Monday Mull – Ephesians 3:1-13

So full and fair disclosure: I’m teaching a week behind what I’m preaching which is often written a week in advance. That is, I taught Ephesians 2:1-10 this morning, then preached (praught?) Ephesians 2:11-22, but I’ve been writing on Ephesians 3:1-13 this last week (and hope to finish it today).

Anyhow, with all these i’s dotted and crossed, let’s talk about how Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which was none of the three, has a section in which the author pulls big Pauline identity markers to… well, to do what?

Paul’s a prisoner for/of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Paul is divinely commissioned, had the mystery revealed by revelation, and joins the lineage of prophets and apostles, “so that through the Church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies.” So this writer is putting a lot of Paul forward to boost up the work of the Church?

I get it, I do–Ephesians is considered the most ecclesial writing in the New Testament–one could read earlier chapters of Ephesians and legitimately ask if the author meant the church was to fill up the universe! And Paul’s ministry… excuse me, “Paul’s” mission is to remind the Church they’re good enough. That it’s not a mistake, or an accident, or a one-off that Christ is working through them.

And I like that. We suffer, but it is for glory.

Monday Mull (Ephesians 2:11-22)

So, I was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri. It’s home to the most divisive team in the National League, the Saint Louis Cardinals. (The most hated team in the NL is still the Cubs; the most divisive team in baseball is the Yankees, obviously.) It is the birthplace of toasted ravioli, the St. Paul sandwich (look it up if you dare), and provel cheese, which if you’ve never had it, you should avoid at all costs. (What if we made cheese… from rubber…)

And, most important to this post’s purposes, Saint Louis is home to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch National Park.

Honorably borrowed, and cited, from The Riverfront Times, another Saint Louis institution.

Growing up in Saint Louis, you know things about the Arch without remembering how or when they entered one’s memory. The middle section of the Arch is a keystone, and because the Arch is a catenary curve, like this–

Thank you, Wikipedia

–the Arch can stand of its own accord. It’s a long-time architectural feat; it is neither magical nor mundane. But it is the center piece of the Arch, the keystone, that holds it all together.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Christ is described as the cornerstone of the Church. And I get that–cornerstones are laid first; cornerstones are the marker by which every other stone, brick, and object is placed in the construction of a building. But in the text, there’s this drawing together of us and them, of those far away and those who are near. Of those we already love, and those we may struggle to as we become more like Christ. And while sure, we can build up and out, I prefer to think we are linked–unable to stand on our own, without Christ as keystone-as-cornerstone, as best as a keystone can be a corner, since catenary curves don’t have… corners…

Here’s to mixing metaphors mathematically!

Monday Mull: Ephesians 2:1-10

What does it mean to be a child of wrath, anyhow?

There’s a lot going on in this Ephesians passage–there’s a lot going on in Ephesians, as I do this long, deep study on the fly through September–and per the norm on these posts, I pick the first thing that stands out to mull on as the first step in the sermon:

“we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else,” (2:3, NRSV)

I don’t know if I would have seen that a few months ago. (I don’t know if I’d be preaching Ephesians, were things as they were a few months ago anyhow!) But we’ve become so reactionary now, so content in being discontented and so willing to fake or take offense as needed to signal our disagreements, that sometimes, the world seems impossibly screwed.

Full disclosure: I’m reading The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler right now. It’s very, very good, and so deep I sometimes have to shake back to this slightly better reality.

What if part of our faith is not only curtailing our own wrath, but abandoning it to starve? What if we do not let people who operate in such rage and anger have a seat at the table until they cool down and walk it off, a bit? What happens if we insist they have not earned their seat, they have no right to it (nor do we) but once they accept what God has done and engage it as we have been called to as a community, we might move forward?

Monday Mull: Ephesians 1

Pleroma is the word, I think, in Greek.

Last week, I posted about the entirety of Ephesians; that, coming off a week’s recharge and reset, I was scrapping my initial sermon series for the next three months and preaching just Ephesians through September, and then taking another week off.

And since then, I’ve read introductions from four different scholars, and started building a notebook on Ephesians. If I had more time, I’d thoroughly study Colossians and then Ephesians, but I can’t, I didn’t–I was in fact typing notes to hand-write later, which also seems dumb in hindsight. Writing things out helps me learn, and–

I’m digressing. Pleroma is the word, I think, in Greek, meaning “fullness,” as in what fills something, or makes something complete. The jelly in a donut. The air in a balloon. The gas in a tank. In chapter one of Ephesians, not only is Christ filling the universe, but the church is the body of Christ so using that transitive property, the Church is filling the universe.

What a terrible job we’re doing. We should be ashamed. What is the church filling the universe with? I can’t even go further today–this world is very, very, very broken, and I worry it is past the point of no return.

We’re about to reopen schools as COVID cases skyrocket. Teachers can’t strike in many states, or they face loss of license, or jail time, or a variety of consequences. So we are sending them in to viral hotspots, to infect and be infected–and once again, we put our children in harm’s way and why hasn’t the church just folded because we stopped bearing witness to justice a long time ago. Sandy Hook should have prompted something, right?

I’m sorry, Universe, we’re more like a tumor than fuel right now.

Monday Mull: Ephesians

I know, it’s the Acropolis, and that’s in Athens, not Ephesus.

One of my favorite things to do in ministry is to plan, build and then execute sermon series. Another is to work ahead, and have a working, but flexible, plan at least six months out.

I need the flexibility. COVID, having never left, is back here in Wichita. And while I’d like to do a series based on Faithful Presence: Seven Disciples That Shape the Church for Mission, by David Fitch (which is a great read, so good, in fact, that I’ll link to it), we are probably going to be on digital duty for a while yet, until people start acting the least bit interdependent for one another.

So I’ve punted the Faithful Presence series, and the secondary stewardship series I had ready for September. I’m now working* on an outline to preach Ephesians the next thirteen weeks.

Ephesians, along with Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, are disputed letters of Paul. If they were written by the authentic Paul, it was late in his ministry–grammar is completely different from earlier, authenticated writing, and his theology… uh, evolved? Shifted? I’ve realized I have avoided these three letters just on the matter of disputation; I’d rather get really deep into Ephesians, and see what happens.

So there we go. That’s the mull–go read Ephesians, and tell me what you think. I’m going to do the same.

*I’m on vacation through tomorrow, which–awesome! And I’ll begin working in earnest, probably on Friday and Saturday, too, to get this series ready, planned and prepped.

Monday Mull: Revelation 21:1-8

I’m never sure what to do with Revelation. I love the letters in the beginning, once I learned how to read them contextually and not presently. (YOU are not lukewarm, you do not need to worry about being spat from God’s mouth.)

My friend Spiff, with whom I co-host Two on One (a conversation on pop culture, church and the intersections inherent), loves the Jezebel preacher mentioned in the opening letters–there must have been a woman who would not shut up, who cheesed off John of Patmos, and who had a following for her different views.

And there’s the end of the letter–the finale, the word of hope. That God will triumph; when God can say, “It’s over!” there’s a new earth and new Jerusalem and there are no more tears and it is the Zed at the end just like there’s the alpha in the beginning.

I guess I wish more people spoke Greek, or read it? I feel like I’ll be preaching to former frat boys and sorority girls, and the occasional biblical scholar with this text. A-to-Z, or a-to-zed, just doesn’t cut it yet. How do we enclose the full narrative? Tie the beginning to the end? How does one inherit from that which never dies?

What happens when the entire book is a metaphor except this chapter, which is the culmination of hope we need in this current moment, not just against Rome but all Romes? What does a post-progressive do with Revelation and all its baggage?

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Romans 10, and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.

Monday Mull: Romans 10:5-17

Hail, Caesar! was not my favorite Coen Brothers movie, but I loved Clooney in it.

What does it mean to call Jesus Christ Lord?

It’s subversive at its heart. It implies a continuation, to say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and that continuation is, “…and Caesar is not.”

And who is Caesar? Why the Empire, of course.

And you may say to me there is no Empire, but there is. There is oligarchy. There is the status quo. There is discrimination and powers and principalities and institutions and spin-zones and supremacy and fragility and recolored flags flying trying to invoke a country that’s theoretical.

Caesar does not need more worship. We must repent for that. Caesar does not care for the individual; Caesar is not here among us. Christ needs not ascend or descend or even be invited to be present.

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Revelation and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.

Monday Mull: John 14 and Hosea 11

Harmonia Rosales, The Creation of God

Doing this Names of God thing is a little different this summer, though, I shouldn’t be surprised; nothing is going as planned this year, and it is most certainly a gift, no matter what anyone tells us. This is the moment of awakening, it seems, for far too many people far too comfortable with hegemony and the default.

I am one of them, actively trying to stay awake and keep momentum. I have let my sibs and folx down. I reaffirm my call to do justice, to preach bravely, to love mightily.

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and since we’re doing “ways to refer to God,” it makes sense, I think, to talk about patristic language for the Divine. I’m using John 14–already a problematic text because of bad interpretation of Jesus as Way/Truth/Life–and of course, there’s this idea of Jesus running interference to keep people away from God who he calls Father.

Hosea 11 presents God in maternal, traditionally feminine strength and concern. Are these the same God? Of course.

I have no problem with father-language for God, if it is done in conjunction, in intentional balance, with mother-language. A friend once told me that removing paternal language and replacing it with gender-neutral language still excluded women, just from a different approach, and I seek to balance that. I think of the community herchurch in San Francisco, that only uses feminine language for the divine, but will be more accommodating for male language when all the churches using male language first accommodate. (And I love that.) But maybe my beloved community isn’t there yet.

Something to work towards, surely.

Monday Mull: 1 Kings 18:20-40

There was some 1970s Bible cartoon that told this story–I think if you’ve seen one of them, you’ve seen them all. I guess you either know what I’m talking about or not, in all this.

Anyhow, in this cartoon, they had to add dialogue to fill the time up, and as the priests of Baal (who looked really European, in hindsight?) poured gallons and gallons of water on Elijah’s altar per his instructions, someone–possibly King Ahab–said, “It is so very valuable,” or something close to that.

I’d never connected that. Prior to the story, there’s been years of drought. It seems that the water poured onto the altar of Elijah is not only to mock the whole process–calling fire from the heavens is one thing, but onto damp wood?!–but because God’s action in this world requires sacrifice.

Not necessarily burnt offering and sacrifice–I know, I know, mercy not sacrifice–but rather, giving up something, tearing down something, living without something in order to make room for God.

Even when it’s fire that evaporates, that singes, that burns, that licks up what we hold precious.

I have issues with this story, especially the whole “slaughtering people who do not worship the way one does,” but this isn’t about other religions, it is about idolatry. About our completely ridiculous belief we can control things, command things, contain things.

This is, of course, just the beginning of work on this text. I am getting ready–Sunday’s coming!

Monday Mull: Genesis 16:1-16

It is very hard to find attributable art of Hagar and Ishmael in which they are not, somehow, very Caucasian despite Egyptian and Semitic heritage. (Jean-Charles Cazin, Agar et Ismael; from Wikimedia Commons.)

Through July 5, I’m preaching on some of the names of God found in Scripture, and what we are saying when we talk about God, both in the general sense–how can we contain the essence of the Creator of the Universe in our ridiculous grunts and inflection–and in the specific.

Hagar is a slave to Sarai, the wife of Abram–Sarai will become Sarah; Abram will become Abraham; they are one thousand years old, or so, combined, and there’s fertility issues despite God’s promise to Abram and Sarai that they will be the progenitors of many nations.

And Hagar is given to Abram by Sarai–there is not any word of consent in the text–and Abram impregnates her–again we miss consent in this text–and then Sarai gets mad because she believes Hagar is getting uppity. And Sarai complains to Abram, and Abram tells her to do what she will, and Sarai “dealt harshly with her,” and Hagar bolted to the wilderness.

I guess I don’t have to write out so much in the Monday Mulls, but I’ve done only one other, so there aren’t really a lot of rules, are there?

In the wilderness, a messenger of the Lord sees her, calls her by name and asks her where she has come from, and where she is going–he does not tell her these things. And she’s sent back, promised to begin a line of multitudes that cannot be counted, and she names God.

She is the only person in the Hebrew Scriptures to name God–one could argue in the whole Bible depending on one’s Christology–and she calls him, “El-Roi,” the God who sees. God sees Hagar, not the slave, not the womb, not the person trod for the promise sought. God sees.