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Singing Hosannas in Lent-Because We Just Can’t Help Ourselves


Matthew 21:1-11

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Prayer of the Day: Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Matthew 21:9.

Palm Sunday appears as a singular and welcome note of jubilation in the otherwise somber season of Lent. Yes, I know that the Sundays “in” Lent are not “of” Lent because they are, as all Sundays, little Easter celebrations. Nevertheless, the shadow of Lent is evident in the purple vestments, the absence of alleluias and the theme of the cross running through our Scripture lessons. So one cannot help but feel a measure of relief in this celebratory service re-enacting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is as though we cannot help ourselves. As the great hymn proclaims:

“No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?”

“My Life Flows On in Endless Song,” by Robert Lowry, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; pub. by Augsburg Fortress) Hymn #763.

My need for song became painfully clear to me during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic. Like most churches, mine was not meeting for worship in person from March of 2020 until summer of the following year. When we did begin meeting again, there was no singing in our worship for several weeks. Such worship as my wife and I were able to attend was of the virtual variety. Though I am thankful that this means of connecting was available to us, I missed joining my voice with the whole community and the sense that it was being caught up with the voice of the whole communion of saints and with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.

The absence of singing in my life affected more than my mood and spirit. One rainy afternoon in the midst of a terrible funk, I put on a CD given to me by a member of the last congregation I served. It was a fine collection of traditional hymns sung by a large professional choir backed by a robust pipe organ. Almost reflexively, I began singing along-or at least I tried. It was then that I made the troubling discovery that I could no longer sing. I struggled to reach notes previously well within my range and failed. My voice cracked and left me coughing. I hasten to add at this point that I have never had a singing voice close to American Idol quality. But I can carry a tune well enough and have always enjoyed singing. I belonged to the worship choir in college and the choirs of every church I have served or to which I belonged. I was able to sing the liturgy competently and lead singing for church school, youth groups and nursing home services, sans accompaniment when necessary. Now I was finding that I could not manage a single verse from a familiar hymn. I guess that singing is one of the many things that you have to use or lose when you get to be my age.

I was determined not to lose my ability to sing. So it was that I began chanting the psalms in my private morning and evening devotions, singing the liturgy and reading the lessons aloud. It was not pretty to begin with. I took some comfort, though, in the psalmist’s invitation to “make a joyful noise to God.” Psalm 66:1. If I could not be melodious, I could at lest be joyful and that, according to the psalmist, would suffice. Gradually, I built up my stamina. Over time, my range grew to embrace its previous tenor parameters. I was relieved to discover that my singing voice was not irretrievably lost.

I recovered something else as well. Though physically isolated from my faith community, I began to feel a kinship with it and with the whole communion of saints in my singing. It was profoundly comforting to know that the psalms I was chanting had been chanted by the people of Israel throughout their journeys in the wilderness following the Exodus, in times of triumph and defeat, in circumstances of exile and liberation. These same psalms inspired the New Testament witnesses. They have been chanted by monks for centuries. They have been and continue to be the inspiration for hymns of faith. Most significantly, I knew that they were being sung by believers around the world even as I sat singing them in my living room. Reading the words of scripture aloud gave me the realization that I was speaking with my voice words that have given life and birthed faith throughout the church’s history and continue to do so. My voice, I discovered, was not merely an instrument for my own self expression. It was also a conduit through which the Spirit was working to unite my heart with those of believers throughout the world and over time and space.

The creation is, as W. David O. Taylor has observed, “hardwired to sing.” According to the book of Job, the creation began with an outburst of cosmic song. Job 38:4-7. John of Patmos envisions the redeemed creation as a grand choir made up of every nation, tribe, people and tongue united in a song of praise before the throne of God. Revelation 7:9-11. The psalms weave into song worship, teaching, prayer and every aspect of human life from joy to sorrow, from triumph to tragedy, from cradle to grave. Mary sings of the liberating good news her unborn child will proclaim. Luke 1:46-55. Jesus and his disciples sing hymns at their last meal together, the meal giving birth to our Eucharist. Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Paul and Silas sing hymns while imprisoned at Philippi. Acts 16:25. Paul urges the churches in Ephesus and Colossae to greet one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16. In singing together, the church experiences in some measure the oneness for which Jesus prays and its unity as a single Body upon which Saint Paul insists. John 17:22-23; I Corinthians 12:12-13. Singing unites us in Triune love to God the Singer, God the Voice and God the Song as well as to one another. It joins us with the divine music that birthed the world, redeems the world and draws the world to its proper end where God is “all in all.” I Corinthians 15:28.    

“And while the reality of ‘one body’ may be experienced only partially and defectively this side of the eschaton, and while the work of church leaders to foster unity in fractured congregations is daunting, the practice of Spirit songs enables us by grace to sing ourselves into a future that Christ has prepared for us and that we can taste here an now…” Taylor, David W., “Singing Ourselves into the Future,” published in The Art of New Creation, edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train and W. David Taylor (c. 2022; pub. by InterVarsity Press), p. 132.

So we sing our hosanas under the shadow of the cross where we struggle with a resurgence of fascism, systemic racism, and a war spiraling out of control. We sing our hosanas even as we enter into the dark narrative of Jesus’ passion. We sing our hosanas because, after all, “since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can [we] keep from singing?”

Here is a poem about the spiritual power of song by Lily Augusta Long.       

The Singing Place

Cold may lie the day,

And bare of grace;

At night I slip away

To the Singing Place.

A border of mist and doubt

Before the gate,

And the Dancing Stars grow still

As hushed I wait.

Then faint and far away

I catch the beat

In broken rhythm and rhyme

Of joyous feet,—

Lifting waves of sound

That will rise and swell

(If the prying eyes of thought

Break not the spell),

Rise and swell and retreat

And fall and flee,

As over the edge of sleep

They beckon me.

And I wait as the seaweed waits

For the lifting tide;

To ask would be to awake,—

To be denied.

I cloud my eyes in the mist

That veils the hem,—

And then with a rush I am past,-—

I am Theirs, and of Them!

And the pulsing chant swells up

To touch the sky,

And the song is joy, is life,

And the song am I!

The thunderous music peals

Around, o’erhead-

The dead would awake to hear

If there were dead;

But the life of the throbbing Sun

Is in the song,

And we weave the world anew,

And the Singing Throng

Fill every corner of space—-

Over the edge of sleep

I bring but a trace

Of the chants that pulse and sweep

In the Singing Place.

Source: Poetry, (November 1912). Lily Augusta Long (1862–1927) was an American poet and novelist. She was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and decided to become a writer when she was only eleven years old. Long graduated high school in St. Paul and later took an elective course at the University of Wisconsin. As a student, she submitted verses and sketches to local papers. A few of her poems were published in Unity. In 1887, two of her stories appeared in the magazines Overland and Current. Long also edited and contributed to Women’s Record. She wrote short stories and poems for Harper’s Weekly. Under the pseudonym Roman Doubleday, she wrote pulp mysteries for The Popular Magazine. You can sample more of Long’s poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

The Politics of Resurrection


Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” John 11:45.

So many, in fact, that the religious establishment in Jerusalem was becoming alarmed. Jesus was no longer simply a false teacher, a breaker of religious taboos and a bad moral influence. He was becoming a threat to national security. Jesus’ popularity was drawing the attention of Judea’s Roman overlords. According to John the Evangelist, this unwanted attention was a direct result of his raising Lazarus from death. Caiaphas, the high priest, is well schooled in realpolitik. Caiaphas understands the threat Jesus poses to his fragile arrangement with the world’s only superpower under which his people are permitted to exist. As distasteful as it might be, killing Jesus and Lazarus is a small price to pay for sparing the whole nation the wrath of Rome’s legions. John 11:45-53. So let us not be too hard on Caiaphas and his associates. After all, decisions like these are made by law enforcement bodies, intelligence agencies and chiefs of military staff every day.

These verses following Sunday’s gospel lesson are important because they frame the context for this final miracle of Jesus. It is, according to John the Evangelist, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the sign that made equivocally clear to the rulers in Jerusalem that Jesus must die. As such, it is an intensely political act, a frontal assault on the empire, a bold assertion that Rome’s threats of war, torture and death are finally empty. The last word belongs to life. That is a word no empire can bear to hear. How can a nation hope to rule through violence and terror when its most fearsome threat of raw, violent power-the cross-is transformed into a symbol of victory? When a people no longer fears death, how can a tyrant hope to retain control of them? The raising of Lazarus, and more so the Resurrection of Jesus, is deeply political. The reign of kingdoms, empires and nation states with their bogus claims of sovereignty, their machinery of oppression and police power is over. Be afraid Caesar; be afraid mother Russia; be afraid Uncle Sam; be very afraid.

Understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with government per se. To the contrary, government is one of God’s good gifts. It is the means by which neighbors exercise love for one another by making provision for the health of our common life together. But every gift of God is a potential idol. It becomes so when it usurps divine prerogatives. In this regard, all modern states, regardless their form of governance, have one thing in common: they all claim the sole legitimate authority to take human life. The state, unlike the rest of us, has the legal right to employ lethal force to enforce its laws, protect its commercial interests and make war on its enemies. The assumption here is that the state-like Caiaphas-employs violence in the service of some higher moral good that justifies it. Thus, when all other means of persuasion fail, there is always the national guard, the armed forces, the gallows or lethal injection. The state, every state, relies on the power to kill. Without it, the state cannot survive.

By raising Lazarus, Jesus puts the lie to the assumption underlying the state’s blasphemous claim to power over life and death. In so doing, it pulls the rug out from under all assertions of national security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, border security and all the other poor excuses nation states make for killing people. A human being created in God’s image is sacrosanct. However distorted that image might become, the human form is God’s temple. As such, oppression, poverty, violence and death must not be allowed to deface it. God alone rightfully determines its end.  

The same cannot be said of nation states. “The nations,” says the prophet Isaiah, “are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dost on the scales.” Isaiah 40:15. The great empires of the world are, as Shakespeare would say, a “walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome are now ruins and dust. Someday the United States of America will join them-as will all who give to nations and kingdoms the allegiance belonging to God alone.

Let us then put aside the heroic and patriotic rhetoric surrounding the cult of the warrior and acknowledge the carnage taking place around the world for what it truly is: a massive sacrificial holocaust of human flesh to the false gods of nation, blood and soil. Let us boldly assert that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism into the one holy, catholic and apostolic church made up of “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues.” Revelation 7:9-10. Thus, to take up arms against any person on behalf of any nation is to defile God’s holy temple, betray God’s holy church and deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the one who offers only life and redemption, even to his enemies. Jesus is the man who chose endurance of suffering and death over inflicting it upon others. Jesus is the only begotten Son of the God who shows no favoritism and knows none of the distinctions we make among ourselves. Jesus raised Lazarus to show Mary, Martha, his own people and all nations that this God’s fierce love for all people cannot be killed.

Here is a poem by Henry Colman reflecting on the gospel lesson for this Sunday.

On Lazarus Raised from Death

Where am I, or how came I here, hath death

                     Bereaved me of my breath,

                               Or do I dream?

          Nor can that be, for sure I am

These are no ensigns of a living man,

                               Beside, the stream

                               Of life did fly

From hence, and my blessed soul did sour on high,

                     And well remember I,

                     My friends or either hand

                               I weeping stand

                               To see me die;

Most certain then it is my soul was fled

Forth of my clay, and I am buried.

These linens plainly show this cave did keep

                     My flesh in its dead sleep,

                               And yet a noise

          Me-thought I heard, of such strange force

As would have raised to life the dullest corse,

                               So sweet a voice

                               As spite of death

Distilled through every vein a living breath,

                     And sure I heard it charge

                     Me by my name, even thus

                               O Lazarus

                               Come forth at large,

And so nought hinders, I will straightaway then

Appear, (though thus dressed) ere it call again.

Was’t my Redeemer called, no marvel then

          Though dead, I live again,

                               His word alone

          Can raise a soul, though dead in sin,

Ready the grace of hell to tumble in

                               High as the Throne;

                               In all things he

Is the true powerful Eternity:

                    Since thou has pleased to raise

My body then, let my spirit

          Heaven inherit

          And the praise.

And let thy miracle upon my clay

Prepare, and fit me ‘gainst the reckoning day.

This poem is in the public domain and reprinted in Chapter into Verse, an anthology of English poetry inspired by scripture edited by Robert Atwan and Laurance Wieder, (c. 2000 by the editors; pub. by Oxford University Press). I have been unable to secure any information concerning Henry Colman, though he may have been the prominent New England clergyman of that name born 1785 in Boston. If you have any further information, I would appreciate your sharing it with me.    

Fixing Stupid


1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

Prayer of the Day: Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

There is plenty of blindness in our gospel reading for this coming Sunday. Jesus’ disciples are blind to the humanity of the beggar who is unable to see. For them, he is not a person. He is just a theological riddle to be solved. “Who sinned,” they ask Jesus, “This man or his parents?” Somebody must have sinned to bring about such a great human catastrophe. I have to wonder whether the blind man was overhearing this unfeeling conversation about him carried on by people he could not see, did not know and had no interest in including him.

This story reminds me of a day years ago when I was waiting in line to board a ferry crossing a section of Puget Sound. There was a wheel chair accessible place for boarding and quite a few people in line waiting for the elevator that would take them up to the passenger deck. There were so many, in fact, that they were beginning to impede auto traffic onto the boat. Suddenly, I heard over a loud speaker an angry voice shouting to the deck hands below, “Get them damn wheel chairs out of the way!” I wonder if it ever occurred to this fellow to consider how it must feel to be called an inanimate object. I wonder if it ever dawned on him how insulting it is to be thought of as just some troublesome obstacle, a nuisance to be pushed out of the way. The beggar in this story might have been physically blind. But the disciples are afflicted with a much more dangerous and insidious blindness. Jesus must open their eyes to the reality that human suffering is not to be theoretically explained, but addressed with generosity and compassion.

The religious authorities in this story are also afflicted with blindness of a similar kind. Unmoved by a miracle never seen from the dawn of creation, they remain fixated on a legal technicality. This was a sabbath day. In order to open a blind man’s eyes, Jesus made clay. Making clay is work. Work is not to be done on the sabbath. Thus, Jesus is a sinner and sinners cannot perform miracles. Accordinly, either the miracle did not happen or it happened quite apart from Jesus. Though they have the testimony of the blind man who now sees; the testimony of those who knew him before and after the miracle and the testimony of his parents that he was, in fact, born blind; none of that matters. The facts be damned. “We know that this man is a sinner,” they insist. When the formerly blind man will not be bullied, threatened or cajoled into changing his testimony, the authorities insult him, ridicule him and cast him out. They are willingly and intentionally blind to facts that do not accord with their own view of reality.

There is another name for this type of blindness: call it stupidity. And let me be clear. Stupidity is not the result of cognitive impairment. Neither is it the equivalent of ignorance. Stupidity is a moral impairment. It is a toxic blend of laziness and cowardice. Stupid people believe lies because they are comforting and because learning the truth is often disturbing, uncomfortable and requires effort. Stupid people follow the path of least resistance, stubbornly believing what they want to believe whether it is true or not because it is easier than learning and less frightening than confronting uncomfortable truths.[1]  

Stupidity is dangerous. Ignorance can be overcome through education. Error can be corrected by appeal to fact and reason. Neither of these weapons are effective against stupidity. As noted by preacher, theologian and martyr under the Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.” “After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010).

Stupidity is also dangerous because stupid people are easily manipulated. They are attracted to authoritarian leaders who echo their prejudices, give them scapegoats to blame for their unhappiness and offer them simplistic solutions to complex problems. An authoritarian leader makes weak, lazy and cowardly people feel bigger, stronger and more important. There is security to be found for such people in a frenzied crowd cheering a demagogue spewing all the hateful and bigoted sentiments they themselves feel but lack the courage to utter in the presence of polite company.

Stupid people will do and say in a crowd what they could never muster the courage to do on their own. Take, for example, those arrested and prosecuted for participation in the Republican insurrection of January 6, 2021. When forced to appear alone in court, few of these folks stood defiantly defending their conduct or chose prison rather than expressing remorse for their actions. On the whole, they sniveled, cried, claimed that they were tricked into their violent acts and pleaded for judicial clemency. Moreover, many of these “contrite” defendants reverted to their old seditious rhetoric once they were safely out of court and back in the company of their peers. See “Capital Rioters’ Tears, Remorse Don’t Spare Them from Jail,” A.P. News, January 2, 2022.  Though they often fancy themselves fiercely independent rebels, stupid people are actually weak, insecure and deeply dependent upon peer support.       

Jesus, like Bonhoeffer, knew that trying “to persuade the stupid person with reasons, [] is senseless and dangerous.” He does not give up on them, however. Contrary to the old saw, it is possible to “fix stupid.” Yet as much as Jesus loves and cares for stupid people-as he does all people-he never gets drawn into senseless arguments with them on their own terms. He never stoops to answering their stupid questions. Jesus knows that trying to reason with those who lack “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” is futile. So, instead, he poses his own inquiries, tells stories and employs parables to “change the subject,” crack his opponents’ venire of certainty and get them to ask better questions, questions that might cause them to stumble out of the darkness and into the light. “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” John 9:39.

Sometimes, you have to be blind before you can see. Sometimes you need to unlearn everything you think you know before you can know truly. Sometimes it takes an eye opening event to convince you that the people sleeping on our streets, desperately seeking asylum at our borders, living in states that deny their very right to exist, struggling with unintended pregnancies and fighting addiction are not social problems but real people, opportunites for us to exercise compassion and so discover deeper fellowship with Jesus. Sometimes it takes the death of a black man under the knee of a police officer to wake us up from the dark lie of the American Dream and open our eyes to the reality of the systemic evil under which we live, along with the hopeful possibility of a better dream.

Here is a poem about sight and the maturation of vision with its seeming loss.


My vision isn’t what it used to be.

Time was when I could read signs

A quarter mile up the road.

I could make out the tree line

On mountain ranges, mark

The glacial frontier and the

Divide between ice and ice cold stone

With surgical precision and

Rock solid certainty.

Today, without specs,

I can barely discern the signs

In front of my face and wonder even so

If there is anything on them to be read.

Field and forest, ice and stone

All blend together into one

As life into death and I’ll be damned

If I can tell them apart from where I stand.

I squint at the horizon for signs of contrast,

Shape and defining form,

But see only the blur of connectedness as,

It seems, did the great Monet in his declining years.

Yet lacking clarity, perhaps we see the more truly.


[1] Ironically, though, stupid people often waste a considerable amount of mental energy constructing rationalizations, conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” to support their lies. Case in point: the twenty-seven million dollar Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The museum, if you can call it that, is dedicated to propping up the belief, neither scientific nor biblical but critical to Christian fundamentalist faith, that the earth is a mere six thousand years old, having been created in six days of twenty-four hours. Slick dioramas showing people cavorting with dinosaurs, elaborate geological displays cherry picking facts in an effort to prove and date Noah’s flood along with elaborate and blatantly inaccurate wall murals purporting to discredit evolutionary science are all employed to preserve this “young earth” lie against the onslaught of overwhelming genuine scientific evidence to the contrary. A more impressive monument to stupidity is hard to imagine.

Exclusive Interview with Rep. George Santos by Phucker Sharlitan

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

The Ghost’s newest commentator, Phucker Sharlitan, recently had the opportunity to interview Congressman George Santos. Mr. Santos was questioned extensively on his extraordinary record and responded with answers and information we here at the Ghost can verify absolutely with a low confidence level. 

Sharlitan: It’s a pleasure having the opportunity to interview you and give you an opportunity to respond to the scurrilous and inflammatory accusations made against you by the Democrat party and the lame stream media. And now we hear that you are under congressional investigation. How does it make you feel to have so much unjustified criticism coming your way?

Santos: I don’t let it get to me, Phucker. I always say that when they go low, I go high.

Sharlitan: A lot of people attribute that saying to Michelle Obama.

Santos: Yes, but she got it from me. I was the ghost writer for her books and speeches. I also wrote for Barack. Ever heard of Audacity of Hope? That was essentially my work.

Sharlitan: Wait! You worked for a Democrat?

Santos: You bet. Just goes to show that I can work in a bipartisan fashion. My experience goes far beyond my financial savvy. In the military, I fought side by side with people of every race, class and background.

Sharlitan: You were in the military?

Santos: Yes, I served with the United States Marines during the second world war. I fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. Ever seen that memorial at Arlington of the marines raising the American flag? I’m the third one in.

Sharlitan: You never mentioned that in your memoirs.

Santos: Well, if I tried to fit all of my accomplishments into one book, it would take several volumes. At some point, you have to leave room for a sequel. But my military record was known to Barack Obama. That’s why he called on me to lead the seal team that took out Osama Bin Laden. Taking him out with a single shot was one of the high points of my military career.

Sharlitan: I thought that was Robert O’Neill.

Santos: Well, Rob thinks he fired the kill shot and I never bothered to correct him. I mean, the guy’s got serious self esteem issues. He needed this more than I did. But since you bring it up, I feel I have to correct the record. You know, the truth is very important to me.

Sharlitan: Well, I must say it was mighty generous of you to keep that quiet for so long, George. It takes real humility to forego the glory that goes with taking down the most notorious terrorist of the century.

Santos: Humility is one of my finest attributes, Phucker.

Sharlitan: So of all your great accomplishments, which would you say is the one you are most proud of?

Santos: I have a lot of good work about which I am extremely proud. But the achievement that has given me the most satisfaction was my death on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Sharlitan: Jesus Christ! Was that you, too?

Santos: And they question my Jewish roots. Go figure.

Sharlitan: That was indeed a great accomplishment!

Santos: Yes, well, as I said when I first stepped out onto the surface of the moon, ‘One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.’

Sharlitan:  Well, it has been a pleasure interviewing you, George.

Santos: Pleasure is all mine, Phucker. Thanks for giving me the chance to set the record straight.


FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Taking History in a New Direction


Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

Prayer of the Day: Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” John 4:9.

Disputes over how, where and by whom God is to be worshipped are as old as they are heated and bloody. The first murder recorded in the Bible grew out of a dispute about the right worship of God. See Genesis 4:1-16. That is what the Samaritan woman’s question is all about and it reflects animosity going back for almost one thousand years. Recall that the Israelite kingdom built up under the leadership of David split following the death of his son, Solomon. The Southern Kingdom of Judah continued to be ruled by descendants of David and worshipped in Jerusalem at the temple built by Solomon. The Northern Kingdom of Israel ultimately established its capital in Samaria and was under the control of several successive dynasties. In 722 B.C.E. the Northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded and destroyed by the Assyrians. Judah fell to the Babylonians more than a century later in 587 B.C.E.

Though many Israelites were displaced as a result of these conquests, a substantial number remained in the land. Among them was an ethnic group claiming descent from the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi. These “Samaritans” had their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They believed this mountain, rather than Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, to be the location chosen by God for worship. When some of the exiles from Judah (now properly called “Jews”) returned from Babylon to Palestine in order to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, they met with hostility and resistance from the Samaritans and other inhabitants of the land. Both Jews and Samaritans regarded themselves exclusively as the one true Israel. Thus, the very existence of each represented an existential threat to the other.  The depth of Jewish animosity toward Samaritans is reflected in at least one daily prayer used in some synagogues pleading for God to ensure that Samaritans not enter into eternal life. Ellis, E. Earle, The Gospel of Luke, The New Century Bible Commentary, (c. 1974 Marshall, Morgan & Scott) p. 151 citing Oesterley, W.O.E., The Gospel Parallels in the Light of their Jewish Background, New York, 1936, p. 162. Of course, the Samaritans were equally ill disposed toward Jews.

Nevertheless, in spite of their mutual hatred, Jews and Samaritans had much in common. Both were Israelites. Both claimed lineage from Sarah and Abraham. They shared the same language and the same scriptures. Both had far more in common with each other than with the Roman overlords enslaving them.  As much as they might have wished it otherwise, these two peoples were inescapably bound up together in a common history. That conflicted history comes to a head in Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria.

This story has a contemporary ring to it. After all, we in this country who identify as white are only now coming to grips with our own tortured history shared with indigenous peoples murdered and dispossessed by our colonial ancestors. We are only now beginning to understand the essential role played by African slaves whose forced and uncompensated labor built up the back bone of our nation’s industrial power and wealth. We are only now learning the full extent of our exploitation of the Mexican and Chinese laborers we imported from abroad to build our railroads and then quickly moved to deport once we had no further use for them. We are only learning now that the American history we were taught in school was, at best, woefully incomplete. At worst, it was pure propaganda.

So how do we proceed in the face of our tortured history? I suggest we follow Jesus’ lead. He does not begin by engaging the Samaritan woman in a theological debate. He does not question her morality or the legitimacy of her faith. He does not begin by addressing “the issues.” Jesus begins by asking for a drink. He does not disguise his vulnerability and dependence on the woman. Instead, he tells her “I need you. I need your help.” What this woman might have expected of Jesus, if anything, we can only guess. But it is clear that she is taken by surprise. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” The woman launches into the longstanding dispute over which of their respective temples is the proper place for worship. Jesus will have none of it. God seeks worshipers-Jew, Samaritan or gentile, who worship God in Spirit and in truth. Again, we can only guess what was going through the woman’s mind as she raced back home to tell her people of that remarkable Jew who asked to share her water jar and spoke to her as a fellow Israelite.

The interchange between Jesus and the woman of Samaria concludes with a small detail that you might have missed if you were concentrating only on the heady theological issues. The woman leaves her water jar at the well before returning home-an act of compassion and kindness for this strange, thirsty traveler. She quenched the thirst of this odd prophet who promised to quench her thirst with living water. Amazing things happen when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, lay aside our defensiveness and humbly ask for the help we need. God knows those of us faced with troubling realities that threaten to undo the myths by which we have learned to live need help. God knows that our overwhelmingly white mainline churches need help seeing themselves-ourselves-as we are seen by God. We need the patience of Jesus to hear the stories of those victimized by our claims of privilege without defensiveness, without judgment and without the need to be right. Only after we have heard, understood and taken responsibility for the truth do we dare speak.

Poetry offers us, among other things, an opportunity to listen for and hear voices that have been too long excluded from the telling of the American story and ignored by the church. Here is one by June Jordan.

1977: Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer

You used to say, “June?

Honey when you come down here you

supposed to stay with me. Where


Meanin home

against the beer the shotguns and the

point of view of whitemen don’

never see Black anybodies without

some violent itch start up.

                                       The ones who   

said, “No Nigga’s Votin in This Town . . .

lessen it be feet first to the booth”   

Then jailed you   

beat you brutal   


you blue beyond the feeling   

of the terrible

And failed to stop you.   

Only God could but He   

wouldn’t stop   


fortress from self-


Humble as a woman anywhere   

I remember finding you inside the laundromat   

in Ruleville   

                  lion spine relaxed/hell   

                  what’s the point to courage   

                  when you washin clothes?   

But that took courage

                  just to sit there/target   

                  to the killers lookin   

                  for your singin face   

                  perspirey through the rinse   

                  and spin

and later   

you stood mighty in the door on James Street   

loud callin:

                  “BULLETS OR NO BULLETS!   

                  THE FOOD IS COOKED   

                  AN’ GETTIN COLD!”

We ate

A family tremulous but fortified

by turnips/okra/handpicked

like the lilies

filled to the very living   


one solid gospel


one gospel


one full Black lily   


in a homemade field   

of love

Source: Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (C. 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust; pub. by WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). June Millicent Jordan (1936–2002) was an American poet, essayist, teacher and activist. She was in 1936 in Harlem, New York, the only child of immigrants from Jamaica and Panama. Her father was a postal worker for the USPS and her mother was a part-time nurse. When Jordan was five, the family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. She began writing her own poetry at the age of seven. Her poetry and other writings explore issues of gender, race and immigration. Jordan was passionate about using Black English in her writing and poetry, teaching others to treat it as its own language and an important outlet for expressing Black culture. You can read more about June Jordan and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation websilte.

And the Plan is…There is No Plan


Genesis 12:1-4a

Psalm 121

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day: O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” Genesis 12:1.

As an institution, the church in America is in free fall. Numerous trees have been felled and gallons of ink spilled by learned observers of religion on books and articles explaining this phenomenon. Discussion of these explanations is far beyond the scope of a single blog post. Suffice to say that, whatever the reasons, the decline of the mainline American church is a fact we simply cannot ignore. That has been clear to me for some time, but it became concretely so at the congregational meeting of my own congregation this last Sunday. Several people expressed concern over rising expenses, decreases in financial support and stagnant to declining membership. “We can’t go on this way!” one exasperated individual remarked. She is correct-but if not “this way,” then “what way?”

Adding to all of this is the fact that we are generationally top heavy. There is much work to be done simply to maintain the ministries we have going, to say nothing of the new ones we would like to initiate. Yet most of us are at a point in life where we feel as though we are entitled to slow down, let go of some responsibilities and allow the upcoming generation to take the reigns. Problem is, there is no upcoming generation. We have but a hand full of younger people with families. That seems to be the case with a lot of our churches these days. So, as much as we would like simply to sit out in front of our tents, look up at the stars and enjoy our golden years in peace, that is not an option. It seems God is not finished with us yet.

It strikes me that we are finding ourselves in much the same position as Abram and Sari. They, too, were old and seemingly faced with limited time, limited potential and limited energy. There seemed to be no room for anything new to happen in their lives. I can well imagine Abram replying to God’s call to leave home, family and community with the suggestion that God find someone else, somebody younger, somebody with some fire in their belly. But Abram did what most of us in our church are doing-leaving (often reluctantly) the old ways of doing things that have served us so well for so long without knowing where we are going or what we are supposed to do next.

Let me say at this point that I am not the least bit anxious or concerned about the demise of the church. I am convinced that there will be a church for as long as God needs a church. It won’t be the church we have grown to know and love. It probably will not be the church for which we hoped and which we expected. But whatever shape the church takes in the next generation, it will be the kind of church God needs. Thus, our concern should not be whether there will be a church in the next century, but whether we are being the kind of church God desires in this one.

Once we turn the discussion away from anxiety provoking questions of ecclesiastical survival and toward the issue of faithful discipleship, the issues become a lot more hopeful and interesting, if not easier. If expecting seminarians to incur substantial debt to complete their education only to receive calls from churches that cannot pay them adequately is not sustainable, how do we train ministers of word and sacrament without compromising the depth, commitment and oversight required for this essential work? If we cannot provide a full time pastor for each congregation, how do we raise up and train lay leaders to assume responsibility for aspects of pastoral ministry that can be delegated? Most importantly, how do we transition from a consumer model under which the church is a producer of religious goods for its membership to a model under which the church is a manufacturer of faithful disciples of Jesus? None of these questions admit of an easy answer. Struggling with them will not stem the demise of the institutional church in America. In fact, it might well accelerate the process! But this is perhaps a time in which it is of particular importance to hear Jesus’ assurance that those who lose their lives for his sake will surely gain them. Matthew 16:25.  

At times like these, we are particularly vulnerable to the siren song of hucksters who claim to know the way forward. During the near forty years of my active full time ministry, a week did not go by without an advertisement coming across my desk promoting a program promising to grow my church. There were variations of method and approach, but they all had one thing in common. None of them worked-at least not in terms of reversing congregational decline. I am reminded of Jesus’ warning about listening to those who cry out, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “There he is!” Matthew 24:23. It would be nice if we had a leader who could show us the path ahead, assure us that the end is near and bring an end to our uncertainty. Hence, the appeal of preachers who pretend to know God’s timetable for the end of time and populist political leaders who offer us simplistic solutions to difficult and complex problems. But God gave no such assurances to Abram. Neither does Jesus offer them to us. We don’t get an itinerary, we don’t get a schedule, we don’t get a road map. What we get is a call to leave the comfortable and familiar and venture out into an unknown future.

The good word for a dying church is that we follow a risen Lord. We cannot see the path ahead, but we know who walks with and before us. We have no idea where we are in time, how much further we need to travel or what will meet us on the road ahead. We have only the promise of a land, a people and a blessing at the end of it all. We get just enough light to put one foot in front of the other. It is not as much as we want. But it’s enough.

Here is a poem by Fenton Johnson articulating the kind of vision that can sustain us on our long journey through the dark wilderness-with a reminder that we are, in fact, still in the dark wilderness.

A Dream

I had a dream last night, a wonderful dream,

I saw an angel riding a chariot-

Oh, my honey, it was a lovely chariot,

Shining like the sun when noon is on the earth.

I saw his wings spreading from moon to earth;

I saw a crown of stars upon his forehead;

I saw his robes algleaming like his chariot.

I bowed my head and let the angel pass,

Because no man can look on Glory’s work;

I bowed my head and trembled in my limbs,

Because I stood on ground of holiness.

I heard the angel in the chariot singing:

“Hallelujah early in the morning!

I know my Redeemer livet-

How is it with your soul?”

I stood on ground of holiness and bowed;

The River Jordan flowed past my feet

As the angel soothed my soul with song,

A song of wonderful sweetness.

I stooped and washed my soul in Jordan’s stream

Ere my Redeemer came to take me home;

I stooped and washed my soul in the waters pure

As the breathing of a new-born child

Lying on a mammy’s breast at night.

I looked and saw the angel descending

And a crown of stars was in his hand:

“Be ye not amazed, good friend,” he said,

“I bring a diadem of righteousness,

A covenant from the Lord of life,

That in the morning you will see

Eternal streets of gold and pearl aglow

And be with me in Paradise.”

The vision faded. I awoke and heard

A mocking-bird upon my window-sill.

Source: Poetry, December 1921. Fenton Johnson (1888 -1958) was an American poet, essayist, author of short stories, editor, and educator. He came from a middle-class African-American family in Chicago where he spent most of his career. His father, Elijah Johnson, was a railroad porter and owner of the State Street building in which the family lived. Johnson received his secondary education at various public schools in the city, including Englewood High School and Wendell Phillips High School. Johnson earned his bachelors degree from the University of Chicago and later attended the Columbia University Pulitzer School of Journalism. After completing school, Johnson worked for a short time as a messenger and postal employee. Shortly thereafter, he secured a teaching position at the State University of Louisville, a private, black, Baptist-owned institution in Kentucky later re-named Simmons College. There he taught English until he returned to Chicago in 1911 to concentrate on his writing career. Johnson published his first volume of poetry, A Little Dreaming, in 1913. Thereafter, he published two others books, Visions of the Dusk and Songs of the Soil in 1915 and 1916 respectively. His work is included in many anthologies of 20th-century poetry. Johnson is considered by many to be a forerunner of the Harlem Renaissance. You can read more about Fenton Johnson and sample more of his work at the Poetry Foundation website.

The Seductive Allure of Power


Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 32

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

Prayer of the Day: Lord God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us, and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises. Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” Matthew 4:8-9.

The devil does not waste time tempting the wicked. He can trust them to find their own way to hell. The devil tempts good people, people with high ideals, people longing for a better world. And he accomplishes that purpose by offering them the tool they need to achieve their noble purposes, namely, coercive power.

It is tempting to buy into the notion that the power of the nations and their splendor is neutral. It can be used for good or ill, in the service of justice or oppression, for altruistic or selfish ends. But that is not what the gospel tells us. According to the gospels, the power and splendor of the world’s kingdoms belong to the devil. You cannot make use of them without paying the devil his due.

The demonic nature of coercive power is often obscured by all that power promises to deliver for the cause of good. I want my children to be successful in life and so I use parental power to punish and reward, to restrict and permit in order to steer them into the paths I believe are best for them. I want my congregation to be focused on outreach and service to my community. So I influence the nomination committee to select for leadership positions people I know share my vision. And why not? If I know what is good and what is right and I have the power to make it happen, why not use it? My children will thank me someday for what they now resent. God will surely overlook a little manipulation of pastoral relations and a few procedural irregularities in congregational process if the result is a powerful witness of justice, peace and service to my community. Coercive power gets results-or so the devil would have us believe.

Of course, things seldom work out as well as one hopes. I wish I could tell you how many unhappy people I have met over the years damaged by and estranged from parents who exercised excessive control under the rubric “I’m doing this because I love you.” A pastor who knows the ropes of church politics can run almost any proposal through a church council and get it approved by the congregation. But to make it work, pastors need the trust and confidence of their people, something they lose once it becomes clear that they have abused their influence to get their way. The splendor and power of the nations is not all that it seems. It is not as effective as it appears. Worse still, it comes with a heavy hidden price and the devil is a merciless creditor. The words of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar ring true:

Slight was the thing I bought,
Small was the debt I thought,
Poor was the loan at best-
God! but the interest!

The costly failure of coercive power is evident. The guns marketed by the gun industry promising protection and safety for our homes are killing our children. The militarization of the police in the name of “law and order” has served only to inflame the fault lines of racial injustice in the United States. Elections imposing the will of the majority on the minority have neither resolved the issues dividing us as a nation nor united us as a people. In the name of saving and/or liberating Ukraine by flooding it with arms and fighters, the nations of the world are destroying it-along with the peoples dying of starvation in the horn of Africa due to the resulting disruption of grain transports. The greatest military power on the planet failed spectacularly in Iraq and Afganistan. The power of the nations is illusory. It cannot deliver the peace, security or prosperity it promises. The devil knows this well. That is why he is willing to part with his so-called power so freely. The devil knows very well how attractive is all the good such power promises to deliver and how blind we are to its cost. So also does Jesus. That is why Jesus tells the devil to keep his power and take a hike.

According to Saint Paul, God’s power appears to the nations of the world as “weakness.” The cross is folly to the nations. It has no place in their struggle for dominance and control. I Corinthians 1:20-25. Our way of exercising power is not God’s way. God loves the world too much to impose God’s will upon it. God will rule the world through love-or not at all. That means God sets aside God’s power of coercion-even if it means that the best God has to give us will be rejected, ridiculed and nailed to a cross. God will not avenge the murder of God’s only Son. Instead, God just keeps raising him up and offering to us again for as long as it takes to win our hearts. God’s power is God’s patience, God’s refusal to be suckered into the devil’s game of intimidation, violence and retribution.

During this Lenten season I think we would do well to meditate on the kind of power exercised in our families, in our work, in our schools and in our churches. What are the practices of coercion that need to be rejected along with all the other works and ways of the devil?

Here is the full poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar cited above expressing the consequence of incurring indebtedness to evil.

The Debt

This is the debt I pay
Just for one riotous day,
Years of regret and grief,
Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end-
Until the grave, my friend,
Gives me a true release-
Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought,
Small was the debt I thought,
Poor was the loan at best-
God! but the interest!

Source: Johnson, James Weldon, The Book of American Negro Poetry (c. 1922 by Harcourt Brace & Company). Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906) was one of America’s first influential African American poets. He grew up in Dayton, Ohio where he lived with his widowed mother. His poetic skill became evident already in high school. The only black student in his class, he was elected class president and class poet. Though he was never able to obtain a college education, he read voraciously. His early poetry gained the admiration and respect of influential poets such as James Whitcomb Riley. With the support of Orville Wright, then in the publishing business, Dunbar was able to publish his first book of poetry. His popularity continued to grow and in 1896 he was invited for a six month reading tour in England to present his poetry. He returned in 1897, married fellow writer Alice Ruth Moore and took a clerkship position in the U.S. Library of Congress, a job that left him time to continue his writing career. Tragically, Dunbar’s physical and psychological health began to deteriorate in 1902, leading to his eventual divorce. He became fatally ill in 1905 and died in February of the following year.

You can find out more about Paul Laurence Dunbar and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

RNC and CPAC Commission Trump Theme Song

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) have conferred to produce a theme song for the Republican Primaries, calling for Republicans to unite behind the only declared Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump. The tune for this new promotional anthem is that of the hymn, “Softly and Tenderly.” Said RNC chair, Rona McDaniel, “We know that a lot of Republicans are wavering in their support for Donald Trump. Some might be thinking of challenging him and we want to get out in front of that.” CPAC chairman, Matt Schlapp, told Ghost reporters, “We recognize that white evangelical support for Mr. Trump has been slipping and we want to reverse that trend asap.” He added, “We think a theme song with a good solid evangelical melody might be just what we need to turn the tide.” The full text of the song is as follows:  

Loudly and vengefully Donald is Calling (Approved by CPAC and the RNC. Can be sung to the tune of “Softly and Tenderly”)

Loudly and vengefully Donald is calling,

Calling the whole G.O.P.

Spewing his venom on faith breaking RINOs

All who will not bend the knee.

Chorus: Come home, come home

Reprobate RINOS come home.

Loudly and vengefully Donald is calling

Reprobate RINOS come home.


Traitorous Kingsinger with turncoat Cheney

Turned on their Donald with ‘crats.

They paid the price of blaspheming their savior.

Voters drowned both just like rats.


Some men denied their dear Donald in weakness.

Lindsey and Kevin did waver.

Groveling and pleading in dark Mar a Logo

Brought them back into his favor .   


Why will you wait to return to your Donald?

You know that you must in the end.

His base is your ticket to staying in power

You must make that lynch mob your friend.



FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

A Transfigurative Moment


Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 99

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

Prayer of the Day: O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice from the bright cloud declaring Jesus your beloved Son, you foreshadowed our adoption as your children. Make us heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“For [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” II Peter 1:17-18.

Any way you look at it, we who follow Jesus stake everything on second hand information. Unlike Saint Peter, we were not there on the mountain top where “Jesus received honor and glory from God the Father.” We did not witness his transfiguration or overhear his conversation with Moses and Elijah. We were not enveloped under the bright cloud or brought to our knees by the divine voice. What we do have are the sacred writings of the apostles and their disciples passed on over the last two millennia first through oral tradition, then in written form and finally canonized by the church as faithful and reliable witnesses to Jesus and the reign of God he proclaimed. The immediacy of Jesus’ transfiguration-as is the case with the rest of his life and ministry-is forever beyond our reach.

Or is it? Do we still experience what the New Testament calls “Kairos” time? Instances when time and eternity intersect? Occasions when centuries of chronological time collapse into a single moment? Intense experiences of God’s presence to us in the present moment? I think that most believers can describe experiences of that kind. Many of us who have spent weeks of our childhood at Christian camps have memories of deep friendships formed, intimate worship experiences that deepened our faith and moments of intense spiritual joy. Some of us have experienced a rebirth and deepening of our faith at some crisis point in our lives that has imprinted itself on our hearts and minds.

I, for one, frequently sense a foretaste of the new creation when I see dancers defying the power of gravity and hinting at our final release from the gravitational pull of sin and death. I sometimes experience the timelessness of the communion of saints at the funeral of a loved one when, through tears, the congregation finds itself singing as one with the saints in light. I experience the immediacy of God’s inbreaking kingdom when poets stretch human words and images to the breaking point making room for mysteries too big for words. These are just a few ways God’s Spirit breaks through the ordinary rhythms of life and transfigures our vision, letting us know that there is more, so much more.

The thing to remember is that these transfiguration moments are transitory. Most of our days continue to flow in plain old chronological time where one thing follows another. Most of our weeks involve going to work or school, preparing and eating our meals, reading the mail, taking out the trash and singing the liturgy on Sunday. I do not mean to denigrate the ordinary. There is holiness to be found in the humblest task and joy that flows from the routine work of living and serving others. Indeed, I would say that the joyful work of discipleship is always done in the ordinary and that the ordinary is where our focus ought to be. Transfigurative experiences are not intended to free us from the ordinary, but to drive us back into it with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.  

Transfiguration moments can be transformative. They can sustain one’s faith in times when it is being sorely tested. They can broaden one’s vision and remind one that beneath the smallest subatomic particle the Spirit of God is throbbing with unlimited potential, the Word of God is tenaciously holding creation together against the powers of evil that would rip it apart and the parental providence of God is drawing it toward its proper end in God’s Trinitarian Self. Life is not directionless. It is going somewhere. Every so often, the Spirit of God gives us a glimpse-but no more than that-of the final destination. That is often just enough to keep us putting one foot in front of the other.

At this juncture in the gospel narrative, the disciples needed the Transfiguration. Jesus had just told them what was about to happen to him in Jerusalem. He told them that the cross he was to bear would be theirs to share. The gospels tell us the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying and were unwilling to accept it. How could they have reacted otherwise? Who can blame Peter for wanting to prolong the moment of Transfiguration and drown in the light of Jesus’ glory his call to take up the cross? Who can blame us for wanting to turn off the frightening news of war, deadly earthquakes, unidentified objects flying over us and ever new permutations of Covid 19? Who can blame any of us for wanting to tarry in the sunlight rather than take up the cross and follow Jesus into the darkness of death? How is it possible to believe that this dark path leads finally to a new creation?

Thank God for artists and sculptors who open our eyes to what is not yet, but might be. Thank God for musicians who lift our spirits, joining our hearts and voices in song, giving us a brief taste of the unity God desires for all humanity. Thank God for dancers and athletes whose bodily antics prefigure the freedom of the resurrected body from the gravitational pull of sin and death. Thank God for poets who stretch our minds and our imaginations beyond what we typically observe. Thank God for preachers who open the letter of scripture, making it a portal into the new age toward which we are being led. Thank God for transfigurative moments, great and small. May they give us just enough light to make once again the journey through Lent and into the mystery of the Resurrection!

Here is a transfigurative poem by James Weldon Johnson inviting us to “Look up, and out, beyond, surrounding clouds.”


My heart be brave, and do not falter so,   

Nor utter more that deep, despairing wail.   

Thy way is very dark and drear I know,   

But do not let thy strength and courage fail;   

For certain as the raven-winged night

Is followed by the bright and blushing morn,   

Thy coming morrow will be clear and bright;   

’Tis darkest when the night is furthest worn.   

Look up, and out, beyond, surrounding clouds,   

And do not in thine own gross darkness grope,   

Rise up, and casting off thy hind’ring shrouds,   

Cling thou to this, and ever inspiring hope:

   Tho’ thick the battle and tho’ fierce the fight,

   There is a power making for the right.

Source:  Complete Poems (c. 2000 by Penguin Publishing Group). James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was a lawyer, teacher and civil rights leader in the early part of the twentieth century. As head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the 1920s, Johnson led civil rights campaigns aimed at eliminating legal, political, and social obstacles to black advancement. Johnson was appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as U.S. consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua from 1906 to 1913. In 1934, he was the first African American professor to be hired at New York University. Later in life, he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, a historically black university. In addition to these achievements, Johnson was also a gifted author and poet. He established his reputation as a writer and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novel and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. His poem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” was later set to music and came to be known as “the Negro National Anthem.” It is found in many Christian hymnals today, including Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). See ELW # 841.You can read more about James Weldon Johnson and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth


Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

Prayer of the Day: O God, strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

“Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:34-37.

How often haven’t you heard some one say, “Well, frankly….” Or “To be perfectly honest with you…” Someday I will work up the courage to say, “Wait! You mean you haven’t been frank with me for the last ten minutes? You mean that, ordinarily, you are less than honest with me, but now you are deciding to be “perfectly honest?” If and when I ever pull a stunt like that, I suspect the response will be that, no, my conversation partners are not implying that they are being dishonest. They only mean to say that what they are now telling me is important, that they are making a strenuous effort to be accurate and that I should pay close attention. Be that as it may, should we not always strive to be accurate? Should we not always pay close attention to each other? Is any communication so unimportant that we can afford to be less than scrupulously truthful? 

I do not believe Jesus is suggesting that oaths requiring truthful answers under pain of perjury are wrong in themselves. Oaths required by law are designed to put those taking them on notice that false or misleading statements are subject to criminal prosecution. Jesus seems to be making an oath like statement when he appeals to the testimony of his Heavenly Father. John 8:17-19. I took an oath to defend the state and federal constitutions when I was admitted to practice law before the courts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the United States.[1] The problem comes with invoking the name of God on one’s own behalf, which is a tacit admission that without the oath, one’s representations would be less than credible. Disciples of Jesus should have no need for such oaths. They should know that everything they say is said in God’s presence and under God’s judgment. They should know that the truth matters, whether it pertains to matters great or small. “Yes” or “no” in their mouths always means yes or no in the presence and hearing of God.

Playing fast and loose with the truth is sadly common place in our civil discourse. Who can forget former President Bill Clinton’s rationalization to the grand jury attempting to explain why he wasn’t lying when he said to his top aides that, with respect to Monica Lewinsky, “There’s nothing going on between us.” Here’s what Clinton told the grand jury according to footnote 1,128 in Starr’s report:

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement. … Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

Lame as this linguistic gobbledygook surely is and as preferable as “coming clean” with the truth may have been, give the man credit at the very least for understanding that lying is wrong and something about which one ought to be ashamed (along with a good many other things). Furthermore, a fib over one’s sexual indiscretions pales in comparison to the over thirty thousand lies told by former President Donald Trump who, when caught, simply doubles down, repeating them more loudly and emphatically. But the prize for most outrageous prevaricator goes to newly elected Representative George Santos who sold himself to the voters as a self made millionaire, grandson of Holocaust survivors, honors graduate of a prestigious college and the grieving son of a mother who perished in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Of course, it is now known that he was neither rich, Jewish or a college graduate. Nor did his mother die in the 9/11 attack. Nonetheless, Mr. Santos was seated in the house of representatives, thereby demonstrating that the truth is now entirely without value in our government.[2]

The church, the Body of believers in Jesus, are called to truthfulness in the extreme. Truthfulness that begins with ourselves. After all, the most dangerous lies we tell are the ones we tell about ourselves to ourselves. That is perhaps the source of all dishonesty. If you have a false view of yourself, that colors the way you understand the world, the way you form opinions about others and the way you express yourself. Honesty begins with learning to know ourselves as we are known by God. We call that repentance, something we cannot do on our own. To see ourselves as we really are-as we are seen by God, we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others, particularly those who live with and observe us, those who can point out our blind spots and those we have harmed. There is no other way of getting a clear picture of ourselves. Until that happens, there is little hope for change.

What applies individually also applies corporately. The church has much over which to lament and repent. We need to understand our instrumentality in the cruel legacy of colonialism. We need to recognize the grip of white supremacy and patriarchy that have permeated so much of our ecclesiastical life. We need to acknowledge the shameful presence of predatory behavior in our midst and our long held practice of covering it up and silencing its victims. We need to confess our demonization, exclusion and complicity in the hatred, violence and persecution of LGBTQ+ folk. It is tempting to deny all of this, minimize it or pretend that it is all in the past and that we can march into the future as though it never happened. To that, Saint Paul has a blunt response: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:9-10. One could say that truthfulness is the foundation for all Christian ethics. Unless we get that right, the rest will be hopelessly skewed.  

Can a community as fragmented and morally compromised as the church really be “salt” to the earth or a “light” to the world? My answer is a qualified “yes.” I believe that the church, like every individual, is capable of redemption, reform and renewal. When we can stop imagining ourselves as the righteous few preaching to a sinful world and instead see ourselves clearly as recovering sinners struggling for our own sobriety, we will finally have something of value to say to that world. But it begins with each baptized member, each congregation and the leadership of each ecclesiastical tradition taking an honest look within, making a fearless inventory of our sin, corporate and individual, and openness to being made new-however painful that process might be. Until we address the sin in our midst, until we are ready to be the change we call for in our many social teaching statements, the rest of the world will continue to dismiss all of our bold, well articulated ecclesiastical proclamations as preachy screechy moralism.  Again, in the words of Saint Paul, “putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” Ephesians 4:25.

This being Black History Month, I plan to post poems of Black American poets for the next severa weeks so that we might begin to see more clearly ourselves, our nation and our churches through their unique artistic perspectives. Perhaps that is a good place for learning truthfulness to begin. Here is one such poem by Langston Hughes.

I Look at the World

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space   

Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!

I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

Source: Source: Poetry (December 2008; c. by New Haven: Beinecke Library, Yale University). Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was an important African American voice in the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. Though well-educated and widely traveled, Hughes’ poetry never strayed far from his roots in the African American community. Early in his career, Hughes’ work was criticized by some African American intellectuals for portraying what they viewed as an unflattering representation of back life. In a response to these critics, Hughes replied, “I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”  Today Langston Hughes is recognized globally as a towering literary figure of the 20th Century. You can read more about Hughes and discover more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website (from which the above quote is taken).

[1] To be precise, the New Jersey oath allows one to “affirm” rather than swear. That might alleviate the consciences of some who are uncomfortable with the biblical language. But it is really a distinction without a difference. In either case, you are representing your awareness that if the statements you make turn out to be false, you are subject to legal prosecution. In other words, you are saying, “OK, now I am really telling the truth.” 

[2] House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy rationalized the seating of Mr. Santos by pointing out that, after all, the voters elected him and, if they find his behavior offensive, they can deal with it in the next election. In my view, that is a little like telling the victim of a scam perpetrated by someone claiming to be an IRS agent that the scammer should not be prosecuted because, after all, the victim willingly paid him money. Just as the victim paid the scammer because he was convinced he was dealing with the IRS, so the voters thought they were electing a self made millionaire with a compelling story of heroism and achievement. What both actually got was a shameless scammer.