But this year, there are more people trying Dry January than ever before and it’s no wonder why. According to a recent survey, there has been a predictable increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic. More people are drinking greater amounts of alcohol. What this pandemic drinking tells us is that it’s not just social events, peer pressure, or societal expectation that inspires drinking. But drinking, even more than before, can take place in isolation.
Always on the Verge of Relapse
I have more supports, more accountability, and more experience than ever before and I am so grateful and so much healthier for it. But I am just as close, if not closer to relapsing.
Addiction in the Time of COVID-19
Because sitting at home in isolation today, I know that I could fall into the temptation of substance bliss all over again. And unfortunately, if I can feel that temptation, I know that there are hundreds (probably thousands) of people that are experiencing that temptation too. And I know that there are hundreds (probably thousands) of young people that may be learning the power of alcohol or other substances during this time of isolation. Getting lost in whatever brief euphoria they can manufacture in attempts to numb the pain and release anger and frustration.
John 11:1-45 (5th Sunday in Lent) – March 26, 2023
I am not sure how I want to read the Gospel story this week given all that’s going on in Biblical Studies. If you haven’t heard by now, there is fascinating discussion around John 11 that is happening in Biblical Studies because of the work of Elizabeth Schrader Polczer. Her work exploded when Diana Butler Bass gave a sermon at the Goose Festival in July of 2022. In short, Elizabeth Schrader Polczer has discovered significant evidence from the ancient manuscripts that there is no “Martha” in this story. But that John 11 is only about Mary and Lazarus. The name “Martha” was written in later by an editor (in theory trying to connect to the sisters of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke). And so, without Martha, it could then be suggested that this Mary is the same Mary at the tomb, Mary Magdalene. If you haven’t heard about this yet, I encourage you to read Diana Butler Bass’ sermon and then take a listen to her most recent interview with Elizabeth Schrader Polczer. This *could* lead to the most significant change in translation in a very long time. So, how do we preach this text? The truth is that the themes still hold true. Whether spoken by Martha or Mary, the powerful lines of Resurrection promise come from these amazing female figures. The tragic line of grief, “Lord, if you had been here…” still flows from her lips even in spite of her belief. Jesus weeps.
John 9:1-41 (4th Sunday in Lent) – March 19, 2023
As I mentioned last week about the Samaritan woman at the well, this is another massive text with extensive commentary. And this long text can get even longer because it should be read alongside chapter 5’s healing story in contrast. AND it can get even longer, because it can be read historically as one of the catechetical stories of baptismal preparation along with the Samaritan Woman (4:5-42) and the Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45). Themes of the Light of the World, Blindness vs Seeing, Belief and Unbelief, Choice and Rejection, and Sin, can all be thoroughly examined throughout our preaching. But I would say “Seeing and Believing Jesus vs. rejection” is the main issue at hand. In many ways that can be described as the greatest “sin” in the Gospel of John, rejecting God after seeing God face to face. Again, if you want to go the theological route, there are so many incredible commentaries out there and there is so much that we can choose to go over (though narrowing would be crucial). But again, I wonder if there is a way to connect with the humanity of this man. Like with Nicodemus and Samaritan woman what if we connected with the encounter with Jesus. What it felt like to be with him. What it felt like to witness to him afterwards. After all, the Greek of man is anthrōpos, theologically “every person.” How do we experience the encounter with the divine, the Light of the World?
John 4:5-42 (3rd Sunday in Lent) – March 12, 2023
If I’m honest with you, I’m a little fearful of writing on these next few weeks. The Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus. There are so many commentaries on each of these already (especially this week’s text which has a received lot of commentary in the last decade). There have been writings on the complicated and visceral tensions between Samaritans and Jews. Writings on the sexual/romantic/betrothal tension of a man coming to a woman at Jacob’s well. There are many older derogatory commentaries that focus on the sexual promiscuity of the woman and demonize her because of her “five marriages” (of which she would have likely had little agency). There are commentaries that lift this up as the first “I am” statement in the Gospel of John (“I am he, the one who is speaking to you”) and this first revelation coming to a Samaritan. There are commentaries that rightly lift her up as the first evangelist of the faith. With 37 verses, there is so much ground that can be covered in our preaching. All this to say, I am not going to try to be the smartest one in the room on this one. There are so many great voices who have already done so much of that work (some of whom are in the footnotes). So, rather than try to compile all these different thoughts into one long synopsis commentary (which would probably lead to just retelling the whole Gospel), I want to think about her feelings from the narrative? As human beings and disciples, how can we resonate with the woman’s experience?
John 3:1-17 (2nd Sunday in Lent) – March 5th, 2023
I’d argue that many of us are more like Nicodemus in our faith journeys that some of the other characters that we will hear about this Lenten season. Many of us have ups and downs in our faith and Nicodemus is a character that tells us that that’s okay. We can ask hard questions that bother us, and Jesus does not shy from those questions. We can ask for more time to listen to the Word so that we can be in a better place to hear the message. We can participate in the rituals, not knowing all the ins and outs of the theology, and it can still be holy and faithful. If we only preach on Nicodemus as a foil for the Woman at the well, then we miss a huge opportunity to preach to those who are struggling with their faith. We miss a huge opportunity to preach to family members that are concerned about their children or grandchildren not experiencing Jesus. We miss a huge opportunity connect with a character that learns and grows and isn’t just immediately “perfect.” This Sunday is an opportunity to preach on doubt, questions, and the growth of faith.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Ash Wednesday) – February 22, 2023
“Beware practicing your piety before others….” (Warning… A nuanced interpretation is coming and it’s not the most revelatory interpretation in the world.) I’ve seen a lot of posts recently lifting up this text as an awkward contradiction to the earlier portion of the Sermon on the Mount (i.e. “Be the light of the world). Is Jesus not immediately asking us to hide our light under a bushel here? To be fair to my colleagues, I believe that each of them are intentionally setting up a straw man argument that says that Jesus is telling us to not practice ritual with absent hearts and minds, but that we should lean into the meaning of the rituals and practice our piety, our alms giving, our acts of service with intentionality and with God in mind. It is a walk the walk that you talk kind of argument. And honestly, it’s a good way to go on Ash Wednesday as people uncomfortably walk around with ashes on their forehead all day and have no alternative but to identify as Christian. But my fear of approaching the text this way, is that it ultimately leads to a form of quietism. On a day when we must show that we’re Christian (Christmas Eve, Easter, Ash Wednesday, Baptisms), how do you live like a Christian? On days when you don’t feel like living up to those standards, just don’t do things that will make you look like a Christian. But here’s my nuanced take: Matthew wants us to be loud.
Matthew 4:1-11 (1st Sunday in Lent) – February 26th, 2023
I always hope to preach on the themes of the Gospel that we are in and I still hope to do that this week. However, Year A will jump into the Gospel of John for the last 4 Sundays in Lent and make thematic preaching a little harder. So, using this Matthean text to set up the season of Lent could be very helpful. Also, it is a good chance to dispel some of the modern myths and bad theology of Lent and return to some of the spiritual practices that are intended to bring us closer to God.
Matthew 17:1-9 (Transfiguration Sunday) – February 19, 2023
If you preached one transfiguration text, you’ve preached them all… right? This is one of the stories that is incredibly similar across all three synoptic gospels. When comparing Mark, Luke, and Matthew’s versions of the transfiguration, there are only slight differences. So, I will turn to my standard answer that I’ve given probably six weeks in a row: The Matthean themes are always a road into more nuance and sermon fodder.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27)
Written as an exegetical paper, this is a simple overview of the Sermon on the Mount that may help to inspire connections with the season after Epiphany preaching texts in Year A.
Matthew 5:21-37 (6th Sunday after Epiphany) – February 12, 2023
Sometimes referred to as the "Divorce Passage" of the Sermon on the Mount, this week we hear about Jesus' concern for how that community lives together in a way that will uplift everyone.
Matthew 5:13-20 (5th Sunday after Epiphany) – February 5, 2023
To describe why it’s difficult to know the true meaning, each of these metaphors on their own are awkward for different reasons. Salt doesn’t really lose its saltiness. A city on a mountain as a light is not very practical other than to be seen from far away. You don’t usually keep a lamp/light burning forever and it will need to be extinguished at some point. These few verses don’t fully function as parables. They are more proverbial. Ultimately, holding onto Matthean themes and Matthew’s narrative may be the best help for our understanding.