The Judgment of Mercy

The story begins with the disciples speculating theologically on who is to blame for a certain man being born blind; they are convinced God is punishing him. Jesus refuses this interpretation and heals the blind man…an act that “divides” the unstable community; he robs them of their scapegoat. Blinded by their own dim judgment, and in an effort to preserve the status quo, the community “drives out” the healed man from their midst.

Jesus follows the exile to the margins where the two of them establish the possibility of a new community, one founded upon mercy, not the blind guide of sacrifice. This is the “judgment” for which Jesus came into the world-the judgment of mercy.

Why are you talking to me?

This is what I thirst for-bold proclamation that Jesus’ interaction with those who are marginalized, including women, is on the front edge of God’s Kingdom work. Worshiping God in Spirit and in truth includes telling the whole truth about a God whose conversations begin in the margins. Jesus empowered a Samaritan Woman to do this “telling” of the Good News.

The Transfiguration of a Skinny Geedy

 
 
4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Matthew 17:1-9

 
Geedy was just one word in the neighborhood’s descriptive lexicon for crack cocaine addicts. Sometimes called fiends, geezers, crack heads, or traps, crack addicts once dominated American’s blighted urban landscapes, representing a black, brown, and tan urban plague long before opioid addiction became a more respectable white crisis in healthcare.
 
As for me, I stood solidly situated like Nicodemus in my understanding of how life’s laws interacted with drug addiction. I held the firm and sincere conviction that such character flaws were remedied by exposure to the gospel truth of God’s free gift of salvation, confession of sin, and turning in repentance to a new life of faith. This was my message to the neighborhood crack addicts, a solid approach to redemption-orthodoxy as exact as algebra. Then I encountered a tall, skinny geedy.
 
I never got his name and unlike the usual stream of addicts and alcoholics that normally hit me up for spare change, I’ve only seen him once, on a balmy summer South Camden afternoon…

Wilderness Wander – Setting out from where you are

 
 
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:1-11

 
After an encounter with the shadowlands of Ash Wednesday two days ago, we now sit silently in front of an opened curtain revealing the five-week theater that is the Valley of Lent. As is so often the case, the Gospel narrative for the first Sunday of Lent is that of the desert temptation.
 
Each of the synoptic Gospels signals the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry against the backdrop of an unnamed Middle Eastern desert. In biblical parlance, the desert is that place in Scripture where we go to figure out who is who and what is real. It is the place where souls are revealed.
 
Imagine Jesus after a long fast and a lonely walk in the desert. He sees a barren landscape, a wasteland-no gardens, or streams, no milk or honey, only rocks and sand and the occasional desert fox. The scenery matches his interior. The land is as empty as his stomach.
 
The introduction to the Lenten season that we received on Ash Wednesday culminated with the exhortations and questions that today, in the desert, animate our journey forward:
 
“Join me now in the wilderness. Taste now only dust. Learn with me what only hunger can teach. Pay attention to the empty regions you have busied yourself to…

Geography of Grace interior (SP portion)

Geography of Grace interior (SP portion)

Don’t Speak Until You’re Spoken To*

 
So why does Jesus tell his disciples to remain quiet until they meet him in the resurrection? Here’s my guess. Until we hear from the Crucified One we, like Moses, are only half-converted to the love of God. Puffed up with vision of grandeur, the disciples descend into the chaos below. Very soon, their hearts will burn hot with anger, convinced their righteous indignation is from God. This mess will have them scaling another mountain. On that mountain, they will witness original speech from God that not even Moses or Elijah fully heard. They will hear the heart of the Crucified One say to his murderers, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” “

Luke 23:34

 
After the brightly lit meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, where Jesus is transfigured, he orders the disciples not to say a word about this until after he is raised from the dead. What an odd command. Why are they free to speak after the resurrection but not before?
 
This week’s text calls to mind Moses’ meeting with God on the mountain. Remember that? Moses ascended the mountain to speak with God. He came down with the 10 Commandments. Upon his return all hell had broken loose. There was the “noise of war in the camp” (Ex. 32:17). Chaos had gripped the community and they had turned to the golden calf. “Moses’ anger burned hot” (Ex. 32:19)….

Becoming Perfectly Human

 

48“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:38-48

 
I use to think that the Sermon on the Mount was easy and beautiful. I use to think, “yeah Jesus, tell ’em what they are missing.” The Sermon on the Mount was clear and way better than the law. Plain language. No questions. When I learned that Jesus was actually the fulfillment of the law, it made so much sense. The law was not just words; it was Jesus. His life is the concrete picture of what God intended. Let me get my WWJD bracelet right now.
 
Well, I’ve realized the Sermon on the Mount, in spite of its beauty, is no picnic. It’s not easy. In fact, Jesus is calling us to account. He’s telling us that these teachings were actually going to do something the law was incapable of doing-bringing humanity into the picture. Jesus, in the flesh, was going to humanize the law; he would put flesh on it.
 
When I took my ordination exams, one of the questions was about the depravity of humanity. I will admit, that is still a hard one for me. Are we depraved? Perhaps so-but the depravity isn’t humanity per se…it’s our version of humanity. We’ve got the wrong picture.
 
Humanity is actually beautiful when understood in the light of Jesus-God becoming flesh to show us the power of love and humility….

A Happy Baptism

Denise stood nervously at the edge of the deep end of the Herman’s scandalous inground pool. I saw her out of the corner of my left eye, never imagining her plans.

Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

Matthew 5:13-20

This past Sunday morning I attended a unique worship service with some friends. It was called “Street Church;” all the parishioners are homeless youth from a particular area of Guatemala City.

Street Church is coordinated by a ministry called Sigo Vivo, founded by Pastor Rudy Hernandez, his wife Tatiana and their teenage daughters. Rudy pastored an established church in the neighborhood for 16 years before they “let him go;” the leaders of the congregation were not happy about the presence of street youth attending services, using their bathrooms, receiving medical care from Tatiana (a family physician), and eating on the premises.

As part of their ministry, the Hernandez family and street youth now meet every Saturday and Sunday in a park down the street from their previous church. Ironically, the pastor’s former parishioners pass by on the way to their own sequestered service every Sunday.

As I sit with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-20, which immediately follow the listing of the Beatitudes, I can imagine Jesus having the Hernandez family and their young friends in mind. Church on the Street was a beautiful expression of the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The homeless youth led the worship music and the pastor’s daughter, Taty, preached. The young people repeatedly and politely raised their hands peppering Taty with questions, giving testimony by making application of the text…

The Inauguration

 
2“Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…’”

Mathew 5:1-12

 
We are told that the three most important words in real estate are: Location! Location! Location! I don’t think God got that memo when, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood,” (John 1:14).
 
When God goes looking for a home, God does not pick the high rent district of humanity. God moves into what most of the world considered a cursed ghetto in the backwaters of the Roman Empire.
 
If the Incarnation means anything it is about the relocation of God’s blessing from “up there” to “down here.” It’s God’s Yes and Amen to this world. It is a blessing from below, in the most unexpected way-in and among that which we call cursed. This always comes as a shock to us.
 
In this week’s text, Jesus is doing a riff on the Incarnation. He is peering inside the reality of God’s Kingdom and how it works. He is teaching that God’s blessing is not where we think it is. The ones that we see as cursed turn out to be the ones on whom God’s favor rests. Is this because the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry are more deserving than the rest of us? Not at all! God’s…