3rd Sunday after Epiphany: The Earthly Kingdom versus the Kingdom of God

3rd Sunday after Epiphany: The Earthly Kingdom versus the Kingdom of God

Matthew 4:12-23

By: The Rev. Jim Dahlin

In November, a 93-year-old woman from my congregation died. She had dementia when my tenure began and was homebound and cared for by her children. At the funeral, I heard some great stories from her life and got to know the woman a little better. One of the difficult and memorable stories was that she remembered a lynching that occurred here in town when she was a kid. I live in rural North Carolina now, but I grew up in the affluent suburbs of Chicago. I’m nearing 40 years old, and lynchings seem like ugly things from ancient times. I’m also a straight white guy. My privilege means that lynchings aren’t an inherent part of my life and vocabulary. To know that lynchings were recent enough that she remembered one is to bring that reality into the present. This not-too-distant commonplace act of terrorism is something I’m learning more about and seeing our need to address (finally) after all these years.

In James Cone’s brilliant, gut-wrenching book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, he describes a story Martin Luther King’s father told him. When Martin Luther King Sr. was a child, a black man was walking down the street passed a group of white men. One of the white men was poor and quite angry. He didn’t like this employed black man walking around town with a job when he, a white man, was unemployed. So, the white man convinced his friends to help him apprehend the black man, beat him and hang him from a tree, dead. Martin Luther King Sr. hid nearby and watched it happen. This is a part of our recent American history. White men were able to take hold of black bodies and do with them as they pleased. At the heart of racism is not simply a dislike of the ‘other,’ but also privilege and power dynamics. The white men in this story believed a centuries’ old lie told by the people in power that poor white folks should blame black folks for their problems. This has been a cycle throughout American history (and probably human history, but I don’t want to overstep my bounds). Fear and power differentials lead to destructive behavior.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see some power dynamics at work. Throughout the book of Matthew, one of the major themes is the Kingdom of God in contrast to the Kingdom of Israel; or the Kingdom of God in contrast to the Roman Empire. Matthew’s Gospel shows the corruption and earthly power of Rome and Jerusalem in contrast with the Power of God in Jesus. For example, the Temple was the central place of religious activity; the sacred space of God’s presence. In Matthew’s Gospel we hear that ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name…’ Power shifts from the established earthly structures to the Jesus Movement (to use Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s phrase).

But today’s reading begins with John the Baptist’s arrest. He spoke to the earthly powers and said, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” And those powers didn’t like it. This isn’t really surprising, but it’s a reminder that those in power can oppress by taking and moving the body where it doesn’t want to go. John the baptizer may be on a mission from God, but here on Earth King Herod and his friends wield the power. So John goes off to jail. This causes Jesus to leave Nazareth and make his home in Capernaum.

This movement reminds me of the book of Acts. The way Acts is structured, whenever the new Jesus Movement faces persecution, it’s followed by a scattering of the faithful who then spread the Gospel in cities further and further out. The means by which the people in power hope to end the movement (persecution and murder) is the very reason the Movement spreads! It’s a fascinating irony throughout the history of the Jesus Movement. When earthly powers seek to suppress and end the Movement, it only makes it grow stronger, deeper and wider! One could make an argument that when the Jesus Movement was freely given a seat at the table of power, that’s when it ceased to grow. I’ll let you ponder that further as I move back to the Gospel.

Another major theme of Matthew’s Gospel is the need to be rooted in the Old Testament. So John’s arrest causes Jesus to move to Capernaum, and Matthew ties that to the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah. The ‘great light’ has come to those ‘in the region and shadow of death.’ The Light of Christ has come to the darkness. In the text of Isaiah, the region of Galilee is in darkness because it’s a place of Gentiles. In Matthew we can see that King Herod’s Israel is in darkness because they won’t heed the call of the prophet John and instead throw him in prison. In John’s place comes Jesus, similarly proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus takes up the prophetic call to serve the heavenly King. The earthly King has failed you.

Let’s remember that this proclamation of John the Baptist and then Jesus to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” is good news. I feel like I hear these words and often think of some film I’ve seen where things are about to go horribly wrong for the protagonist and the director/cinematographer uses a quick image of some unhygienic street ‘preacher’ holding a poorly made sign with these words. In those films, this is seen as foreshadowing something awful. For us, as good readers of this text, it is a call to turn (repent means to turn or to turn away) from putting faith in the earthly powers and structures of this world. We are to witness to and preach the kingdom of heaven. It means that the kingdom of heaven is come! The passage ends with Jesus teaching, proclaiming the good news, curing every disease and sickness among the people. As we align ourselves with the kingdom of heaven, we see this world with new eyes and we stand up for the justice of God.

The powers that be are not what they should be. It was all too recent that folks were lynched in our town. It’s all too common that folks are going hungry. It’s all too common that folks are addicted to opioids. It’s all too common for us to believe the lies of the people in power and the structures of this world. We are the Jesus Movement and we look to God for our Hope, our Peace, our Good News! How is God calling our scattered selves to spread the Jesus Movement amidst the dark history of our town? How can we witness to the Kingdom of God on a daily basis? The light of Christ has come into the region of the shadow of death. May God strengthen our resolve to live as bold witnesses to God’s kingdom.

 

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The Rev. Jim Dahlin

The Rev. Jim Dahlin is Rector of St. Mary’s & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Morganton, North Carolina. Despite looking like the bad guy in every World War II movie, his racially diverse, loving congregation has embraced him as they seek to faithfully worship God and figure out what it means to confess the Christian faith. Jim loves a challenging hike, a good pint of beer, riding his motorcycle and laughing. He is new to ordained ministry, but has been educated at various seminaries.

 

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: What Are We Looking For?

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: What Are We Looking For?

John 1:29-42

By: The Rev. Cn. Manoj Mathew Zacharia

As a church nerd, I am tempted to reflect on “the Lamb of God” and correlate this with a variety of substantive theological work on atonement theories. Yet, I will not succumb to this temptation. Rather, I am intrigued by Jesus’ response to the two disciples who took it upon themselves to follow Jesus when they heard John say “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” (Jn. 1:36) Jesus turned to them and asked “What are you looking for?” (Jn. 1:37)

The question raised by Jesus sets off an interesting turn of events wherein the two disciples go and spend time with Jesus at his dwelling. Andrew, one of the followers, evangelizes to his brother Peter and says “We have found the Messiah.” (Jn. 1:41)

What prompted Andrew and, presumably, the beloved disciple to follow Jesus?

Did they follow in the words of Archbishop William Temple, “as do most of us, because of what they have heard another say. We are Christians because we have been taught; and those who taught us were taught themselves.”[1] My sense is that they followed because of a deep thirst to drink from the fountain of life (Jn. 4:13) Andrew and the beloved disciple are open enough to hear the words of John the Baptist because they long for something deeper. While following John the Baptist was a stop on their pilgrimage, they recognized that John’s teaching was not their final destination. Their openness to an experience beyond the mundane is a fundamental existential longing for deeper meaning. The entirety of the Johannine Gospel revolves around the search for deeper meaning. The potency of the Johannine Gospel, as one can infer from St. Clement of Alexandria, is its spiritual nature, where profound meaning must be gleaned from allegory. This spiritual nature is not esoteric. It is rooted in the fundamental fact of the divine logos becoming immanent. The significance of the divine logos becoming flesh is the potential for authentic restoration of the world through the incarnate Word. It is through the incarnate Word that authenticity or the path to ultimate truth is restored. (Jn. 14:6)

Whether the character is John the Baptist, Andrew, the beloved disciple, Nathanael, Nicodemus, or Thomas, the existential longing for meaning can only be quenched when one comes to a profound understanding of truth. The nature of moving from the mundane to the potency of Ultimate Truth is through following Jesus. The vision of the Johannine Gospel is for seekers of the Truth to recognize that the divine self-giving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ is the effective medium through which the world is redeemed. As the first chapter began with Andrew and the beloved disciple following Jesus, the resurrected Lord beckons Peter to “follow.” (Jn. 21) In other words, the mark of recognizing the Ultimate Truth is the unconditional vocation to follow Jesus.

What are we looking for?

The answer to this question depends on our basic orientation towards and understanding of Truth. If our orientation is rooted in self-centeredness and the accumulation of wealth and power for its own sake, then we are looking for truth in the idols that society has given us in the form of individualistic materialism and consumerism. If we are looking for an authentic experience rooted in the vision of a new heaven and earth bridged by the reconciling work of God manifest in the redemptive work of Christ, we are looking for a relationship centered on Jesus, who proclaimed himself to be the way, the truth, and the life. The movement from looking to following is what we, as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, are called to emulate. Once we have witnessed the Ultimate Truth, the call for us becomes to follow. In following, we center ourselves in the discipline of grappling with the worldview set forth by the architect of the Kingdom. Being centered on this world view, our call is to work towards the building of a New Heaven and New Earth where “the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; for he will wipe every tear rom their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” (Rev. 21:3-5)

 

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The Rev. Cn. Manoj Mathew Zacharia

The Rev. Canon Manoj Mathew Zacharia is Sub-Dean at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. Canon Zacharia serves as the Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He is currently ABD from his Ph.D. program (Toronto) in the area Philosophy of Religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temple, William. Readings in St. John’s Gospel. Vol. First and Second, 2 vols. London: MacMillan and Company Limited, 1939.

 

 

[1] William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, vol. First and Second, 2 vols. (London: MacMillan and Company Limited, 1939).

Epiphany: Not Your Average Christmas Pageant!

Epiphany: Not Your Average Christmas Pageant

Matthew 2:1-12

By: Colin Cushman

Our text this week is Matthew’s story of the magi visiting the baby Jesus. Us Westerners are very familiar with this text. And those of us who are preachers often get bored by this story from preaching it every year. It has no sense of drama or surprise anymore. Our yearly Christmas pageants render it toothless. However, I have found that a political historical-critical reading of this story brings nuances to the surface that I certainly don’t hear in pageants. To my taste, it breathes new life into this story, its theology, and its implications.

The first thing that critical Biblical scholars emphasize is that the birth stories in Matthew and Luke are different. Contrary to our Christmas pageants, it does a disservice to the authors and their messages if we mash them together. For example, Luke’s birth narrative ties into his emphasis on the Great Reversal. For Luke, God works with the unexpected, especially the disenfranchised. In this gospel, the first is the last, and the last is the first. Matthew, however, has a different perspective. His birth story is all about politics. The spotlight swings onto the (inter)national scene and portrays Jesus as a rival king who threatens the powers that be. When the magi (more on them below) come and worship Jesus, they grant him political legitimacy.

Do you see the different stories that Matthew and Luke are telling? Matthew’s political story ties into his broader emphases, as well. For him, Jesus is the new Moses. Here, Jesus is not destroying the Law but perfecting it. In this gospel, the problem is not that the Pharisees follow the law in all of its minutia; it’s that they don’t follow it well enough!

Matthew’s portrait of the new Moses shows up as early as his birth story. Herod plays the role of Pharaoh. In real life, Herod was a very complex man. He was famous in the ancient world. He oversaw massive building projects, absolutely transforming the infrastructure of the region. The projects, of course, cemented his extraordinary fame. However, massive building projects accrue massive costs. Herod steeply increased taxes on the working population—the majority of whom were living close to subsistence level.

That being said, Herod was also famous in another way. He was obscenely obsessed with power and hyper-paranoid. Moreover, when trying to protect himself, he was absolutely brutal. He constantly stayed on guard against threats to his power. His track record shows the extent of this paranoia. In total, he killed 300 public officials, 2 of his sons (whom he strangled), and one of his wives, all on the suspicion that they were plotting conspiracies against his throne.

At the risk of speculating, perhaps these show that Herod was deeply insecure. After all, though he was serving as king, he didn’t have any royal heritage, he was an ethnic outsider, and his family converted to Judaism just one generation before he took the throne. He was installed by the Roman state, not by his subjects. Did these things explain why he was over-compensating? (Napoleonic Complex, anyone?) But as I said, at this point, I’m just speculating.

Let us also notice in this story the religious leaders. Unlike some commentators, we cannot denigrate all of these actors as religious elites. That being said, the structural function of the religious leaders was to maintain the hierarchical/colonial power structures of the Temple and the Roman imperial rule. These leaders ultimately serve Herod and make sure things don’t get too out of hand.

The outsiders in this story are the magi. We have incorrectly learned from carols that they were Three Kings. Wise Men is perhaps more accurate, but as we will see, even that title does not really get at their ambiguous status. A magus (singular of magi) was a particular royal position in the Persian priestly class. They directly served the king, which means that they had ties to the political centers of power. As a class, they claimed to gain supernatural knowledge through astrology.

This was a deeply unsettling, weird class of people. We see some of this come out in the story of Simon the Magus in Acts. He is a sorcerer tapping into some sort of arcane magic—a deeply ambiguous figure, fascinating but suspicious, shifty and crooked. Some kings also harbored suspicions, recognizing that the magi, in delivering a negative prophecy, could be a threat to the royal apparatus.

But for the Greco-Roman elites, giving magi even this much credit was too much. They simply saw them as “frauds” and “unreliable.” Moreover, as Easterners, these elites also attached stereotypes to them: drunkards, regular attenders of brothels, superstitious, “slaves.” In spite of these stereotypes, however, some Greco-Roman rulers were still intrigued. They imported magi to join their royal courts. Perhaps for us moderns to understand their deep ambiguity, the best parallel is to fortune-tellers. Like them, magi were superstitious and couldn’t be trusted—but yet they still held a mysterious appeal.

The magi, of course, were following a star. As hard as people try to find naturalistic explanations for this, basic Greco-Roman beliefs provide the best explanation. Many different ancient peoples believed that a star appeared in the night sky at one’s birth. The brighter it was, the more important the person will be. Since the magi saw such a bright star, they recognized that a new king had been born. The importance of this event made it worth it for them to make the long trek to find this new king.

Note well: this is precisely the thing that Herod was terrified of. This is why he slaughtered hundred of his subjects: to eliminate any royal contenders. The title “King of the Jews” was the same title that Rome bestowed upon Herod when he officially got their backing. But in Matthew’s story, we see Jesus also gaining the title “King of the Jews” from members of a royal court. In Jesus’ birth, Matthew shows us the arrival of this alternative king through a number of different symbols.

This king will be truly different from the kings we have seen before. Herod is perched in his gaudy palace, firmly located in the center of sociopolitical power. Jesus, by contrast, comes to a house in the backwater town of Nowheresville. (Note that in this story, Jesus is born in a house. The manger is the property of Luke’s narrative.) Herod is infamous for his brutality, and paranoia about his status and power. Jesus instead teaches downward mobility, voluntarily taking on servanthood, and nonviolent use of power.

So then, Matthew ends up narrating a story of several sketchy fortune-tellers dropping a bombshell on the king and those supporting him. Standing in for the role of Pharaoh is Herod and Jesus for Moses. Just as in the Exodus, it is a show-off between coercive, dictatorial power and God’s power, mediated by a human. However, beyond the Moses story, the magi insist that Jesus is a new alternative King.

Herod (like Pilate) was indeed right that Jesus did pose a threat to his rule. However, it didn’t look like they expected. Jesus did not accommodate to the demands of empire. Empire demands total allegiance, but Jesus’ way refuses to give allegiance to anybody but God.

That is the compelling story that I find here (and will never see depicted in a Christmas pageant). [1]

 

[1] For an excellent political reading of the gospel of Matthew (which was my main conversation partner for this article), see Warren Carter’s Matthew and the Margins (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Press, 2001).

 

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Colin Cushman

Colin Cushman is the pastor of Seabold United Methodist Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington. His primary focus is on the intersection of social justice, and Biblical studies and theology. He and his wife enjoy living in such a beautiful region of the country and look forward to seeing what God is at work doing here.

 

 

Baptism of Our Lord: Make Them Hear You

Baptism of Our Lord: Make Them Hear You

Matthew 3:13-17

By: The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

Your sword can be a sermon, or the power of the pen….make them hear you.

In the musical Ragtime, Coalhouse Walker, an African American jazz piano player — after attempting legal means to have his Model T restored and the racist vandal held accountable for its destruction — takes over the Morgan Library and threatens to blow it up. Coalhouse is a radical who fights for the entire show to be recognized as a person of full worth, as one of God’s beloved with whom God could be well pleased.

Coalhouse’s demands aren’t met. He doesn’t get to mete his own justice to the fire fighter, and he is shot with his hands up after being assured safe passage for himself and his followers. When he gives up his cause and agrees to turn himself over, his followers are disappointed. They had found something to believe in and then it was gone. Coalhouse assuages them by admonishing them, “Make them hear you.”

Coalhouse, like Jesus, takes the brunt of the state’s punishment for his followers. Coalhouse, like Jesus, tells those following him to tell their story. He says,

Go out and tell our story.

Let it echo far and wide…

How justice was our battle

And how justice was denied…

In Ragtime the end of Coalhouse’s occupation of the Morgan Library — and the end of his life — is presumably the beginning of a movement of people working for racial justice in New York suburbs: people who followed him, and people who trusted the government to keep its promises.

On Friday, January 20, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. His election has left many people — people of color, undocumented immigrants, queer people like me, and women — fearful. They are afraid that he will follow through on his campaign promises of mass deportation, rolling back LGBT rights, working with the Congress to restrict women’s access to full and adequate healthcare, and continue practices that limit African Americans’ access to voting.

Friday, January 20 will be a beginning not yet seen between election day and the inauguration. The transition time is only planning, hoping, and preparing for taking the oath of office. Inauguration Day begins the reality, as the authority of the office. While many are saying, “Give him a chance,” his personnel decisions are policy. By the end of November his choices reflected an opposition to immigration, rejection of Civil Rights legislation, the belief that women who have abortions should be punished, and distaste for LGBT inclusion in the full life of society. Even before the inauguration, policy is taking place.

Matthew 3.13-17 gives us a very quick snapshot of a different beginning: the beginning of Jesus’ miracle. Most liturgical traditions hearing this passage will celebrate baptisms or engage in baptismal renewals. Jesus’ baptism is a time when the Church remembers that its members have been baptized, and in so remembering reflects on the vows they have made, vows that will be instructive for remembering on Inauguration Day, during the Trump presidency, and — as the Church intends — throughout life.

First and foremost, the Church must remember the baptismal profession of faith. In the United Methodist Church, the question is, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”

My church, The Episcopal Church, breaks that profession into three questions, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?” In short, the Church reminds us in baptismal remembrances — and preachers would do well to remind their hearers — that we’ll never find a savior on Capitol Hill.

Secondly, the Church reminds the baptized that they have renounced the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejected the evil powers of this world, and repented of their sin. In some traditions there is a promise that when (not if) one falls into sin to repent and return to the Lord. Sin is committed by both the individual and corporate lives: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are sins individuals commit and that churches and governments commit in enacted policy. Jesus’ baptism — which takes place among the crowds of Jerusalem and Judea who heard John the Baptizer’s call and repented of their sins — is a call for the people of the Church to repent of their individual and corporate sins.

Thirdly, baptism for Christians is a beginning — not a culmination. Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his public ministry, and Inauguration Day will be the official beginning of the Trump Administration. The Church’s remembrance of Jesus’ baptism, inviting its members to remember their own baptisms and promises reminds them of the duty and work they’ve signed up for.

In The Episcopal Church this work includes striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being and proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. In The Episcopal Church, the baptized are expected to tell the stories of Jesus and the Good News of salvation he brings, to preach the Gospel using words, not just their example.

Finally, the four verses from early in Matthew’s Gospel detailing Jesus’ baptism bookend with verses at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus’ direction to his followers to go through their lives teaching others his commandments and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ teachings are that he brought good news to the poor, and hope for those on the margins. Those who follow him are called to continue that work.

Jesus tells his friends that he is with them always, even to the end of the age — regardless of who occupies the White House or controls the houses of Congress. Even with that assurance he gives his followers the direction to continue his work and to tell people their story, and to stand up for what is right. In baptism the Church calls people to repentance and to tell the story of the man they followed. In reaffirmation and in baptism the call of Jesus and the Church is that of Coalhouse Walker just before his death: make them hear you.

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The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is a priest in The Episcopal Church. Joseph is formerly the Working Group Head for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of California. He and his husband Brandon are in transition to Seattle, where his husband will practice sleep medicine. Joseph is discerning his next call and will review the Greek he hasn’t touched since seminary, read, bake, and maybe work as a barista in the interim.

Holy Name: What’s in a Name?

Holy Name: What’s in a Name?

Luke 2:15-21

By: The Rev. Anna Tew

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21 NRSV).

“What’s your name?”

You can hear this question in an astonishingly wide range of emotional tones: curiously friendly. Angry and demanding. Sympathetic and caring. When in the presence of a stranger, it often feels natural or even necessary to learn someone’s name. Names are important to humans: they are, quite literally, our identities. Since language has existed, what a person is called has been crucially important both to the individual and to the community.

Humanity highly values names, and the Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, are no exception. In the book of Genesis, God names things as God creates them — including the first human: “Adam,” who is created out of adamah, the earth. After God creates and names the human, God has Adam name all of the animals. In Exodus, before Moses can introduce the Hebrew people to their God, he has to learn God’s name: “YHWH” — “I am what I am, and I will be what I will be.”

Throughout Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, names are changed to reflect new identities and purposes. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel, the one who struggles with God. In the New Testament, Saul becomes Paul and Simon becomes Peter, the Rock upon which the Church is built. From creation, names have been given the highest importance. They are more than just words. They often convey a person’s place and purpose in the world.

In a faith that so highly values names, the Holy Name of Jesus is the “name above all names” — a phrase from Philippians 2 which is often quoted in Christian songs of varying quality. If indeed our faith so highly values names, Jesus should be given the most powerful, dominant, beautiful name. Then there’s the rest of Philippians 2: “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 NRSV) — a passage that some use as a way of asserting the superiority of Christianity over other faiths. The irony of doing this, however, is that it is in the midst of a passage about humility (cf. Philippians 2:1-8).

When I was a child growing up in the rural South, the name of Jesus was often used almost like an incantation. Jesus had the mightiest name, the most powerful name, the strongest name. Given this human tendency to emphasize power, Jesus should have been born and named as a prince in a royal ceremony. If our faith is meant to be the dominant, powerful one, our God should have been a high-born, noble-born child.

But we find Jesus today in the Gospel passage born in a stable, with no one but his parents and some low-born shepherds to celebrate and spread news of his birth. He’s born poor to young parents, named on the eighth day like every other Jewish boy, and becomes a refugee in Egypt at a young age. But we are also told that he is named by an angel before he is conceived. We are also told that angels announce his birth to the shepherds. This ordinary poor boy is also holy — our God has become flesh and lived among us, not as a king, but as a carpenter’s son.

From those beginnings, Jesus, whose holy name simply means “to save,” lives as God-made-flesh who is not so much interested in dominance as in making the ordinary holy. The ordinary life of a thirty-year-old man born in an occupied land is also the holy life of the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Ordinary people become holy pillars of a new faith: Peter, the fisherman; Mary, the girl engaged to the carpenter; Matthew, the tax collector; Mary, the woman who went to put spices on the body of the executed teacher. Sinners become saints.

Ordinary bread and wine become the holy body and blood of God.

And in baptism, ordinary water becomes holy and washes ordinary people clean and welcomes them into the family of God — in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Names are important to us and to our faith: they help us to define ourselves, each other, and our world.

The name of Jesus makes the ordinary holy.

It is not a magic word, and it is not an incantation. It is not meant to denote dominance. In the holy name of the ordinary poor boy who was God-made-flesh, our own names, our own bodies, are made holy.

The name of Jesus makes the ordinary holy.

We, ordinary people, ordinary flesh, are made holy by the God born in a stable in an occupied land. The name of Jesus makes the ordinary holy. Therefore, as we begin another ordinary year in the Holy Name of Jesus, let us pray that God would make our ordinary year holy: may we seek and find God this year in the ordinary, for God has made the ordinary sacred. May we find God in the poor children born in the occupied lands. May we find God in the marginalized and oppressed of our own nation. May we find God in our ordinary neighbors, for the name of Jesus makes the ordinary holy. Amen.

 

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The Rev. Anna Tew

The Rev. Anna Tew is a 30-year-old Lutheran pastor serving Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in South Hadley, Massachusetts, part of the New England Synod of the ELCA. She moved to New England from Atlanta, Georgia, and is known for her frequent use of the word “y’all.” Anna graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2011 and has since served in a variety of settings, urban and rural, in hospital chaplaincy and in the parish. In her spare time, she enjoys climbing mountains and being outdoors, as well as exploring the noisy intersections of faith, politics, pop culture, and psychology.