: Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr.

It has been suggested (in support of the second proposal) that Mary’s genealogy is given under the name Joseph (by Luke) because (A) women were not official heads in the genealogical records of the ancient world, though they could be mentioned (such as in Matthew) it was always in connection to a husband/father, and (B) that perhaps Mary was an only child (speculation, I know) and would be the family inheritor whose husband is then adopted as the heir for her. Under the second explanation it is usually pointed out that this would make Jesus the heir of David (and Abraham) by both adoption (through Joseph) and by birth (through Mary).

What are your thoughts?

Preaching Jesus’ Parables

Sound advice on preaching/teaching the parables of Jesus. 🙂

Concrete Theology

Jesus Parables

Below are 10 rules on preaching Jesus’ parables that I found written over Faith and Theology, a blog by Benjamin Myers, whom I do not know (but just came across he blog). So I take zero credit for them but find them to be enlightening, funny and quite helpful. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

Rule #1: Don’t assume that God is necessarily one of the characters in the parable.

Rule #2: Don’t assume that the parable is trying to tell you how to improve your life.

Rule #3: Don’t assume that you’re the goodie in the story (and that other people are the baddies).

Rule #4: If you can explain the whole parable without mentioning the words “kingdom of God,” you’re probably doing it wrong.

Rule #5: If it ends up having anything to do with going to heaven when we die, you’re probably doing it wrong


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I Can Almost See Jesus

BenHur2I recently bought the blue-ray edition of Ben-Hur (1959) and we had a family movie night last night enjoying it. One thing, however, kept coming up. Cambria (8) kept commenting how badly she wanted to see Jesus’ face. If you have ever watched the film you will know that you NEVER directly see his face (or hear his voice).

We watch as shepherds and wise men arrive, but we never quite get a glimpse of the baby Jesus. We see him from a distance walking the countryside of Galilee. We hear about him from a neighbor that is bothered enough to confront Joseph about his son not working sufficiently as a carpenter. We get a peek from over his shoulder as he gives a drink of water to the recently enslaved Judah ben Hur and then face down a Roman centurion. We hear some of his teachings, acts and sayings in the mouths of others. We follow behind him on a hillside while thousands wait upon him attentively. He is hidden behind a Roman cross as he traverses the Via Dolorosa and as Judah takes opportunity to try to assist Jesus in carrying the cross. We even scan the onlooking crowds from behind him as he hangs on the cross and Judah looks on. Even his last words are only heard in the voice of Judah ben Hur. Not a glimpse of his face and no sound of his voice.

This seemed to particularly disturb Cambria (though my other children were also bothered). She wanted to “see” (and hear) Jesus. But that is not the story of Ben-Hur. It is entirely an oblique story of Jesus. One in which a faithful affluent Jew suffers the evils of empire and broken friendship, is miraculously preserved and restored, only to discover life is more than all of this. Life is found in the man he encounters only obliquely, yet who transforms his entire world. And this is our story. We do not (yet) see him or hear his voice directly. Now, we see in part and hear in part. We hear his voice in the voice of others. We see him only in passing even as we seek the more intently to gaze on him. We see his hands at work, we see the lives of others changed. We hear his words repeated by others. But we do not yet see him face to face.

And so it is with this wonderful classic film adaptation of Lew Wallace‘s novel which is rather fittingly subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” because ultimately the story of Ben-Hur is not really about him, but about Jesus.

And, from my perspective, this is the way our stories of redemption flow. Until that day when we will know him fully even as he knows us…