When I received this assigned text, I read the passage with a sinking heart. Oh mercy, I thought, it’s a ‘judgment’ text—full of a stubborn, idolatrous people and an angry, punishing God. With little interest, I stumbled through the references to burnt offerings, child sacrifice, and valleys with unfamiliar names. What could I possibly write about this?
For the next weeks, I procrastinated. Occasionally I’d read over the passage, hoping for a spark of inspiration. But the words seemed obscure and harsh each time, so I’d close the Bible with a shrug and go back to my daily busyness.
After a while, despite my scant attention, the words of this prophecy began to penetrate. Then I sheepishly realized I had been acting out the very fault the passage condemns.
At its heart, this text is about listening and not listening. God’s word delivered to the ancient Israelite refugees from Egypt (v 23) can equally be translated “Obey my voice” or “Hear my voice.” This is the sin of the people: they do not “incline their ear” (v 24) or “listen to [God], or pay attention” (v 26). Even as Jeremiah is called to speak to the people, he’s warned, “but they will not listen to you” (v 27). And such refusal to listen is the seed of the people’s fall into idolatry and destruction.
Amidst the strange and grating details, the passage offers us a straightforward call: Listen to God’s voice. But ah, that can be hard to do! Whether we are distracted or puzzled, overfull with our daily schedules or turned off by a tone that disturbs, listening for God’s voice challenges us to move beyond the easy, the familiar and the comfortable.
Today and this Lenten season, how can we tune our ears to that call?
Persistent God, help us listen to you, even and especially when you speak to us in the words and voices of those least easy for us to hear. Lead us to walk more fully in your way of justice and truth.
Sarah MacDonald, a member of First Mennonite Church of Iowa City, serves on Christian Peacemaking Teams in Latin America, and in the West Bank of Palestine.]]>
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he* lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead,* and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’
Matthew 28:1-10 (excerpt)
Archaeological evidence tells us that it was nearly four hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection before Christians even made a visual image of Christ crucified. Up until that time, he was always portrayed as the Living Christ, most frequently as the Good Shepherd. What captivated the religious imagination of the early church was not Jesus’ death; it was his resurrection. Everyone will die. Anyone could be tortured and executed, and many believers in the first three centuries were. Only Jesus rose from death and was seen to be alive. Without the resurrection, Jesus is only one more innocent victim, one more courageous martyr.
Protestants often criticize Roman Catholics and others for using the crucifix – the cross with the body of the dying Christ on it. The empty cross, we say, points to the resurrection. But the statement we make visually is often contradicted by sermons and songs that focus exclusively on the blood of Christ as though that alone is the means by which we are saved. But without the resurrection, Jesus is only another martyr.
Easter is the reason there is Christian faith, because “God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal” (A Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)).
The Risen Jesus says to the women at the tomb, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” For the disciples, Galilee is home; it is where their families are and where they made a living; it is their everyday world. That is where they will see the Risen Christ and come to know that for them, as for him, death will never again have the last word.
God of grace, you cause the sun to rise and chase away the shadows of death. Each day you promise resurrection, that we may be born again to new life and overcome all that would hurt or destroy. Fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may be alive again this day and everyday with the power and the peace of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
Cynthia M. Campbell is President of McCormick Theological Seminary.]]>
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
- Job 19:21-27
How better to understand suffering, brokenness, and loss — whether our own, or of others? Our culture offers an short-term optimism which prefers the quick fix, the rapid response, the immediate intervention. But what happens when there is no quick fix available –when we are broken beyond our knowledge or competence or resources? Those unable to achieve the quick fix are often driven into shadow places to suffer in invisibility and silence. Scripture challenges the easy optimism of the quick fix. Job’s quite public struggles present deeper truths, however unpopular: that suffering is real, that our friends can often confuse their security with divine favor, and that the way God walks with us in the midst of struggle and suffering is sometimes best known through silence, yearning, desire, … and hope. In the midst of a desolate place, with no quick fix available, where struggle and suffering and loss were beyond control, Job’s faithful yearning led him from a casual, cultural optimism to a deeper place of hope.
These weeks of Lent have called us to practices many of us had laid aside in our too busy lives. We have paused long enough to hear the call to prayer, the call to service, the call to wait on the Lord. Now this Great Vigil allows us to keep watch in the quiet hours seeking ways to move past a faltering optimism, toward a sustaining hope. Watch. Wait. Hope. “I know my Redeemer lives!… I myself will see him with my own eyes! How my heart yearns within me!”
O God, show us how your truth extends beyond our certitudes, how your mercy meets our brokenness, how your power breaks the power of death. Your truth is our hope. Teach us your truth.
Ken Sawyer teaches church history at McCormick Theological Seminary.]]>
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ – 1 Peter 1:13-16
As we consider the events of Good Friday, the words are overwhelming: You shall be holy, for I am holy. As we consider the Beloved, crucified on the political cross as he stood with those on the margins, we hear: You shall be holy, for I am holy. As we consider the compassionate and table-turning life that led to the cross, we hear: You shall be holy, for I am holy. Are we striving to be holy? And is this journey what it means to be holy?
Preparation. Discipline. The words indicate a regimen of training, creating space for this type of holy within our lives. We’ve been on this Lenten journey of preparation and discipline, and here is our end goal: holiness. It is not a comfortable holiness; it is not a holiness of soft, clean hands and angelic robes. It is a holiness of rough-hewn, scarred hands and splintering wood. Imagine the hands of an auto mechanic: crevices still showing grease, dirt and the calluses of hard work. Their image is that of Good Friday holiness.
We are called to a holiness deeply connected to the world, deeply connected to physicality, deeply connected to risk. We are called to be holy as the one who called us is holy. That’s quite a challenge. As we move forward in anticipation of our Hope, let us not sanitize the difficult sort of holiness to which we are called. May we remember the challenge of these words: You shall be holy, for I am holy – as I am holy.
Holy God, Holy Beloved, Holy Spirit – we give you thanks for your holiness revealed on this Good Friday. Give us the strength and the courage to be this sort of holy, and give us the push we need to step into more and more of this call. Amen.
Tracy Nolan is a second-year MDiv student at McCormick. She is particularly fond of dogs, good friends, and biking into the countryside.]]>
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32
Pay attention to Paul’s ambiguity – both for what it means and for what it doesn’t mean. This admonition to self-examine is the “requirement,” rather than a dirty laundry list of ethical mandates. It is a slippery passage resisting the grip of those who would hijack God’s hospitality and assign their own terms.
But there is one condition – and it is more exacting than anything we could devise, because it accomplishes the one thing at which we, left to our own devices, are most inclined to fail: self-examination (from which no one is exempt). “But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged,” Paul writes with the wisdom of one who has stood face to face with his own brokenness.
Whether you are guilty of much or guilty of little is not the question. Whatever you have done, whatever it is in the eyes of all or in the eyes of none but God, the requirement is the same: to examine oneself.
Let us admit our frustration and let us think about the nature of it. What are we to discern in this inward time? What, concretely, are our consciences to offer up to God before proceeding to our Lord’s Table? Is this not a kind of theological loophole through which we might escape? Why isn’t Paul specific?
In these questions lurks desire for a kind of security we are not intended to carry with us to the feast of bread and wine. We are not meant to peer over at our neighbor and see what it is that she has discovered in her heart. For in that moment, we forsake the solemn task of exploring our own.
God of these simple elements, bread and wine, train our eyes on our own hearts and lives so that you deem worthy the manner in which we partake of your gifts of grace. It is in Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Geoff Ashmun is Director of Public Relations at McCormick Theological Seminary.]]>
When was the last time you experienced the “point of no return”? It could have been during a marathon, in a difficult class that you didn’t drop during the permissible drop/add period, in a conversation that had taken a bad turn. Regardless, you suddenly realized that you were in too deep to turn back. That realization often coincides with the moment you’re considering giving up. But you’ve gone so far that turning back is no longer an option.You must follow through to the finish.
This passage in the Fourth Evangelist’s Gospel focuses on a moment when Jesus acknowledges that he is passing through the point of no return and he is troubled by that. He knows what he must do – he has taken on the task of coming to earth to save it and us through his suffering, death and resurrection. It ain’t easy, but there’s no turning back.
So he stars to tell the disciples what it really means to be a servant. It’s more than just saying you’re a Christian. It’s more than putting a Jesus fish on you back bumper. It’s even more than showing up at church on Sundays – though that certainly helps if you do it with an open heart and mind, and not simply as a duty.
Being a Christian means you will follow where he goes – it means you’ll be willing to die to yourselves to that you can live for others. It means that you will become a new community, reliant, not on yourself, but on God and the spirit of Jesus as made manifest in that community. That may mean making sacrifices and changes in your life. It may mean pushing through the fear that erupts each time we consider major changes. Following Jesus into new life will often require us to persevere through desert times and difficult stretches. It ain’t easy.
During this Lenten season, take some time to let go and explore what it might mean to die to your old self so that you can give new life and meaning to whatever situation you find yourself in. Let go of your fears, insecurities, frustrations — whatever may hold you imprisoned. Take time to pray and allow the glory of God to suffuse your life in new ways.
It ain’t easy, but the choice is yours — no turning back. Amen.
Holy God, you draw all people to yourself. Give us the faith and the endurance to stay with you on the journey that we might no longer walk in darkness, but become children of light. Amen
Rev. Dr. Christine B. Vogel, M.Div. ’96, is Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs]]>
- Psalm 25: 14-15 (excerpt) from The Book of Psalms, trans. by Robert Alter
Whether through our own insight or being confronted by another – we are often the most open to instruction when we are painfully aware of our own sin.
In Seeing the Psalms, William Brown reminds us that this psalmist pleads for instruction and remembers God’s past saving acts. This psalmist repents and awaits God’s moral instruction, confident of God’s continued care and protection. This image of being drawn from the net is poignant.
Lent provides time for thought-provoking promenades through memory lane. Opportunities to delve into: our proclivity toward sinful groaning and guilt, our desire to not experience shame and our resulting panicky insistence for instruction in God’s ways.
Again, I find myself wanting in the area of moral character. The sudden awareness of my guilt is evidenced in the immediate rush of blood, hot embarrassment and consequent plea for forgiveness. Is it amazing to you, as it is to me, how the body cannot hide guilt? Physiological reactions color me grateful to God for drawing me from the net, for God’s instruction … again and again.
Let us go forth with confidence and open hearts that God will provide salvation as well as offer to penetrate and reshape our moral character.
Loving God, thank you for your past guidance and for your future saving acts of kindness. Let all who hope in You be not ashamed. Amen.
Katie Miller is a fifth-year senior in the M. Div program at McCormick.]]>
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3: 12-14
So often, advertisements allure us with images of those who appear to have arrived: the guy rich enough to buy three of those cars with a bikini clad girl sprawled across the hood, the singer who is engaged to that actor whose face on a massive billboard by the train seems to have no wrinkles.
It’s easy to look at these snapshots in time and feel jealous in the moment – especially if you’re walking in the cold and having a bad hair day. We forget that attainment is an illusion that doesn’t last. That singer is getting wrinkles in a few years – even if plastic surgery seems to take them away, the change is only skin deep.
The change Christ offers is penetrating, profound and lasts for eternity. The catch is that it doesn’t happen in an instant – this whole becoming a new creation thing takes a while.
Advertising touts the appeal of consumerism – we feel of personal power when our money can buy something shiny, beautiful and sexy. For a moment, we experience aesthetic transfusion as we rev the engine of an exquisite automobile or stare at our transformed, shimmering face. We may have used money to buy our way to beautiful, but only lasts until a prettier face pulls up in a newer, shinier car.
God calls us to something so much more substantial. When the gains we made for ourselves have long faded, the work Christ has wrought within our hearts will remain.
In a land where we are constantly bombarded by images of the here and now, God reminds us that the intangible work of His kingdom is the only thing that will outlast this world.
Lord almighty, help us not to live our lives in vain. Make clamor of the present bow to the call of heaven as you draw us to yourself.
Alicia Leonardi writes for communications at McCormick. She’s learned that mascara that doesn’t run is really hard to remove.]]>
Today – with children all over the world- I want to wave palm branches and celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and into my life. I want to blot out the evil progression of “Holy” Week that I know is inevitable, the all too quick transition from the crowd’s “Hosannas!” into the horrific cries of “Crucify him!” And I wonder again, why did the church move from calling this day Palm Sunday to Palm/Passion Sunday anyway?
A cynic I know said that it’s because too many Christians have stopped worshipping on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – moving directly from “palm-waving to resurrection. They skip those pesky bits that might cause them to recognize their part in Jesus’ suffering and death.” “Well,” I argued, somewhat weakly, “People are busy these days with work and family responsibilities . . . .” But ironically, there was no passion in my argument. Are any of us really too busy to walk with Jesus for just a few short days? Too busy to be amazed when instead of riding into Jerusalem on a white stallion as a mighty warrior, our King and Servant Savior, came on a humble donkey, thus fulfilling one of Zechariah’s many prophecies about him?
Am I naïve to believe we are ready to walk this troubling path, again? I don’t think so. We are, after all, “prisoners of hope.” Not all of Zechariah’s prophecies have come to pass, yet we still believe that what we hope for has been promised by the One in whom we trust. So we walk, with fear and trembling, alongside the donkey today – and later this week among the spitting, jeering mob. We are prisoners of hope, living imperfectly in a still-imperfect world. But just for today, we run with the children and we lift our branches.
Holy God, help us to come to you this day as little children, believing and rejoicing. For we know the times that are coming. And we are ashamed to confess that we sometimes lose ourselves amongst the crowd.
Grayson Van Camp is an ordained PCUSA minister of Word and Sacrament who graduated from McCormick in 1992. She currently serves as McCormick’s Director of Alumni/ae Relations.]]>
Sundays are her busiest day, getting there early to make sure all the church school rooms are ready. Then there is the last minute preparation for the Children’s Time in worship. The time is coming for parents and kids of all ages to arrive. She is there and ready. Some run, some walk, some are carried in the arms of their parents and she knows them by name. Some children stop to greet her and she takes them by the hand and walks with them to their room.
She sees a new child with his mother, observes him a bit and walks over to meet them. “What is his story” she asks. The mother tells her that her son has some special needs because of his different learning abilities. He will need a buddy to help him in his church school class since his motor skills are lagging a bit behind his cognitive skills. She replies, “That’s not a problem, we can do that.”
The mother smiles and remembers another church where her son was considered a disruption. The mother wanted was a church home where she and her family could learn and worship and serve – a place where God’s love would welcome all of them as a family. All and everything she wanted was a place where God’s inclusive love would surround her son. She knew that in this surrounding, others would learn about God: how God’s love is in the face and the hands of all people and most especially with those who learn, look and act differently than we do.
It was her busiest day at church. The time was coming for church school to begin. She welcomed the new parent to their new church home and the three of them walked to his class.
The time is coming……. I will make a new covenant…… they will all know me.
Thank you God for writing your love on our hearts so we remember to see you in the faces of others. Amen.
Lib Caldwell is Associate Dean for Advising and Formation and the Harold Blake Walker Professor of Pastoral Theology]]>