January 15, 2020

As I was closing my 33-year career as a member of the Perkins School of Theology faculty, there was an persistent conversation in many churches and their agencies centered around the topic of leadership. What the contemporary church lacked was leaders, we in the seminary were told, and therefore we were urged to take much more seriously our task in forming genuine leaders for the 21st century church. We responded to this summons by creating a Center for Religious Leadership… Read more

January 14, 2020

The text for today is absolutely replete with Mark’s characteristic stylistic gems, while summarizing his claims about Jesus and moving the plot of the gospel speedily along. This story is told directly after the disciples have asked our central question once again: “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him” (Mark 4:41)? Wind and sea may obey this Jesus, but few if any of the humans in the story ever will, at least will obey him to… Read more

January 9, 2020

Some 18 months ago, I set out to skewer Donald Trump by comparing his behavior to various biblical characters. These essays varied from moderately amusing to rather too vicious. I finally ended the series, after 15 essays or so, when I determined that my assaults on the current president were in the end counterproductive to my own soul. To focus my wrath so laser-like on Trump was to descend to his own behavior; surely I did not wish to become… Read more

January 8, 2020

There is something distinctly hilarious about this portion of the Gospel of Mark. No, the parables found here are not in themselves funny ones, though they are certainly enigmatic. What is funny is the relationship Jesus has to the use of parables, and his apparent conviction that while his common listeners are very unlikely to understand what he is talking about, his disciples, his inner core of followers, will surely be on board with what Mark calls “the secret (literally… Read more

January 7, 2020

I am currently reading an interesting book, entitled Doubt: A History, by Jennifer Michael Hecht, 2003. In a brief comment I found from the author, she said she was writing a history of atheism, but her publisher decided that such a title would limit the book to religious doubts only, and they had something broader in mind. Nevertheless, what Hecht has produced in fact is a history of atheism, beginning with ancient Greece, moving to the Bible, to various eastern… Read more

January 3, 2020

A significant challenge of the Narrative Lectionary is to decide just what portions of the rather long pericopes to discuss as one approaches the tasks of preaching and teaching. The goal of this list of texts is to provide a clear sense of the narrative movements represented in the chosen material. The Gospel of Mark is a parade example of a text that demonstrates obvious plotted movement, and lends itself beautifully to a narrative approach. Yet, it must be admitted… Read more

December 26, 2019

I have always been deeply perplexed by the Common Lectionary’s choice of Ecclesiastes 3 for the Sunday nearest the first of the New Year. My perplexity is the direct result of the deep perplexity of the text itself. What on earth—or elsewhere—is the author attempting to suggest in this now quite famous poem? I am strongly convinced that what attracts the lectionary collectors to it has more to do with how the poem has been used in popular culture than… Read more

December 23, 2019

I mentioned some weeks ago that I was in the process of cataract surgery on my eyes. This, of course, is one of the gifts of old age, the gift that keeps on giving. I can now happily report that the surgical portion of the process is over, and was quite successful. I, after over 60 years of being the very definition of near-sightedness, (i.e. able to read anything without glasses, but unable to see anything clearly past five inches… Read more

December 16, 2019

The story of Jesus according to Mark accelerates its pace, as Jesus and his first four followers head first to Capernaum and its synagogue where Jesus proceeds to teach. Presumably, his teaching consists of the summary Mark offered at 1:15 that it is no longer necessary to wait for the coming of God’s rule in the world, since it has now drawn near, and as a result, all must now turn in a completely different direction and believe in the… Read more

December 10, 2019

Preachers and teachers need poetry. I do not mean by poetry the insides of greeting cards or the doggerel of the most popular hit tune—though certain hip-hop hits can be instructive and useful as cultural artifacts. What I do mean is poetry that enlivens, challenges, puzzles, and generally offers language that surprises, shocks, and thrills the ear. The preacher’s basic tools are words, and poets major in words, their power and their wonder. Back in my formal teaching days, I… Read more

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