Texts: Revelation 5, 13

On Wednesday I walked home for lunch as I often do.  I went to the back of our yard to open the gate on the coop for our four chickens to roam around the larger fenced in area.  As I approached I noticed the loose soil and scattered feathers, a clear sign that a night invader had dug its way in and made a kill.  This was not the first time this has happened, and as I buried the remains of the chicken I asked the same kinds of questions I’ve asked before.  I wondered what kind of animal had done the killing.  I wondered if there’s even more we need to do to protect the chickens, or if this is just an inevitable thing that will happen from time to time.  I wondered if more protection for the chickens equated to a more prison-like existence for them.  I wondered if humans had never domesticated animals if this chicken, in its more wild incarnation, would have been safely roosting overnight up in a tree somewhere in southcentral Asia.  Or if it would have been fierce enough to at least ward off the predator, rather...

Texts: Revelation 1:1-3,9-16; 4:1-8; 19:6-10

There’s a great irony at the beginning of Revelation.  The first word of this book, the very first word, is the word we translate as “revelation.”  To reveal, to disclose, make known.  It begins, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.”  The irony is that what follows, this grand making known, this revelation, is one of the most confusing, confounding, convoluted, pieces of literature ever.

Or so it seems to us.

The very book that bears that name ‘revelation’ appears to us as anything but, and has proved most dangerous in the hands of those who believe they know exactly what it has revealed.

We need look no further than our own Anabaptist tradition to see what kind of religious fervor Revelation has inspired.  In the 1530’s, still the early days of the Protestant Reformation, the city of Munster in Northwest Germany was taken over by radical Anabaptists seeking to establish “The New Jerusalem” referenced in Revelation 21.  This initially included sharing their goods in common, like the early church,...

Text: Psalm 1

The trees have been in the news recently.  Earlier this month the Washington Post carried an article with the lengthy headline “Scientists discover that the world contains dramatically more trees than previously thought.”  Before this study scientists had used satellite imaging to estimate that there are about 400 billion trees in the world.  The revised number is 3.04 trillion.  Climates like Ohio, home of temperate forests, have about 600 billion trees total, itself quite a bit more than the previous estimate for the whole planet.    The new global estimate means there are about 422 trees per person.

For those wondering, a tree gets defined as a plant with woody stems larger than 10 cm in diameter, about four inches, at breast height.  So the waist high service berry and Japanese maple we planted in our front yard two years ago do not yet count as trees.  The new total is based on satellite imaging, plus on the ground measurements at 429,775 different locations around the world, so this was truly a colossal study.  If you want to know more of the technicalities I’ll put a link to the original scholarly article from the...

Text: Mark 8:27-36

Speaker: Mark Rupp

During my early childhood, I was, for lack of a better way of putting it, awesome.  Let me give you some examples: First, not only did I have an illustrated book of dragons, but I also had an aunt who used her scanner and some printable iron-on transfers to make me t-shirts (plural) with pictures of those dragons on them, which I wore for far longer into my childhood than was probably socially acceptable.  Second, I distinctly remember the day my mother chipped the end of one of her wooden spoons and tried to throw it away.  I dug it out of the trash, gave it a splash of color with some markers, glued one of those metal canning lids to the end, and then proceeded to spend countless hours pretending it was a magic wand.  Third, just in case you need another example of how awesome I was, I had a hiding spot in the back part of our property behind some tall weeds and assorted rubble where I would collect different kinds of plants and other ingredients and would pretend (or perhaps hope) that if I got just the right combination I...

Text: Mark 7:24-30

Within the last decade the story of the Syrophoenician woman has gone from being one of my least favorite gospel stories to one of my favorites.  Least favorite, because, well, what do you do with the fact that Jesus uses an ethnic slur to refer to a foreign woman – to her face.  She’s a mother with an ailing daughter doing what any good parent would do in her situation – advocating for her child.  Jesus’ initial response is to refer to her, her daughter, her people, as dogs.  This is Jesus, the compassionate.  Jesus, the all-inclusive.  Jesus, who certainly had a bumper sticker on his robe which said “God bless the whole world, no exceptions.”    Our “Love your neighbor” Jesus.  Our “Love your enemy” Jesus.  Our Jesus calls a foreign woman a dog.

Surely there’s been some kind of mistake.  Surely he didn’t mean it in the way it might come across.   Maybe the English translator was dyslexic and wrote ‘dog’ when Jesus had really said ‘god’.  Unlikely.

There are a couple different ways of interpreting this story which keep Jesus’ record clean.  One is noting that the word used here for dog actually...