a problem | Mark 1:9-15

And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

Mark remembers the Temptation of Jesus in shorthand. He leaves off the back-and-forth work of conversation between Jesus and Satan — leaves off any mention of stones into bread or jumping from high places or ruling the world. He remembers instead how deeply Jesus must have relied on angels in his temptations.

Angels are a problem for us. We seldom think of them at all, and when we do, we often get it wrong. Popular culture imagines they have sweet cherubic faces, as if they are babies. Or children. They aren’t.

Angels are a problem for us because a lot of people believe death makes angels of us all. Even preachers sometimes speak of the dead, especially when they are too young to have died, as if they’d become angels. They haven’t.

We are not angels, and never will be. Not even children are angels.  Read more

immediacy | Mark 1:29-39

Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.

Our gospel comes as it always does in English translation, and today that means it comes Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 2.15.19 PMwith a certain emphasis. Or de-emphasis. For instance, our reading should begin with the word immediately (the best one-word translation of the original Greek εὐθὺς) and from there should continue to tell us how once Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew, the disciples  immediately told him that Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and how when “Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, the fever immediately left her.”

By avoiding the inelegant use of immediately three times in a three-sentence story, our translation seems to be trying to slow the story down. An understandable effort. Mark, after all, has the quickest first step of all four evangelists. He’s always moving at break-neck pace to tell you about the immediacy of Jesus. It’s how he lands you full speed ahead on the road to Jerusalem following Jesus.

The word immediately shows up five times in the Gospel according to Matthew, three times in the Gospel of John, only once in the Gospel of Luke, and a whole whopping forty-one times in the Gospel according to Mark. Immediacy is what Mark’s after. And yet in this reading today there lives another kind of immediacy: the face-to-face immediacy of Jesus coming into the room of Simon’s mother-in-law, taking her by the hand, and lifting her up.

Though the miracle he performs is largely beyond us, he begins with something well within our reach: like him, we can hold the fevered hand of an ailing woman. Notably, Mark doesn’t give us a clue about what Jesus may or may not have said to her. It’s as if what he needed most were his hands and his presence. I’m guessing many of you have been there in that same immediacy. In fact, I know you have: bedside before someone in need of your hand, in need of you lifting them up. Read more

Stumbling love | 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Personal freedom is a gift we all enjoy. For instance, right now Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 4.15.55 PMyou are free to say what you feel. Free to do what you want. Free to get up and walk out. The Corinthians are also free in Paul’s letter today: free to eat meat, even meat sacrificed to gods they don’t believe in, gods they know to be idols. They are free to eat that same meat in the midst of those who cannot or will not eat it, who believe it’s wrong to eat it. They are free to offend those people.

Paul understands freedom.  And is at pains to name it.

It’s not the reach of freedom he challenges, though. What he challenges is the reach of love: our practice of it, whether it’s big enough to understand people who behave differently than we do, like people who think it’s wrong to eat meat sacrificed to gods because for them it carries hurtful force.

You could decide the meat-eating Corinthians were aiming to be free from puritanical know-it-alls, from the sort of people who are always policing the behavior of others: what they eat and drink, how they dress, what they watch, who they hang out with. But that’s not what Paul’s after. He’s not affirming their capacity to return the favor, nor lifting up their freedom to judge those who judge them. No, what he’s after is their love, whether it’s big enough to love people they don’t understand. Read more

One in Christ | Galatians 3:23-28

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

We remember today Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman ordained to the priesthood in florencelitim-oi-revdrellenfrancispoissonosh-458the Anglican Communion. January 25th marks the day she was ordained to the priesthood in 1944, in the urgency of war when there weren’t enough priests to go round in Macao, a province of Hong Kong. She was already a deacon to her community.

We remember her today on the Feast of St. Paul’s Conversion. You see, Li Tim-Oi was ordained on that particular feast, which is why the Church Calendar walked her back a day, to January 24th, in order to remember Paul’s Conversion. His conversion has primal and necessary weight for us, as it did for her. That primal weight is found in those holy words we heard just now from his letter to the Galatians. There we meet Paul’s radicalism, his complete embrace of Christ’s love. Read more