Mr. Doubt

John 6:56-69 – The 13th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 23, 2015

“Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?” (John 6:60)

Self-Doubt+in+relationships+autismA hand waved from the back of the room.

Then came the question: “Do you have ‘anyone’ in the room with you when you write?”

The quotation marks hugging “anyone” are important. The questioner was referring to an imagined real person.

Ron Carlson answered with, “Oh, yes I—”

In a moment I’ll finish Carlson’s response.

A few years ago, for an August week, I lived in Squaw Valley USA, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Perched at 6,200 feet near Lake Tahoe, this Sierra slice of heaven is also many slices of commercialism. In winter, skiers flock here. Fancy restaurants, a golf course, luxury hotels, and mansion-like cabins dot the landscape. Continue reading →

End of Story?

John 20:19-31 – 2nd Sunday of Easter – for April 12, 2015

“After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them…” (John 20:26)

The Doubt of St. Thomas by He Qi ©2001
The Doubt of St. Thomas by He Qi ©2001

Why can’t I ignore the disciple Thomas?

Each year, when reading the scripture for Lent, and then plunging into the intense, familiar verses about Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, I rarely think about Thomas. Indeed, with a few exceptions—Peter’s bumbling betrayals, Judas’ fatal scheming—I’m hugely focused on Jesus.

Of course I am!

The scope of Jesus’ ministry expanded when he arrived in Jerusalem for his final visit. His disciples drank too much at “the last supper” and spent part of the night asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, physically in a stupor when Jesus prayed and collectively helpless at his arrest. Then, and elsewhere, his devoted followers barely mattered. Soon enough, they’d literally vanish, cowards or clever or both. But what matters in all the Gospel accounts, with the cross looming and Jesus’ crowd-pleasing teaching and healing a distant memory, are the manipulations of the entrenched religious authorities and the raw power of the Roman empire.

Who will prevail? Continue reading →

On, By, Near, or Upon

Matthew 14:22-33 – The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 10, 2014

“. . . and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus walked on water*.

Yes or no? Fact or fiction?

  1. It’s in the Bible, so it must be true that Jesus performed miracles and ignored the laws of nature. Therefore, Jesus strode across the lake.
  2. The believers who wrote the Gospels wanted to demonstrate Jesus’s superiority over Roman power. Therefore, his water-walk was a metaphoric response to imperial arrogance.
  3. People in the ancient world of Jesus experienced the world differently than we moderns. For example, a storm destroying crops could be God’s anger at a person/village. Thus, it can’t be affirmed or denied that Jesus performed miracles since he lived in a superstitious, pre-scientific era.
Walking on "water."
Walking on “water.”

Which would you choose? Or what fourth explanation might you add to explain your faithful response to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s liquid stroll?

Walking on water’s not so hard during the right season. Give me a frozen stream or a snowy meadow and I’ll risk crossing to the other side. But Matthew’s story of Jesus’s miracle didn’t occur in a Wisconsin winter.

I recall a seminary professor who offhandedly pondered the preposition in the sentence, Jesus walked on water. A preposition like “on” is a (says Merriam-Webster) “function word that typically combines with a noun phrase” to express a “modification.” Ah, a modifier! That which changes! In the original Greek, the word on in the Matthew 14:25 sentence was epi. (Epi begins the word epidermis, or on the skin.) And yet, if you check a Greek-English dictionary—a tome I’ve resisted opening when I stopped regularly preaching—you’ll find multiple meanings for the simple three-letter Greek preposition. Epi appears in sentences not only as “on,” but as “upon” or “near” or “by.” Therefore my seminary professor mused, what if the sentence “Jesus walked on water” was translated instead, Jesus walked near water? Or by water?

Do you buy that? Continue reading →