Something more about Mary
2008-04-28 by Michael Usey

There is a Greek Orthodox Church a quarter of a mile away from my home named Dormition of the Theotokos. Dormition of course coming from the same Latin root as dormitory, a place to sleep, means “falling asleep,” hence as euphemism for death. Theotokos is, as most of you know, the wonderful term meaning “God-bearer,” the Orthodox honorific title for Mary. The church’s name, Dormition of the Theotokos means, the church of Mary falling asleep, or Mary’s Death church. While it’s a fine congregation, it may not be the name most church growth specialists would recommend (“Things are really hoppin’ this Easter at Mary’s Death church!” Or “You belong in Mary’s Death Church.”). However, I don’t think Mary’s death is not the best thing about her.

We preachers have not always known what to do with Mary, when we have thought about her at all. The text is this week gives us an excellent entry into the best thing about Mary. As a teenager, perhaps as young as 12 years old, she receives Gabriel’s incredible message. She bears the scorn of an unmarried pregnancy, and the whispers about whom Jesus’ father might be. Mary looks for him when he was lost at the temple, and takes note of his smart retort to Joseph when they find him; she prompts him at the wedding at Cana despite his protests. She is there at the cross, and her grief is our pieta.


But the best and last we know about Mary, the mother of Jesus, is that she becomes his disciple. The highest and best thing we can say about Mary is not that she gave birth and nurture to the messiah, but that she eventually came to understand that her son was the Christ, and chose to follow him (Acts 1.14). At one point in Mark’s story of Jesus, Mary and his brother are there, outside of the house in which Jesus is preaching, in order to take him home, presumably because they thought he was a few clowns short of a circus. But she (and his brothers) overcame her questions and became his follower. The best thing about Mary is that she becomes a follower of her son, the Christ. Not just Theotokos, but—even better—Theodoulos, God’s servant.

I Can See My House From Here
2008-04-28 by Michael Usey

Acts 1.6-14 is the first reading for Easter 7A. Not that anyone cares, but I am opposed to the RCL’s first readings in the season of Easter, since all of the Hebrew Bible lessons drop out (excepting the Psalms) and are replaced with lessons from Acts. This put the preacher in the untenable position of preaching from Acts during the Sundays of Easter, then having to circle back around to Acts 2 for Pentecost. It may work in some movies—Pulp Fiction and Memento come to mind in which the viewer does not know the beginning until the end. But it’s difficult to launch into Acts for seven weeks, then return to the beginning, to the supernova of the spirit than births the young church with a fiery spirit. It is this beginning, Pentecost, that makes sense of why these bumbling disciples finally are changed into persons of power, authority and insight.

Also, since the Hebrew Bible (in the Septuagint translation) was the Bible of the early church, it doesn’t make good sense to me that Old Testament readings would be dropped during the season devoted to Christ's resurrection. St. Luke would have certainly been against it, since one of his main purposes in writing was to show how what God was doing in Jesus was according to God’s purposes and congruent with what God had done before in Jewish history. So Jesus uses the (OT) scriptures to show the disciples on the way to Emmaus that it was necessary (Greek dei) for it all to come down that way (Luke 24.26).

That being said, the only place during Easter in which the first reading makes sense is the Sunday before Pentecost, Ascension Sunday, when we see the disciples pre-spirit. However, the reading doesn’t go far enough: for me the thought-unit runs 1.6-26, Jesus’ promise, and the disciples’ impatience. [Acts 1.15-26 is the reading for Easter 7B, btw.]

I say this because I think that one of Luke's main purposes in Acts is to show that Paul is the replacement disciple for Judas. An apostle is one chosen by Jesus himself. The risen Jesus Christ himself will choose Saul (aka Paul) in Acts 9. But in his final words to his disciples, Jesus tells them that they will receive power when the spirit comes upon them. Jesus says to them, in effect, “A power is coming. Wait for it.” But they do not wait. Before the arrival of the spirit in them, the eleven take it upon themselves to replace Judas. This they do by praying and casting lots—divination by shooting craps. They select Matthias, and he is never heard from again, not in scripture and almost never in church tradition. Luke subtly points to this truth when he says that “Matthias was added to the eleven apostles,” instead of saying something like “he became one of the twelve.” Even after his bingo election, he is still not an apostle. Like Voldermort at the end of Book 7, the disciples still don’t get it, and they will not until the spirit burns within them.


Guest preaching blogger: Michael Usey
2008-04-28 by CJ Teets

Michael Usey is senior pastor of College Park: An American Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC. Born in Boston and raised in San Diego, he much prefers the Chargers over the Patriots, the Padres (of course) over the Red Sox. He holds degrees from Baylor University, Southern Seminary in Louisville (before the fall), Emory University, and Baptist Theological in Richmond; none of these degrees were purchased online. He has 3 children: Nathan, Zachariah, and Hannah, all named for holy troublemakers of the Hebrew Bible, and who live up to their names. His wife, Ann, makes him look good and teaches English at the Quaker High School of New Garden Friends. His church loves God most of the time, works diligently at loving people, and tries hard not to embarrass Jesus. The best quality about Michael, his friends say, is that he has really good friends.

Caesar and Ascension
2008-04-28 by Tom Steagald

Perhaps I am the only one annoyed by the National Day of Prayer. Don't get me wrong: I am all in favor of prayer. It is just that I don't need Caesar telling me when to do it... and maybe Caesar isn't telling me to do it but it feels that way and so we get this unholy mixing of God and Country, syncretism and civil religion, and my folk (one of them) is really, really bent with me that I am not having a special service, etc.

Meanwhile, Thursday May 1 is also Ascension Day and I would bet (if our tradition allowed betting) that if my people take note of either "celebration" it will be the NDP and not AD. What is wrong with this picture?

I am thinking of setting up the distinction between the secular "holidays" and the liturgical "Holy Days" on Sunday. It is Eucharist for us, a time when we taste and see that the Lord is good, and as an appetizer the truth that the secular calendar is a celebration of "us" one way or the other while the liturgical calendar celebrates God. This may seem patently obvious, but I cannot iterate how many times I have been fussed at over the years for not giving due justice to the scouts, the veterans, even--and I am not making this up--the submarine crews who fought in WW II--but I do not know that I have ever been scolded for giving short shrift to Ascension Day or the Feast of St. Stephen.

This year the intersecting of "rival" calendars may be too much for me to ignore! I do not want to pick a fight or appear Quixotic...but it seems something fundamental is before us.


Acts 17 Paul's Areopagus Sermon
2008-04-26 by Steven Paulson

Acts 17: Paul’s Areopagus Sermon


Of Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus many books could be written—indeed they have been.

For this Sunday one comment might suffice.  Paul begins the sermon with the common, religious root of sinful humanity in the form of idolatry that finally cannot know its God. In other words, Paul starts here with the religious search of humans for God.  For that reason it begins expansively with references to “from every nation”  and that all people are made “that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after the God and find it. 

This is not quite the “point of contact” or common denominator that we might think links us positively with all religions and all nations, since idolatry unites us all in its desire, but divides us all in what that hope is finally put into.  In other words Paul is not starting on “common ground” as if to build a Christian tower. The problem with the universal search for God among all nations is that there is an assumption of sinners that God is far away.  But God is not far way, God is near, and that does not come as good news to a seeker.


Now Paul moves in to the intolerable narrowing of Christ as “the way, the truth and the life,” since “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all people by raising him from the dead.”  (Acts 17: 31). 


Idolatry reaches its end in God’s judgment which is now given to one person set for one day.  And the worst part of this, is that that judgment is not only historical, but is already made and so is in the past, since Paul preaches Christ and him crucified. There is an assurance, however, which is Christ’s resurrection.  Of course, as good Greeks, they seemed to take this as an idea, not as a person, and so few came out with Paul, but some did.  Resurrection is an interesting “concept” you could say, but Paul of course was not preaching a concept or idea, but a person. 

What comes down to the narrow door of Christ opens into a great, open spacious mansion with otherwise unbelievable promises about how near this God has actually come in Christ.

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