Communion: Open or Closed?

Who should be allowed to receive communion?

It’s a question that comes up frequently in church circles, occasionally bursting into mainstream media. Among Mennonites, the question is typically framed like this: should the Lord’s Supper be “closed” only to the baptized, or should it be “open” to the un-baptized?*

Both sides are motivated by good impulses.

The best impulse of the closed communion folks is to protect abused, violated, or at-risk people among them from being forced to share the Lord’s Table with their oppressors. The best impulse of the open communion folks is to ensure that those often pushed out of church circles are welcome to share in the full life of the church. One side wants to protect the vulnerable, the other wants to remove barriers for the marginalized.

Of course, there are less admirable impulses on both sides as well.

Closed communion churches can be motivated by a desire of the powerful to maintain the status quo, gatekeeping to keep out undesirables. Open communion churches can be motivated by a bland form of acceptance or tolerance, unwilling to hold to account those among them living lives based on abuse of power, violence, greed, or injustice.

A simplistic “the Bible is clear on this” is another less-than-admirable motivation. It’s also not true.

Closed communion churches tend to point to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. The wealthy among the Corinthian believers had been coming to their shared meals early, filling up on food and wine and leaving nothing for the poorer Christians who had to work until late. Paul’s words are harsh and pointed: this abuse of the poor is a travesty of the Lord’s Supper, and the wealthy offenders must “examine themselves” to root out greed and inequity and “discern the body” of which all are equal members.

Yet Paul doesn’t tie his comments to baptism. Sure, it’s likely nearly everyone present at these communion meals was baptized. After all, baptism in Corinth, like elsewhere among the first generation of Christians, was probably as straightforward as professing belief in Jesus and being baptized as soon after as possible. But still, while Paul elsewhere does ground ethical appeals in baptism, he doesn’t do so with the Lord’s Supper. This could be because Paul in 1 Corinthians is reluctant to make too much of baptism: it was one of the things people were using to distinguish their partisan takes on Christian faith and life, aligning themselves with the one who baptized them. We may wish to ground communion theologically in baptism, but there’s no direct basis in 1 Corinthians (or anywhere in the New Testament, for that matter) for doing so.

Open communion churches tend to point to the stories of Jesus’ shared meals in the Gospels. Jesus became known as a “friend of sinners” and a “glutton and drunkard” because of his meals with those considered “least” and “last” and “lost” by the powers-that-be, turning patron-client and honour-shame conventions around meals on their head. He likewise told stories of God’s reign being like a meal in which those on the lowest rungs of society were welcomed. And the Last Supper, on which the Lord’s Supper is based, was a hodge-podge of disciples, sinners and tax-collectors and oft-despised Galileans themselves.

Yet the Last Supper doesn’t provide a perfect example of an “open” meal. While women disciples may have been present on the periphery, only male disciples are mentioned at table with Jesus. And yes, Jesus broke bread with a tax collector who had been on the side of Roman oppression and at least one Zealot who had been on the side of violence in opposition to Rome, but Jesus had called them to repentance and had lived and taught a radical alternative to these opposites. And sure, Jesus knowingly broke bread with both his denier and his betrayer, yet that act in itself could not keep these men from their actions. In fact, as closed-communion advocate Melissa Florer-Bixler has wryly noted, John’s Gospel pointedly states that it was “after [Judas] received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.”

No, the Bible is not as clear on open versus closed communion as we might like it to be.

Still, these biblical texts highlight at least two realities all Mennonites (and all Christians) should take to heart.

First, regardless of a church’s stance on communion, we are called both to hold abusers of power to account and to remove barriers for the marginalized. We can tie these into our theology and practice of communion if we wish, but we had better be doing more than that in our wider theology and practice as a church. If unjust oppressors only feel uneasy when it comes time for communion, or if those cast aside by society only feel welcome when it comes time for communion, we’re not doing church right.

And second, Paul’s approach to baptism and communion strikes me as more Mennonite than some Mennonites. Some among us have almost made an idol of baptism and/or communion, even if we’re now more tolerant than we used to be about modes of baptism or ways of doing communion. Paul’s reluctance to make much of baptism in 1 Corinthians when he does so elsewhere is one of several examples of his ad hoc pastoral theology. Consistent, Paul was not. Or rather, Paul was guided by underlying values that overrode his commitment to particular forms or rituals.

And this, my Mennonite friends, is a very Mennonite way to approach church life. Our early Mennonite and other Anabaptist forebears were among the “radical Reformers,” striving for faithfulness to the words and ways of Jesus beyond any other form of religious (or political, economic, cultural, social) commitment.

If one congregation discerns that in their context closed communion allows them to live more faithfully to the way of Jesus, then peace be upon them. Likewise if a congregation discerns that open communion is where they need to be to follow Jesus faithfully in their setting: may they be blessed in this.

If, however, your church is making this decision out of more base impulses—powerful people gatekeeping those deemed undesirable, an unwillingness to confront injustice or abuse, even “the Bible is clear” or “it’s in our Confession of Faith” or “we’ve always done it this way”—then I encourage you to re-visit this question.

Regardless of where we end up as churches on open versus closed communion, may we be motivated by the love of Jesus, a way of love that pays special attention to the disempowered and calls to account the powerful, that seeks to orient our way of life together around God’s ways of equity and justice, so that we might all together participate in God’s reign of justice and peace and flourishing life.

*I realize there are other ways of defining “open” and “closed” communion, but for Mennonites baptism is where the line is typically drawn. I realize, too, that this debate is not confined to Mennonites, and that sometimes the question is whether a baptized member can be refused communion.

Eugène Burnand, The Great Banquet

Following Jesus Is Not Enough

Okay, let me start by saying I really do believe following Jesus is “enough,” in the sense that “following Jesus” nicely sums up what it means to be a Christian. Following Jesus in his teachings and way of life, united with him in his death and resurrection, and so being conformed by the Spirit to the image of God’s Son—this is what being a Christian means.

But here’s the problem: “following Jesus” can so easily be used to mean whatever we want it to mean.

We pick and choose which teachings of Jesus we think are really important. We make morality solely about inward intentions or private sexuality. We make the cross about an individual transaction with God. We view the resurrection as something still to come, no bearing on the here and now.

And then we can go on amassing our possessions, condemning “sinners,” ignoring the poor at our gates, and otherwise living in stark contrast to the way of Jesus.

It’s a well-worn path, a broad road even, this individualizing and privatizing and genericizing and spiritualizing of “following Jesus,” so we can justify our comfort and privilege, maintain our sense of piety and morality, and otherwise feel good about the life we lead.

It’s a path I find myself on often.

And so we need something to help us focus what it means to “follow Jesus,” to be “united with Christ,” to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son.”

Here’s where I’ve been helped by Black theologians like James Cone, by feminist theologians like Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, by liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez. Here’s where the practical theology of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. has been important to me.

It’s from these followers of Jesus and others like them that I have learned of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” This is not that God loves the poor more than the rich, but that, because God is love, God pays particular attention to the poor.

Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan

“The poor” in biblical context does not simply refer to the financially destitute. The phrase is aligned with “widows” and “orphans,” “aliens” and “strangers.” Jesus used words like “last” and “least” to refer to these children of God who were left at the bottom rung of society. “The poor” is often used, then, as a kind of cipher for all who are impoverished in power—economic power, yes, but also political power, social power, the power to change one’s circumstances for their wellbeing.

“Remembering the poor”—in the sense of “paying attention to those who are impoverished in power”—was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. It was a crucial emphasis of his teaching. It was the way he lived. It gives greater meaning to the cross as God’s solidarity with the powerless, the evil-oppressed. It brings Jesus’ resurrection, God’s life-giving liberation, into the here and now.

This divine attention to the impoverished in power is the lens that can help us focus what it means to “follow Jesus.” When we “remember the poor” as we follow Jesus, we begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. We pay attention to those marginalized or even oppressed by powerful forces beyond their control, both spiritual and material. We see the ways we might be complicit with these powerful forces, whether by circumstance or by choice. We are Spirit-prompted to repent of this complicity and to walk in solidarity with the power-impoverished, even if it means a cross.

All this recalibrates our love of God and neighbour. It realigns our sense of morality and our ethics. It reforms our theology and heightens our worship. It draws us more closely to the way of Jesus. It unites us in practical ways with Christ in his death and resurrection, revealing us to be conformed to the image of Christ.

“Remembering the poor” helps us to follow Jesus. And this is indeed enough.

Reframing Unity

“Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil 2:2).

It’s an appeal for unity that sounds tailor-made for polarized congregations today. Churches are divided over LGBTQ+ inclusion, COVID precautions, rights and freedoms, penal substitution, critical race theory… It feels like too many things to name.

When we hear this appeal to “be of the same mind,” we probably think this means being in agreement about a set of beliefs or having the same positions on the important issues of the day. For many of us, this is what unity in the church looks like: it’s when everyone fully agrees on crucial doctrines or pressing social issues.

When there is disunity, then (meaning divisive disagreement on positions or beliefs), the typical appeal is for each side to listen to the other, to understand the other’s point of view, even to seek a compromise position or “middle way” (sometimes mistakenly labeled a “third way”—more on this later). In this understanding, both sides need to give a little if there’s going to be unity.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to others and trying hard to understand their point of view. In fact, that’s crucial to living well with each other in any community. That’s also how we learn and grow.

But I’d like to suggest a different way of understanding unity, a reframing of unity that is better rooted in Paul’s language of being “of the same mind.”

Because here’s the thing: Paul never calls on divided congregations to come to a middle-ground compromise. Even more, Paul’s language of “being of the same mind” is not about “thinking the same way about doctrine or issues.” Rather, it’s about having a particular kind of “mind”: the “mind of Christ.”

The “one mind” we are to be “in accord” with is the “mind”—the way of thinking and living, the way of being—which Jesus displayed. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus,” Paul says (Phil 2:5)—and then goes on to describe what this “mind of Christ” is.

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that divests ourselves of our individual power and privilege for the good of others, just as Jesus “emptied himself” of his divine status and prerogatives in becoming human for our liberation (2:5-7).

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that enters into the life and suffering of the most disempowered and underprivileged, just as Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and even died a slave’s death, a conquered and oppressed people’s death—“death on a cross” (2:7-8).

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that does all this to bring about a divine reversal, where those who have experienced oppression by the powers of our age enter with Jesus into his resurrection life and glorious exaltation (2:9-11).

Titian, Christ and the Good Thief

This is the “same mind,” the “one mind” which Paul has called the Philippians to be “in accord” with (2:2). This is the mind which Paul himself strives to enter into, living in Christ’s sufferings in order to enter Christ’s resurrection life (3:7-14). And this is the “same mind” which Paul urges mature Christians to hold—“and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you” (3:15).

There’s no compromise sought here, no middle way between two apparently uncompromising positions. It’s a genuine “third way,” an alternative to two contrasting perspectives, and Paul expects full buy-in to this third-way “mind of Christ.”

Christian unity, then, is not about agreement with a Confession of Faith. It’s not about agreement with a set of positions on social issues. Confessions of faith are useful as theological guides, and it can at times be vital for us to take a particular stance on a significant issue in our world. But Christian unity isn’t found in our strong agreement with a set of doctrines or positions.

Being “united in Christ” is about our shared commitment to walk together in the way of Jesus, his liberating way of love. We are united in Christ when we commit together to hold our power lightly in our interactions with each other, to walk in humility and patience, kindness and compassion, with those who are different from us, especially with those who hold less power or privilege than we do. We are united in Christ when we commit together to pay attention to the marginalized and disempowered among us and around us, to walk in solidarity with these considered “last,” “least,” or “lost” in society toward justice and peace and flourishing life. This is “the Spirit of Christ” in which we are united, the Spirit who shapes us individually and collectively into the image of Jesus Christ.

Rather than asking two opposing “sides” in a congregation to get together and find a compromise position for the sake of unity, we’d be much better off with the whole congregation asking a few pointed questions:

  • What power and privilege do we hold—do I hold—within this congregation, within this community, this society?
  • How can we—and I myself—hold that power and privilege lightly as we walk with each other in humility, patience, kindness, and compassion, especially with those who are different from us?
  • Who are the genuinely disempowered and underprivileged, those who have historically or regularly been most vulnerable to actual physical and mental and spiritual harm, among us in this congregation and around us in this community?
  • How can we—and I—give up our power and privilege in order to empower these disempowered among us and around us, in order to walk in solidarity with them—knowing we will suffer with them, knowing we will be changed in the process—in order to bring about greater justice and more flourishing life for them and ultimately for all of us together?

When this is our shared stance, our shared way of thinking and living, our shared way of being—our “one mind”—then we can truly say we have discovered “unity in Christ.” May we, like Paul, “press on to make this our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own” (Phil 3:12).


Edited since originally posted. For some thoughts on parallels in other Pauline letters, including thoughts on how diversity works within this unity, see my comment below.

Christians, Freedom, and Human Rights

Over the past two years, many of us as Christians have forgotten our baptism.

Oh, sure, we might remember when we were baptized, or maybe we have the certificate or pictures to prove it. But we’ve forgotten what we were baptized into. We’ve forgotten what our baptism means.

The Christian understanding of freedom and human rights, like pretty much everything that is meaningfully “Christian,” grows out of our understanding of Jesus: his teachings, his way of life, his death and resurrection.

Jesus looked to his Scriptures, the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), and he read them with a highlighter. He highlighted passages like “Love your neighbour as yourself,” claiming that this was bound up with the command to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” We show our love for God by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

And Jesus defined our “neighbour” broadly, yet with special emphasis. The neighbours we are to love include anyone we come across as we go through life, even if that includes the stranger or the foreigner—the outsider to our circles, the socially “other.” Yet Jesus, following the Torah and the Prophets, emphasized love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the enslaved, the downtrodden—those especially vulnerable to harm, the socially powerless.

This comes through in another passage Jesus highlighted in his Scriptures, a passage from the Prophet Isaiah which he took as his life’s mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus didn’t just teach these things, he lived them.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, Jesus set aside his own divine privileges—his own “rights” as God, you might say—in order to serve humanity in love. He sought out the powerless, he healed the sick, he blessed the poor, he spoke out against oppression and abuse of power against those most at risk. Jesus walked in solidarity with the lowest of the low, even dying a slave’s death, an oppressed and colonized people’s death, executed by the state on a cross. All out of love of neighbour.

This is the basis for a Christian view of freedom and human rights. Human rights are about ensuring basic rights for all people, for all people are created in God’s image. Yet in considering human rights Christians follow Jesus in seeking especially to ensure the rights of those most vulnerable to harm by powerful people and those most prone to oppression or marginalization by the powers that be.

And no, Christians in North America, that’s not us.

And freedom for Christians is about freedom to love our neighbours as ourselves, freedom to walk in Jesus’ way of love, again paying special attention to the socially “other” and the socially powerless. This is what true freedom is: loving others with the liberating love of God, so that they might be freed from all forms of bondage and oppression.

And no, Christians in North America, we are not being oppressed.

Here, then, is where too many of us as Christians have forgotten our baptism.

We have been baptized into Christ to follow the way of Christ, Jesus’ way of love. We have been baptized into Christ to walk in the freedom Jesus brings: liberated from the power of sin, our selfish ways of harm, to walk in Jesus’ way of love. In Christ we have the freedom not to pursue our own self-interest but the interests of others. In Christ we have the freedom to set aside our own rights and privileges to serve one another in love.

If you consider yourself a Christian, I urge you to remember your baptism. Remember the calling to which you were called. Remember the freedom for which Christ has set you free, and don’t settle for some pale imitation of the real thing. There are a lot of Christians right now peddling this fake freedom, and doing so in the name of Christ—don’t buy it, it’s not of Jesus.

And for God’s sake, and your neighbours’, get vaccinated if you can and wear a mask when you need to.

“Remember the Poor”

“Remember the poor.”

Those are the words of the Jerusalem apostles—Simon Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and John—to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 2:10). In his preaching of his gospel to the Gentiles, these first witnesses to Jesus wanted an assurance from Paul that he would do this one thing: “Remember the poor.”

Theologians speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” This is not that God loves the poor more than the rich, but that, because God is love, God pays particular attention to the poor. God acts especially on behalf of the poor, because they especially need God’s help. We see this emphasis throughout the Bible. The Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms all highlight concern for “the poor” alongside “widows and orphans,” often also including “the alien” or “the stranger.”

The apostles’ appeal to Paul to “remember the poor” is likely a specific reference to the poor in Jerusalem, a group that included a high proportion of widows (Acts 6:1). In the Gospels, Jesus focuses his ministry on “the last,” “the least,” and “the lost,” groups that include people who were sick, outcast, indebted, and imprisoned.

These descriptions suggest that “the poor” does not simply refer to the financially destitute. Or we might better say that various forms of poverty—a poverty of belonging, of support, of health, of respect, of purpose, really a poverty of power—intersect with economic poverty in significant ways. And so the God who is love pursues economic and social justice for the poor, seeking the empowerment of all who are impoverished.

Remember the poor.

This is a vital instruction for us in our evangelism or outreach, a necessary reminder that we cannot separate “evangelism” from “social justice” as some Christians attempt to do. It is also an important guide for us as we navigate group dynamics in our churches and communities.

If God is on the side of the powerless (Luke 1:46-55), if the gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18-19), if the poor hold God’s blessing and God’s kingdom (Luke 6:10), if in the impoverished in power we see the face of Jesus (Matthew 25:34-40), then it is vital for us as Christians to pay attention to power dynamics among us. In every situation we face, in every decision before us, we should ask ourselves, “Who holds power here? Who has less power here, or is even powerless?”

Power, in this sense, is one’s ability to shape circumstances to meet one’s basic human needs and the needs of others: physical needs like food and water, clothing and housing, health and safety and security; social needs related to belonging, loving and being loved; and spiritual needs like making sense of the world and one’s place in it, connecting to a purpose larger than oneself.

We acquire this social power in many ways, often simply because of who we are. In most Canadian social contexts, men have greater social power than women, white people have greater power than BIPOC, cisgender heterosexual people have more than LGBTQ+ people, adults have more than children, the middle-aged more than the elderly, the non-disabled more than persons with disabilities, the neurotypical person more than the neurodivergent, the wealthy more than the poor, those with approved pedigrees more than those without.

Our social power—the ability to shape circumstances to meet our needs and the needs of others—is a function of where we sit at the intersection of these diverse factors, and our power can vary depending on the particular situation.

All this means it is critical for us, in any given situation, to be aware of how we hold power, what gives us this power, and how our use of this social power affects others, especially those who are powerless. And then, following the way of God, we need to empower these who are impoverished in power. This is God’s kingdom way of justice, which we are to seek first before our own material needs (Matthew 6:33).

Remember the poor.

In our council and board meetings, in each decision we make—remember the poor.

In our congregational care meetings, our mission discussions, our visioning processes—remember the poor.

In our worship and communion, our preaching and teaching, our fellowship and service—remember the poor.

In our discerning of what love demands from us this day—remember the poor.

Attend to those who are impoverished in power. Remember the poor.

May our lives echo Paul’s own response to this challenge: “This is the very thing we are eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

Published in Canadian Mennonite 25, no. 24 (2021): 14.

The Holy Mystery of God in Flesh and Blood

As I am reading through the upcoming lectionary texts for Sunday, the two passages from Hebrews stand out. They give us a unique glimpse into the mystery of the incarnation.

In Hebrews 1:1-4, we see the exaltation of Jesus. He is the divine Son through whom God pre-eminently speaks in these last days. Through him God created the worlds, and he is the rightful heir of all things. He is the perfect reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and all things are sustained by his powerful word. Since making purification for sins, he now sits in the position of penultimate authority at the right hand of God.

That’s quite a list for just a few verses! It’s also quite a thing to say about a man who lived only a generation before.

Hebrews 2:5-18 gives the other side of the incarnation coin, the humility and even humiliation of Jesus. He was for a little while made lower than the angels. He is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, entering into the same life as us, being of the very same flesh and blood. He has tasted of the suffering of death for us—for everyone, in fact.

This, too is quite a list. It’s quite a thing to say about the one “through whom all things were made,” the perfect “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

The mystery of the incarnation is one of the central mysteries of our faith. It’s also one of the most significant, and one of the most immediately helpful.

We worship a God who lovingly created us and sustains us—through Jesus. We worship a God who speaks to us and guides us—through Jesus. We worship a God who purifies us from our sin—through Jesus. And this God whom we worship has become one of us—in Jesus—sharing in our flesh and blood, participating in our frailties and fears, our sufferings and sorrows, in order to bring us into the very life of God.

May this holy mystery encourage us as we walk through this week in our flesh-and-blood lives. God our Creator has become flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus of Nazareth, and the Spirit of the enfleshed and crucified and risen Jesus is with us still.

Following the Discomforting Jesus

Mark 8:27-38 is one of my favourite passages of Scripture. One of the things I love about it is that, after years of reading it and re-reading it, studying it and preaching it and teaching it, I’m not sure how well I actually understand it.

Why does Jesus want to know what people are saying about him? Why do so many people think he’s a long-dead (or recently dead) prophet? What does Peter mean by “You are the Messiah”? What might Jesus have meant by this? Why does Jesus order the disciples not to tell others this?

Why does Jesus switch from “Messiah” language to “Son of Man” language? Where did Jesus get these ideas of a suffering, rejected, murdered, and resurrected Son of Man from? How does this connect with the confession of Jesus as the Messiah? Why exactly does Peter rebuke Jesus for this? Why does Jesus see in Peter “the Satan” who had previously tempted him? What exactly was it about Peter’s rebuke that reflected “human ways” as opposed to “God’s ways”?

Where does “the crowd” suddenly come from, and why are they invited into the conversation? How does Jesus’ call to discipleship connect with Peter’s previous confession and Jesus’ Son of Man teaching and his rebuke of Peter? What does it mean to “deny yourself,” to “take up your cross,” and “follow Jesus”? How in the world can we save our lives by losing them?

Over the years I’ve developed what I think are good answers to most of these questions. Nevertheless, I am never fully comfortable with my answers.

And maybe that’s as it should be. These words of Jesus should always be discomforting, perpetually pulling us out of our comfortable ways of believing and thinking and living, drawing us ever toward the peculiar magnet that is Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah and Lord. Somewhere deep down we’re all like Peter in John’s version of this episode: “Lord, where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

As we return to the rhythms of fall set against the drumbeat of COVID, may we be prepared to encounter Jesus afresh. And may we be prepared for some “holy discomfort” in this encounter, a sacred unease that compels us to follow Jesus in new ways into the uncharted future before us, a future filled with life even through death.

My Journey Toward Being Affirming

I have been fully affirming of LGBTQ+ folx and supportive of equal marriage for a few years now. This was the culmination of many years of research and reflection and, most importantly, relationship with LGBTQ+ people. Although my story of becoming affirming is not the most important story to be heard in this, my story might be helpful to others. Here it is.

Note that my views do not necessarily reflect those of my current or previous employers.

Finding Our Home

Home is something we all long for. We shape our living spaces to create a home, a place of safety, some creature comforts, and, for most of us, a family of some sort (pets included!). When we don’t have this home, we yearn for it. Immigrants to a new land are filled with nostalgia for the home they knew. Refugees weep as they leave their home, yet long for a home yet to come, which they only see by faith.

Right now, our own home is pretty chaotic. We’ve got two reno projects going simultaneously, upstairs in the bathroom and downstairs in the kitchen. We’ve still got boxes sitting in unhappy places, waiting for their own home in our unsettled home. We are in our house, and it’s feeling more like home every day, but it’s not quite there yet.

In this coming Sunday’s lectionary texts, home is a common theme.

In 1 Kings 8 Solomon dedicates the new temple to God, describing it as God’s home on earth even as he recognizes that no building can contain the Creator. As Genesis 1 describes, the heavens and the earth collectively are God’s true home.

Psalm 84 expresses the joy of worshiping, even simply being, in God’s earthly home. (I love the image of the sparrows “finding a home” within God’s home—I imagine sparrows nesting among the gold and cedar of Solomon’s glorious temple.)

Then there’s John 6. In John’s Gospel Jesus is set up as God’s eternal Word made flesh, God’s very “dwelling” on earth (John 1:14 uses the Greek word for the tabernacle). In Jesus, God makes God’s home among us. When we are with Jesus, we are at home in God. No wonder, when the crowds start leaving Jesus because his teaching is too difficult, Peter says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, “Jesus, you are our home. Why would we go anywhere else?”

As this summer winds down and fall sneaks up, whether our own homes are chaotic or calm, whether we still have plans to find some time away from home or we’ve finished our vacations, may we learn to see the spiritually and physically homeless around us and help them find their home, and may we find our ultimate home in God, the one who made their home among us in Jesus, who still makes their home in us and among us by the Spirit.

David and David’s Son on Love and Power

In this coming Sunday’s lectionary texts there’s quite the juxtaposition between the Old Testament reading and the New Testament epistle.

On the one hand there’s 2 Samuel 11:1-15. The headings in the NRSV describe the story as, first, “David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba,” and second, “David Has Uriah Killed.” More accurately, these should be “David Rapes Bathsheba” and “David Murders Uriah.” This is Israel’s favoured king, the king who would form the template for the Messiah to come. But instead of walking in righteousness and establishing justice through self-giving love, David’s lust and abuse of power leads him to rape and murder.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Carl Bloch, “Healing of the Blind Man”)

On the other hand there’s Ephesians 3:14-21. This is a prayer of Paul (or a Pauline disciple) for power and perception, but not the kind that David displayed. This prayer is for spiritual power, to be “strengthened in our inner being” by the presence of the risen Christ and to “know the love of Christ” in all its multi-dimensional fullness. This is a power that walks in righteousness and establishes justice through self-giving love. It’s the power of Jesus the teacher and healer from Nazareth, crucified and risen. It’s the power of the Son of David, the Messiah who surpasses the expectations of his template.

In these days of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, of #EveryChildMatters and #CancelCanadaDay, David’s story is a cautionary tale of what happens when we wed ourselves to earthly power and then abuse that power for our own selfish ends. Paul’s prayer points to a different way: living in the infinite love of God, the Jesus-love that compels us toward justice and peace and joy in the kingdom of God.