Tired of Understanding

1 KINGS 19:4-8
PSALM 34:1-8
EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2
JOHN 6:35, 41-51

I met an old friend for coffee last week, and he said something that saddened me. Mind you, this guy’s a veteran seminary professor, and the Executive Vice President of one of the largest Evangelical ministries in the US, if not the world.

“I’m just so tired,” he said, “of having to understand and explain everything. There’s no mystery left in my faith.”

This is true of much of the modern church, but it hasn’t always been so. The command of Jesus, after all, was “take and eat,” not “take and understand.”

Following Our Stomachs

EXODUS 16:2-4, 9-15
PSALM 78:23-29
EPHESIANS 4:1-16
JOHN 6:24-35

Some people might say they are 'spiritual but not religious'. I am under no illusions: I am certainly 'religious but not spiritual'. My countenance toward prayer and love hinges on my stomach. If I am satisfied I find love easy. When I am hungry, physically or otherwise, I do not love nearly so patiently. Being religious, I at least have a sense of when and how I should pray at a given time of the day or occasion.

Such a discipline also gives me a moment when I can remember that if I set aside my desires, just for a minute or two, I can be open to something more wondrous.

God has seen our impatient faith many times, on the way out of Egypt and beyond. The people of God tend to do as they are called when they know their faithfulness may fill their stomachs, not because it is right or something.

Jesus knows. And he is kind.

Parenthetical

2 KINGS 4:42-44
PSALM 145:10-19
EPHESIANS 3:14-21
JOHN 6:1-21

The vast majority of the long chapter of John 6 is dedicated to telling the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and after that, Jesus’ stunning exposition of its meaning.

But stuck right in the middle of those two things—five verses—almost parenthetically, Jesus walks on the water...a completely unrelated miracle.

Or at least that’s how it seems.

Jesus Has a Picnic?

JEREMIAH 23:1-6
PSALM 23
EPHESIANS 2:11-22
MARK 6:30-44

This week’s Gospel reading is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. For most, it’s basically a warm fuzzy: Jesus has a picnic. You can almost see everyone sitting on the lush green grass eating and laughing. You can almost imagine the red checkered tablecloths spread on the ground...

But don’t.

The textual and historical context tells us this is about something radically different: a revolution. Only one that’s totally unexpected, based on a shocking revolutionary act, and led by impossibly unqualified revolutionaries.

The Bite of Conscience

AMOS 7:7-15
PSALM 85:8-13
EPHESIANS 1:3-14
MARK 6:14-29

“If God is dead, anything is possible,” mused Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in 1880. but it was Friedrich Nietzsche who set himself to the task of showing what that meant in the real world. In 1887 he wrote his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best and clearest introduction to Nietzsche’s life project.

His project was largely to kill conscience or die trying. “The bite of conscience,” he wrote, “like the bite of a dog into a stone, is a stupidity.”

Conscience is a word that means “with knowledge”, and we all know its bite can really hurt. It’s that bite Herod Antipas got in the first few verses of this week’s Gospel reading. And it really hurt.

Axiomatic

EZEKIEL 2:1-5
PSALM 123
2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10
MARK 6:1-13

The root word of axiomatic, axiom—a self-evident truth—comes from the Greek axioma, meaning "authority”. We use it to describe compact, often pithy statements that have the authority of truth about them.

For example, “Out of sight, out of mind” is axiomatic because we all know it experientially as true. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is too.

It’s the latter Jesus confronts in this week’s Gospel reading, and he does it with an axiom of his own.

Our Turn for Tragedy

LAMENTATIONS 3:21-33
PSALM 30
2 CORINTHIANS 8:7-15
MARK 5:21-43

On Thursday, June 28, Annapolis experienced terrible violence. The 'somewhere else' for which we have so often prayed became 'here and now' at the Capital Gazette.

The best-known verse of Lamentations claims: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 

Is this still the case for us and our neighbors this morning?

In response to the calamities which came upon the people of Israel, the writer of Lamentations finds that there is nothing that can save them apart from the Divine Help of God. Only that help was yet to come.

Is God's help still yet to come for us?

I certainly hope it won't be long...

Fear of Widths

JOB 38:1-11
PSALM 107:1-3, 23-32
2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13
MARK 4:35-41

Steven Wright, a comedian known for his lethargic, deadpan delivery of ironic, philosophical, and sometimes nonsensical humor once said about fear, “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me. I’m afraid of widths.”

The definition of an irrational fear is, of course, “someone else’s.”

But fear—genuine fear—is a very real, and potentially debilitating thing.

And have you ever noticed the vast difference between being told, “there’s nothing to be afraid of”, and being asked, “why are you afraid?” The former can come off as condescending (and wrong), while the latter leaves open the possibility that there may, in fact, be something there.

It’s the latter Jesus asks of some friends in a boat—and by extension, us—in this week’s Gospel reading.

Unlearning

EZEKIEL 17:22-24, PSALM 92:1-4,11-14, 2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-17, MARK 4:26-34

Becoming an instrument rated pilot—one who can fly and land safely without ANY outside visual references— isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a painful and arduous process. It certainly was for me.

It involves learning to trust something you’ve never trusted, but more than that, unlearning to trust what you’ve always trusted (and everyone else trusts).

It’s the unlearning that’s hardest.

This isn’t dissimilar from something provocative St. Paul wrote in this week’s Epistle. It’s not just learning a new way, but more than that, unlearning the old. And that’s a painful and arduous process. It certainly was for him.

FUTAB?

FUTAB is Chat for “Feet Up, Take A Break.” FUTAB might be what you imagine when you hear the word Sabbath: aimless rest. Mandatory aimless rest, actually.

But if that’s all you imagine, you’re falling way, way short.

Because Sabbath has a definite aim.

Believe, And Be Saved

One of the three affirmations of the Christian faith which the Anglican Church shares with a great many other Churches is the Athanasian Creed, which begins rather insistently:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.

Why would our ancestors in the faith have commended to us in such certain terms, such a specific and nuanced way of describing and understanding God? Isn't it enough to simply believe in an almighty creator? Or that Jesus died for our sins? Or to receive the Holy Spirit?

On this Trinity Sunday we will explore this mystery together, and perhaps grow to understand why so many who have lived their life with God, pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Maybe this prayer tells us more about the Gospel than we might think a simple ritual ever could.

A Faith more than 'Love Jesus and Try Harder'

Bishop Martyn Minns

We welcomed Bishop Martyn Minns to Redeemer on Pentecost Sunday. +Martyn was the founding missionary bishop of CANA until his retirement in 2014 (he was succeeded by +Julian). Prior to becoming a bishop, he served as the rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, VA. 

+Martyn was born in Nottingham, England, and prior to his theological training in the US, graduated with degrees in mathematics and statistics from the University of Birmingham in England, and served as an executive with the Mobil Corporation in NYC. 

+Martyn and Angela have five children and a bunch of grandchildren.

Pretty Much Ignored

Everyone knows Christmas and Easter are integral to the Christian faith. But what about The Ascension? Is it integral as well? And if so, why is it pretty much ignored? Maybe because it always falls on a Thursday...forty days after the Resurrection, and ten days before Pentecost. Maybe we just don’t understand its significance. Yesterday was The Feast of the Ascension. Did you know?

But have you ever wondered why Jesus said in John 16:7 that it was better for us that he go away?

It’s because The Ascension has profound implications for the Church as a whole, for you, and for Monday mornings.

It’s too good to be ignored.

Darah’s question

“Mr. Pfenson, can I ask you a question?”  She was sitting in the front row.  I steel myself for what’s coming, because you really never know where that question leads...

I am the true vine

Robert Burns is the head Protestant Chaplain at the United States Naval Academy and a dear friend of Redeemer. We were thrilled that he would come and preach to us.

Good Shepherd

Dave Bena, Assisting Bishop in CANA East preached and led our worship on this day for our confirmations.

Both/And

In a culture that seems to be growing increasingly ideological, “both/and” is something you’re hearing less and less. We’re increasingly attuned to “either/or”: Democrat or Republican. Environment or Economy. Conservative or Progressive. Paper or Plastic (I know, this last one’s not truly ideological, but I really prefer paper even though I feel guilty about it).

The Church, because it’s full of human beings, isn’t immune from an either/or way of seeing things in its orientation to worship. It’s often expressed as Word or Sacrament.

But Jesus, on the evening of the first day of the week in Emmaus practices both/and.

In fact, it’s how he’s known.

Peace. Receive. Go.

Jesus said 'unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit' (John 12:24). What does he mean?

Jesus went to his own death with the certainty that through his suffering and resurrection the whole world would be blessed. Sounds great but what does it mean? We will hear on Sunday how he appeared to his Disciples when they were afraid, and sent them to do the impossible.

Much fruit has come from Christ's resurrection. You're probably already living it.

Meaningful or Meaningless?

Read the following paragraph at normal speed. Don’t skim or give up halfway through.

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it’s better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it’s easy to learn. Once successful, complications are minimal. Even young children can enjoy it. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If it breaks loose, however, you will not get a second chance.

Now, ask yourself: Is this paragraph meaningful or meaningless?