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Bible sermon theology

Welcome Home–A Sermon on John 1

Here is a sermon I preached at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, KY on December 31. If you are interested in the theme of God making the world God’s home, here are a couple resources from Miroslav Volf that you might find interesting:

A book-length treatment: The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz.

A essay in a free pdf form, Why Did God Create the World? (And Why You Need to Know).

And now, to my sermon.

Welcome Home, A Sermon on the Gospel of John, chapter 1

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Have you ever wondered why God created the world? 

God probably had at least several reasons. 

One of those reasons is mentioned in our Gospel reading today from the first chapter of John. 

John refers to the second member of the Trinity and says that this God made the world and everything in it including you and me. 

This is how John describes it: “All things came into being through [God], and apart from [God] not one thing came into being.”

None of this would have been surprising to a first century audience. 

Everyone in the ancient Mediterranean believed the world was created by divine forces.

But John takes an unexpected turn in verse 14.

John says that this second person of the Trinity, this Word of God, took on flesh and became part of creation in the birth of Jesus. 

But why did God do this?

Why did God make the world and then enter it in the form of baby? 

Why do we have the Christmas story at all? 

John continues his vision. 

In the second half of verse 14 we read that this incarnate God—this divine Word made flesh—lived among us. 

God lived among us. 

We often pass over that phrase too quickly. 

God lived among us. 

In other words, God made the world because God wanted to make the world God’s home. 

This isn’t the only time this idea is mentioned in the Bible. 

God making this world God’s home is how the Bible begins and how it ends. 

The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis describing God creating the universe. 

In this act of creation, God makes a garden and places plants, animals and humans in it. 

After creating this garden God visits it and the humans in it. 

The garden is God’s lake house or weekend home. 

The biblical story ends with the book of Revelation. 

In the second to last chapter of the Bible we read of a vision of God’s home in heaven.

God’s home is a city.

It is radiant and beautiful.

The city comes down out of the heavenly skies and rests on earth. 

Heaven and earth are fused together. 

In the vision a voice cries out and says: 

Look, God’s home is among humanity. God made God’s home with them.

We get to the end of the Bible and discover that God has turned God’s lake house into God’s one and only home. 

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We Episcopalians join with many other Christian denominations around the world and structure our gathered worship services around the Revised Common Lectionary. 

The Lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings that takes us through the majority of the Christian Bible every three years. 

It is inspired by an ancient Jewish pattern of reading through the Hebrew Bible in synagogue over a period of three years. 

The lectionary approach to reading Scripture is a gift in several ways. 

It helps us experience the entire story of Scripture multiple times throughout our lives and gives us time to think deeply about its parts. 

The lectionary also links us with other Christians all over the world who are reading and thinking about the same Scripture passages that we are in this exact moment. 

But with every good thing, there are also weaknesses. 

One weakness of the lectionary cycle is that we read the Bible in fragments. 

Each week we hear little snippets of bigger stories. 

These snippets are, by definition, taken out of their larger context. 

Because of this, it can be hard for us to discern the overarching storylines of Scripture and the ideas of God that run through the Bible. 

In other words, it can be challenging for us to make sense of the biblical fragments we hear each week. 

So today I’d like to offer you this theme of God making the earth God’s home as a way to hold Scripture together. 

From beginning to end the Bible is an epic story of God making this world God’s home. 

God invites you and me to join with this work.

We are God’s homemakers. 

Through our actions, decisions, and movements we are to cultivate the spaces around us—and even our our hearts—into places that welcome the divine and simultaneously welcome other people into communion with God in God’s home. 

This Christmas season we are reminded that God is making a home here among us. 

How will you cultivate and care for God’s home this coming year?  

Categories
Bible books theology

2024 Grawemeyer Award in Religion

I am incredibly honored to receive the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. It is a particularly significant honor for me because the previous recipients of the Grawemeyer have inspired and shaped my theological life through their imaginative and boundary pushing work. 

When I was a high school student growing up in Austin, Texas I dreamed of becoming a scholar of religion. At many points I doubted whether I had the ability to do it. I remember looking at the first winner of the Grawemeyer, E.P. Sanders—a fellow Texan—who shifted the study of the New Testament, and thinking that maybe I too could join The Great Conversation. 

The Grawemeyer winners that came after him are scholars whose books have set the standard of writing I have aspired to. Their ideas have changed my religious imaginary and formed the ways I move through the world. I never expected to win the Grawemeyer, but I am so appreciative of this recognition for A Human-Shaped God.

There are so many people I’d like to thank who made this work possible. In particular, my wife, Lori, who supported and encouraged me and this book in all ways. Daniel Braden, my editor at WJK, who believed in this book from the beginning and helped bring it to the world. And, all the folks at Louisville Seminary, the University of Louisville, and the Grawemeyer Award who read this book as part of this process.

Categories
Bible theology

On the Perpetual Strangeness of the Bible

I love the title of Michael Edwards’ newest book. (Well, it probably is a tie because he has another book that also came out in 2023–The Bible and Poetry, you can read an excerpt here.) On the Perpetual Strangeness of the Bible. Edwards encourages us to cultivate a sense of the Bible’s otherness as we read it.

On the Perpetual Strangeness of the Bible by Michael Edwards

He comes at this from his understanding of it as divine revelation. In his mind, this makes the Bible is unlike any other book and reading strategies should be formulated and applied accordingly.

I too try to cultivate a sense of the Bible’s otherness as I read it, but I do so from a slightly different angle. The Bible is linguistically and culturally different from anyone living today. Therefore, all of our readings and interpretations have varying degrees of separation from how people in the ancient world received these writings. This should cause us to hold our interpretations of the Bible lightly and with an eagerness to change them based on new information or new insights.

If our interpretations are static, we are essentially denying the strangeness of the Bible. We imply that we understand it encyclopedically and authoritatively.

I think a better approach is to keep the Bible strange. Or, like the slogan from my hometown–Keep Austin Weird–the Bible should  try to keep the Bible weird as we read it.