Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading Ramblings – April 18, 2021

April 11, 2021

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2021

Texts: Acts 3:11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-49

Context: As we continue in the season of Easter (and every Sunday is really a celebration of Easter, regardless of the liturgical season) the readings emphasize the effects of the resurrection reality. Though a bit confusing as the readings from Acts also follow Pentecost, Pentecost is linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus explained to his disciples in John 14. The readings in 1 John show the continued impact of the resurrection on the longest-lived of the apostles, while the assigned Gospel text continues the story of that first Easter Sunday.

Acts 3:11-21 – What a difference from cowering in fear on Easter Sunday! Peter and John – empowered by the Holy Spirit – speak boldly to the crowd that gathers around them to marvel at the healing they have just performed. The disciples have healed in the past, but now they heal and also preach in the name of the resurrected Christ. Note the tone of their speech – they are not angry or bitter. They recognize Jesus’ prophetic fulfillment. The Holy Spirit has opened their minds to Holy Scripture as Jesus promised. Peter’s message remains the same from his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) – he calls people to repentance. Rather than rejecting Jesus people are now to repent of their former rejection and embrace his identity and purpose as the Messiah of God. There is nothing we can do or add, no reparations to be paid. Acknowledge if we had denied Christ before, and accept him now. This is the essence of faith, the starting point for an adult who comes into contact with the Gospel. Of course baptism would follow next, as Peter makes clear in Acts 2 and Jesus instructs his disciples in Matthew 28. But for the adult who the Holy Spirit brings to Christ it begins with repentance and acceptance!

Psalm 4 – There is an urgency in how this psalm begins, an urgency based on some great, pressing need, perhaps to do with the unfair or dishonest treatment of others (v.2). Yet the psalm transitions quickly and unexpectedly into a declaration of confidence. Whereas the speaker called for God to hear him in v.1, v.3 is an affirmation that God definitely has listened and does listen to the petitioner. Despite the sinfulness of the world and the sometimes overt persecutions of God’s faithful, we should never lose hope or sight of the reality that we belong to God, and that designation cannot be altered by the machinations of even Satan or his powers. We belong to God, and God listens to us! Verse 4 offers some confusing options for translation, with the most common option following the Latin translation and talking about anger. Despite this, the psalm (and the verse) has little if anything to do with anger, whether within the specific situation of the speaker or as a more general theological position on the potential for righteous anger. Likewise in v.5 the idea of right sacrifices could be interpreted several ways, whether in the cultic definition of the Old Testament or more spiritual sacrifices (a la Psalm 51), or even a somewhat vague reference to the propitation of the Son of God on our behalf (likely part of why this psalm was chosen for today!). The conclusion is the same – we are to trust God, not ourselves or others. So the psalmist concludes in confidence. Yes, his situation is still uncertain, but he trusts in God. So much so that he has no trouble falling asleep (v.8) because he knows it is God himself who provides his safety.

1 John 3:1-7 – John rightly emphasizes God’s love for us, a reality much of modern American Christianity reverses in emphasizing our love for God. What love we have for God is only because God loves us first, and therefore is hardly the appropriate option for extended emphasis. The reality is that because of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, we who the Holy Spirit has brought to faith in this are really and truly children of God here and now, not simply in the creative sense of God being the Creator and therefore we are his creations, but in the redemptive sense of being brought into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Our identity in Christ is a reality here and now, and furthermore a reality that will likely alienate us from the world around us. The world around us that does not know God will deem us to be the misfits, but when our Lord returns it will be shown to all that our clinging to Christ and being conformed to him is actually the deepest of realities and identities. This is our hope as we cling to God’s Word as the normative guide to our lives rather than tacking our sails to the shifting and unpredictable winds of culture. First and foremost in this conforming to Christ is the acknowledgement that sin should have no place in us. Contrary to psychology and culture that deems whatever we want or like to be intrinsically good as such, Scripture defines right and wrong, and further warns us that our ability to judge right and wrong for ourselves is not only flawed and broken, but tends to opt towards wrong rather than right! Therefore we must cling and trust to God’s Word as the only source of absolute truth in a world where truth is redefined more and more radically and quickly!

Luke 24:36-49 – People don’t die and then rise to life again very often. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, at least in terms of documented accounts of such things, a few handfuls at most can legitimately be described as miraculous restorations of life. To presume that people 2000 years ago accepted the idea of rising from the dead as a less sensational event than we do today is ridiculous, and the disciples’ shock in this passage is a good reminder. Despite having seen Jesus do a variety of impressive miracles in his lifetime (including restoring life to other people who had died), and despite his explicit descriptions to them beforehand of what would happen – including his resurrection – they are not at all expecting to see Jesus alive again. Jesus must demonstrate this reality to them. They are not hallucinating. They are not seeing a ghost. They are not being deceived by some spiritual power. Jesus invites them to explore the signs of his ordeal. It is interesting to me that beyond the physical wounds of his crucifixion, Jesus does not seem to evidence any of the other mistreatments He received. He does not direct them to examine his scalp for the scarring from his crown of thorns. He does not bear the evidence of the brutal beating the Romans gave him prior to his execution. Only the marks directly associated with his death are present and presented as evidence. Even this extraordinary opportunity was not really enough to convince them, and so to further make it plain that He truly was bodily resurrected as a man, Jesus eats.

We must think of the resurrection in such blatantly physical terms. Jesus is recognizable, and He is able to substantiate his identity further, and He is also able to demonstrate that He is thoroughly physical and human as well – so shall we be. Our hope is not to float as spirits in the afterlife, nor to flit from cloud to cloud plucking harps. Our hope and confidence is that as our Lord was raised bodily from the dead as a human being (albeit also as the Son of God – something you and I will not be!), so you and I will be raised physically from the dead for a physical eternal life. While this will not happen until Christ’s return, and therefore may involve a period of waiting wherein we are spiritual but not yet spiritual and physical (Revelation 6:10), our final hope in eternal life is to be what we were created to be – human beings. Perfected and immortal. But very much creatures.

Reading Ramblings – April 11, 2021

April 4, 2021

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 11, 2021

Texts: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Context: Easter is a season as well as a specific date. Our Lord rose three days after his crucifixion, and this unparalleled event in human history is given a liturgical season to better flesh out more of the nuances and implications of this reality. At eight full weeks it is the longest liturgical season of the Church except for Ordinal Time which is not reallly a season in the same sense of the word. The readings continue to declare our Lord’s resurrection, with the Gospel relating events that occurred later that first Easter Sunday and afterwards. The Old Testament and Epistle lessons flesh out how the resurrection affects not just those first witnesses but all who hold in faith to the veracity of that event and the implications promised by our Lord. The resurrection is not simply a get-out-of-hell-free-card at the end of our lives, but transforms every moment of our lives into something richer and deeper, leading towards a particular reality that will last forever.

Acts 4:32-35 – The implications of the resurrection on the disciples and the early Christian community were profound. It fundamentally changed the way they looked at and experienced day-to-day life. Some would rightly point out that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It tells us what they did, it does not dictate what we must do. This is a true and important distinction, but it is also a quick and easy way to grapple with the reality of this transformed community. Because they had seen personally or trusted the testimony of the apostles that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer dead, just as He had prophecied would be the case, their priorities and lives altered dramatically. How they viewed and treated one another was now no longer dictated by socio-economic and cultural distinctions but rather by the reality they were united for eternity through baptism into Jesus Christ. That eternal fraternity had very temporal implications as well. Could one part of the body live in luxury and excess knowing another part of the body did not? Would not one part of the body care for in very practical ways the well-being of another part of the body? This was not faceless charity or a social agenda, but rather people who saw each other differently now that they saw Christ differently. These are challenging verses for American Christians, but we should think seriously about how they apply to us individually (as opposed to congregationally or as a geo-political entity or on any other level of scale that eliminates or automates our conscious and active participation) today.

Psalm 148 – This is a beautiful psalm of praise, in which every aspect of creation is called to exalt and praise the Creator. What strikes me upon this reading is v.6 – the heavenly bodies of stars and sun and moon are called to praise God specifically for his decree. What is this decree? It is the decree of creation in Genesis 1. God called these entities into existence through his Word and sustains them. Perhaps more specifically, we might wonder if his decree is to be thought of as his approval, declaring his created entities to be good (Genesis 1:14-18). As such, God continues to sustain his created order despite the Fall into sin, a Fall that extends beyond humanity to include all of creation (Romans 8:18-23). But He doesn’t simply sustain us in perpetual sin, rather He has raised up a horn for his people (v.14). God has, does, and will save his people, and for this He is to be praised as well. Creation praises God simply because He has created it. God’s people praise God because not only has He created them, He has saved them!

1 John 1:1-2:2 – Another aspect of the resurrection of the Christ is that the forgiveness of sins is a very real thing, available not through sacrificial rites as the Jewish people understood them. Those rites were given as foreshadowing of the final and perfeft sacrifice of the Son of God on behalf of the people of God. This is God’s Word of life, the Son of God made flesh, which is not only a declaration of life to be heard but an embodiment of it to be touched. It is the blood of the Word made flesh which forgives our sin. Confession of our sin accesses the blood of Jesus Christ. Failure to confess, as though we did not sin and have no need of forgiveness, is to live in darkness and self-deception, cutting ourselves off from the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ. Sin is to be taken seriously. We are to seriously resist it, and we are to soberly repent of it, that we may walk in the light of God in whom there is no darkness.

John 20:19-31 – Fear gives way to amazement, which gives way to proclamation, which gives rise to doubt, which is put to flight in confession, which is received with blessing. The progression of this short set of verses is a visceral demonstration of the power of the resurrection. Fear of the world – whether from religious oppression or pandemic or political chaos is overcome in proclamation – we have seen the Lord! This naturally should create doubt. After all, to die and rise again truly is miraculous! How can we be sure? Isn’t there a more rational explanation? For centuries such alternatives have been proffered, but each requires a greater suspension of disbelief than the simple but astounding reality of resurrection. The heart of the Christian message is Christ crucified and resurrected, and it is here that doubt must be either clung to tenaciously or abandoned to embrace confession. The eyewitness accounts are credible. The reasons to doubt them rest not in the quality of the testimonies themselves but rather our attachment to a purely material explanation of the universe which leaves no room for God and no room for miracles and ultimately no room for life itself. Confession acknowledges that such a tenaciously materialistic view is in itself an act of faith, certainly no less so than embracing the simple testimony of simple people saying what they saw and heard and touched with their own senses. Independently corroborated and certainly, given the outrageous nature of the claim, easily demonstrable as false if such were the case. Yet the tomb remains empty 2000 years later, and we are confronted with that powerful confession – we have seen the Christ! And that confession of faith draws us into the direct blessings of the resurrection both here and now as the other readings have pointed to, as well as eternally. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday

March 28, 2021

Date: Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Context: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelluia! Victory over those who opposed God’s perfect love and will – first spiritually with Lucifer and his followers, and then eventually humanity and creation through the Fall. Any who thought they could better God’s plan are shown to be what they always had to be – grossly in error. God alone holds all wisdom and knowledge as well as power and love. In the unlikely and unexpected death of the Incarnate Son of God, God does not destroy his wayward creation but throws open the doors to grace and forgiveness and hope. Reconciliation is made possible on the only terms that could ever exist – God’s terms. Through trust and hope in God’s promises to us on the cross and in the empty tomb all are invited out of rebellion, to lay down arms and sing the praises of God who alone could make such reconciliation possible. What God promised to do in the beginning (Genesis 3:15) and continued to promise to his people for thousands of years is fulfilled. We await the final consummation, the return of our crucified and resurrected Lord. The victory is already won – now we’re waiting for the victory celebration to begin!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – The promises of God are not narrow and skimpy. They do not hedge and trim and cut corners. They are broad and endlessly generous! God intends not just the preservation and salvation of his chosen people of Israel, but that the blessings conveyed to them would in turn pour out into all of creation. All peoples (v.6) are to be included in the invitation to these blessings, blessings carefully spelled out in detail so we can almost smell the bounty from here! The universal covering over all people – death – will be swallowed up and no more. Tears will be dried, never to pour out again in suffering and grief in the face of death. And the reproach, the stigma, the disgust the world marks God’s people with will be removed once and for all. In that day there will be no discussion of relative or comparative merit. This feast is not on our behalf. We are the invited guests of our Lord and Savior at the celebratory feast of and for God the Father, who will himself be vindicated from any and all claims that He is not truly good, wise, and powerful. Those who trust in him will be shown to have been right all along. He is risen!

Psalm 16 – A love song where the speaker describes his feelings for God. It begins with a standard call for help – but the rest of the psalm never mentions this again. There is no elaboration. It is as though the speaker were interrupted at the end of verse 1 by God himself, asking the speaker to clarify to God how he feels about God. In verse 2, the speaker begins articulating the nature of his relationship to God. God is the source of every good thing in the speaker’s life. The speaker is not alone in this relationship – there are others in the larger community who share this relationship with God and therefore they are more delightful to be with for the speaker than anyone else. Not that there aren’t other options out there, idols and false gods to sacrifice to and call on – but the speaker will have none of that. Why? Because the Lord has blessed him richly (vs.5-6), and even were there such a thing as other gods, they could not provide for the speaker any better than God himself has. Some of these things might be evident to any observer of the speaker, but his relationship to God goes deeper – God instructs him so diligently and thoroughly that even during the night as he sleeps, he is being instructed by God, and his heart responds in love and joy. God is present for the speaker here and now (v.8), and as such the speaker has no fear. He knows the Lord preserves him and will continue to do so. The blessings of God are not simply for this lifetime but for all eternity (v.11).

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Modern scholarship is dismissive of much of what the Church professes to be written by St. Paul, but these verses here are almost universally acknowledged to be Paul’s words. As such they are instructive for the wealth of information they tell us about the early Church and what it proclaimed – namely the prophesies fulfilled in the death of the anointed one, the Messiah/Christ, who did not remain dead and buried but showed himself alive again to hundreds of witnesses. Paul’s intent is clear – don’t simply take his word for it, ask around! There are plenty of witnesses (this letter being written less than 30 years after the events) who can testify that Paul speaks the truth. It is this resurrection of of the Son of God that provides hope to sinners, delivering to them grace rather than judgment. This grace is transformative here and now, as Paul can well attest to personally! And that grace can, by the power of God, work mightily in even the lowliest of believers, the darkest of repentant sinners. This was the essence of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, and it should still form their core identities. It should still be their assurance even though Paul has had to correct them on numerous issues in this letter. And therefore it should still be your hope and mine!

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s account of the resurrection is quick and to the point, just like the rest of his Gospel. Though we assume the latter half of Chapter 16 is not original with Mark, the first eight verses are well attested to in antiquity. The second Mary mentioned in v.2 is understood to be Jesus’ mother, who is mother also of James (and Joses, as per 15:47, which would make these men mentioned also in 6:3 Jesus’ brothers). The women obtained spices or scented oils (the language makes it clear it is a liquid) after the Sabbath ended Saturday evening, and made their way to the tomb early the morning after Sabbath, Sunday. Jesus was in the tomb from before the Sabbath/start of the day on Friday, then all Sabbath day, and then into the first hours of the day after Sabbath – late Saturday-to early morning Sunday. Jesus did likely not rise at dawn or just after sunset but probably in the pre-light hours of Sunday morning.

But why the abrupt ending, an ending that seems open-ended – some translators as They were afraid, you know. I like the interpretation that says Mark does this intentionally, writing to Christians several decades later who are already experiencing persecutions. Christians who are suffering simply for believing all of this is true. Christians who might be inclined (like us?) to think that if only we had been there and seen these events ourselves, it would be easier, there would be no need for fear. We could confidently and joyfully endure anything.

No, Mark says. Those who were there that first Easter morning? They were afraid too, you know. Fear is not limited to those who did not see and hear Jesus personally, even those who knew him best – even his own mother – were afraid. Our fear does not make us lesser believers. Our fear binds our sinful human hearts with all the sinful human hearts before and after us. Sinful human hearts who nonetheless, trembling and fearfully at times, put their faith and trust in the account of Jesus’ resurrection, and trusted that what He promised them was true – He would come for them to take them to be with him (John 14:1-12). Fear does not make us unfaithful, but we must cling to our faith in spite of the fear, in defiance of it.

Even Peter who denied Jesus vehemently three times a few days earlier was not to be excluded from the promises of the resurrected Christ! Jesus specifically names and specifies Peter. How much more so should you and I trust that this good news is for us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – Palm Sunday

March 21, 2021

Date: Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-28; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Context: Palm Sunday is one of the great Sundays of the Church year, with a long history in both Eastern and Western Christendom, and processions are an ancient part of this day’s celebrations. Palms are a sign of victory in many cultures, as they are used in the reading to denote Jesus’ victorious entry to Jerusalem. But victory over what becomes the question. His opposers feared his victory was an ill-advised attempt to overthrow Roman rule, something that would inevitably end not with only Jesus’ own death but the death of hundreds and perhaps thousands of others. Did those who waved the palms that morning have such a victory in mind? Perhaps. Perhaps they were caught up in the excitement of God at work, doing something He had told his people to watch and wait for, and were much shorter on actual specifics of what that would look like. Perhaps it was enough to welcome Jesus as a prophet, as the speaker of God’s Word after a long period of divine silence. What is it we welcome Jesus for today, and how do we imagine his presence will and should change our lives here and now rather than simply in eternity?

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah is a post-exilic prophet, one who returns with God’s people to Jerusalem and helps in the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 5:1, 6:14; Nehemiah 12:16). Nehemiah indicates Zechariah is the head of a priestly house, confirming that the roles of priest and prophet sometimes overlapped. Chapter 9 of Zechariah begins a curious prophetic progression dealing more with end of times prophesy than short-term prophetic material and history as dealt with in Chapters 1-8. The emphasis of our verses today is not so much the ending of the old way, but the start of a new day. There is no emphasis on the struggle which achieved this victorious, kingly entry, beyond the cryptic language in verse 11 regarding the blood of my covenant with you. Zechariah and his hearers may have interpreted this as referring to the blood bonds at Mt. Sinai in Exodus, but now we know this is only a foreshadowing of the blood that forms the new covenant, the blood of the Son of God poured out in sacrifice for creation.

Psalm 118:19-28 – Many scholars divide the psalms into five sections or books, and Psalm 118 falls into the fifth such grouping. This particular psalm has two main sections, vs. 5-18 and 19-28. Verses 5-18 are an individual’s praises to God in testimony to the gathered community of the faithful. The second section is more a song of thanksgiving after being rescued from some dangerous situation. There is a dialogue, in which someone speaks, is responded to, and is spoken about. The particulars of the situation are vague, so the psalm is appropriate under a variety of conditions and situations. However vs. 17-18 indicate the seriousness of the situation, literally life and death. But within the liturgical context of Palm Sunday, these words take on another aspect, an aspect completely unique to the completely unique person and work of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, who gives himself into death on our behalf, but lives in spite of his death and burial. He has suffered for our transgressions, but now lives to attest to the Father’s grace and mercy through his blood and death.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ’s attitude is to be our own. These are not poetic words, these are not artistic exageration but a call to suffering and sacrifice, to a constant attitude of humility rather than pride and self-exaltation. This is not our own work or will. It is only possible in Christ Jesus (v.5), and therefore is the exclusive expectation and domain of the follower of Christ. Only in Christ does such an intentional rejection of self-seeking make sense. Only knowing what we have received in and through Christ can we find the strength and joy to forego other forms of personal glory. Paul reiterates the humility and suffering of Jesus not just as a history lesson but as instructive to us. What should we not be willing to suffer, so that we may be like our Lord? And if such is the intention and effort of every believer, what lengths shouldn’t fellow-believers go to to ensure the care and love of each member, rather than seeking to take advantage of them as the world will? There will be no shortage of non-believers who seek to benefit themselves at a Christian’s expense, but in the body of Christ, where each is seeking to live out this humility and knows full well the costs that can sometimes require, how much love and care and charity there should be, that the body itself might never be the source of pain or damage to any part!

Mark 14:1-15:47The longest continual reading of the liturgical year, the Palm Sunday gospel leads us from the day or so before Jesus’ betrayal to his death and burial. We traverse the dizzying heights of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through the growing tension of the days until He celebrates his last Passover with his disciples and is arrested, executed and buried. Palm Sunday isas though we look out over the expanse of Holy Week from a high place and see it all – all except Easter, of course. Easter is so bright and dazzling it would blind us to everything else if it were included. And so it waits for the proper time in order to receive the proper glory. Only in a journey into the Valley of the Shadow of Death with our Lord can we truly appreciate the relief of his Easter morning victory!

This panoramic reading leads us through Maundy Thursday to the end of Good Friday. It should whet our appetites to consider all this week will bring, and all our Lord has done on our behalf. Vigil on Holy Saturday evening will herald our Lord’s victory over sin, death and Satan, a victory we will proclaim together in joy on Easter morning! It may be preferable by many people to skip Thursday and Friday and Saturday as too depressing, but they are every bit as real as Easter morning. More real, in some ways, because we can so easily relate to themes of betrayal, suffering, death and burial. These are our realities, and all the more so as we grow older. Easter is the contrast to our empathy, the counter-intuitive assertion that these realities we know so well and our Lord experienced as well are not the final word in our lives and identities. That final Word belongs to our Lord alone,who will call us from our graves with a command of power when He returns, and welcome his faithful into eternal glory.

Reading Ramblings – March 21, 2021

March 14, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10: 32-45

Context: God does things not only differently but, within the context of human experience and history, sometimes new. But his newness is never random innovation but a furthering of what has been the plan in place from the beginning. One covenant becomes old and a new covenant arrives, but a new covenant already foreshadowed in the oldest stories of God’s people. The kingdom of God inaugurates a new way of being among its citizens, but that new way of being is actually the way we were created in the first place, and we are not so much adopting new ways of life as being restored to our first ways.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic writings with the exception of Isaiah, and we know more about Jeremiah than we do any of the other prophets, with most of that information contained within Jeremiah itself. He was called to the prophetic ministry in roughly 627 BC and continued in that role until perhaps 587 BC, for a career of 40 years or so. We aren’t sure how old he was when he began, but not likely older than 20. He might have ties to David’s priest Abiathar, whom Solomon exiled in favor of Zadok. All of which might mean Jeremiah has links to the former northern kingdom (Abiathar was a descendant of Eli), which might explain his affinity for themes common to other northern prophets such as Hosea. In this reading Jeremiah conveys the promises of God of a new covenant, a new relationship between God and his people. But it seems to indicate the relationship that will exist once Christ has returned and final judgment has taken place, when the faithful of God will continue in eternal, perfect fellowship with him, where He will truly be their God and they will truly be his people. All of them will know God personally and for themselves, and will no longer need to be taught who God is.

Psalm 119:9-16– We read from one of the acrosstic psalms, this sectio headed by the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beth. The theme of this section is harmonious with the rest of the psalm which is an extended meditation on the Word of God. Would we desire to be free from sin (or more so than we are now)? How else than by the study of God’s Word and the applying of it’s precepts can this be accomplished? This is not simply study and academic or theological mastery but an applied use of this knowledge in order to guard our way – our lives. It isn’t – generally speaking – that we don’t know enough of God’s Word. Rather, the bigger problem is our unwillingness to live it out. Therefore the psalmist prays for God to keep him from wandering as we are prone to do (v.10). The psalmist is indeed a student of the Word of God, and describes the many ways he treasures it in vs.12-16. But the key is that all of this study and proclamation are applied in his own life, that I might not sin against you (v.11).

Hebrews 5:1-10 – We could spend time talking about the beautiful theology here that describes Jesus as the greatest last and only perfect high priest, the one who can – like human high priests of old – empathize with us in our sinfulness because He too was tempted. But unlike other priests, the one who himself is not sinful and therefore can atone for us perfectly and fully in his own sacrifice. Great stuff. But let’s be honest, what most people are immediatley captivated by is Melchizedek. So go ahead and read through Genesis 14. We meeet Melchizedek starting in verse 18. We are told first that he is a king, and secondly that he is a priest of God Most High. These roles are not combined when God allows for kings to rule his people later on. But Melchizedek is both. Not only is he both, he is king of Salem, which we would link to Jerusalem, meaning that a full millenium before David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital, Jerusalem is already ruled by a devotee of the Most High God. Moreover, this king provides Abram with bread and wine, which our minds link to the Last Supper and the bread and wine of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. That’s all we know about Melchizedek, other than a brief mention in Psalm 110, which in turn is quoted by Paul (most likely) in Hebrews. Rather than try to discern the mystery in this person, I like to focus on this reality – the Bible tells the story of God’s people as ancestors of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. It does not necessarily tell us about all of God’s people, or all the things we might be curious to know about the Holy Spirit’s work. If we despair that God’s people seem to be dwindling, we ought to remember the Holy Spirit is bound to surprise all of us not simply with how He does things but what He’s doing and how far reaching it is!

Mark 10:32-45 – The opening two verses of this reading are considered optional in the lectionary but I think they provide good context for the main reading assignment. For the third and final time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus provides his followers with an glimpse of what lies ahead. I love the way Mark talks about those traveling with Jesus. His disciples are amazed, but the larger group of followers that trail behind are afraid. What is the cause of the disciples amazement? The previous sections of the chapter don’t seem to point clearly to an answer, unless they are contemplating the hundredfold promise of recompense in eternal life. And if this is the case, perhaps we can understand James and John’s request more clearly. They want glory, but they want the highest glory, which in that day was indicated by nearness to the host at a banquet. The closer you sat to the host, the more honored you were.

It’s easy to take offense at their request, to see it as a self-serving move of glory. But perhaps there is another aspect. James and John believe what Jesus says. They believe that Jesus will truly reign. They believe He is the true and eternal king, and their request takes this at face value. We know you will rule forever and we look forward to that reality so firmly that we already know where we want to sit at the celebration banquet table!

Like the other disciples it is easy to be indignant with them. But perhaps their honesty is simply blowing our own cover. Who among us does not expect – or at least hope – to be seated in a place of honor in the kingdom of heaven? Who among us is truly free of even the smallest shred of ego or pride of place? Perhaps it would be better to be more honest about that and hear Jesus’ response to James and John as a response to our own ambitions. Jesus doesn’t get to decide who is most honored in the Kingdom of Heaven after himself. God the Father is handling the seating chart, and therefore we should trust that wherever we end up sitting, it will be glorifying first and foremost to God, and will in no way be able to be construed in any way as a slight or derogatory statement about us.

Reading Ramblings – March 14, 2021

March 7, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 14, 2021

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Context: The solution to our sinful condition must come from God alone. We are not capable of adequate repentance or changes in our lives to merit God’s love and favor in and of ourselves. As much as we dislike our situation we are powerless to change it. Therefore we must depend always and only on God’s Word of grace to us rather than looking to ourselves for justification, for evidence we are worthy. There is no worthiness in ourselves, but we are made worthy to the glory of God when we receive the gift of the Son of God’s blood on our behalf.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Another passage of God’s people complaining about God’s lack of provision for them. It might be somewhat unremarkable, but part of the remarkableness of this passage is not simply the matter of poisonous snakes and God’s rescue of his ungrateful children, but the passage immediately before it. The chapter opens with some of God’s people being taken captive by a hostile kingdom. They ask God to allow them to free their friends and family and God grants this. We see a more appropriate relationship between the people of God and their God, relying on him for deliverance and remaining faithful to their promises to him. They understand it is God providing for them and are grateful for it – the complete opposite of our reading for today. It helps make what might otherwise seem a rather harsh response from God a bit more understandable. How short our memories are! How quickly we are to perceive a lack of care on God’s part, and in other moments to be completely trusting! Yet God’s people eventually return to trust, albeit after a somewhat painful experience!

Psalm 107:1-9 – The psalmist calls God’s people immediately to an affirmation of God’s goodness and his enduring, steadfast love (v.1). We are reminded of how He has saved us and gathered us together (vs.2-3). But that doesn’t mean we never deal with difficult things. Israel’s wilderness wanderings are remembered in vs.4-5. There were definitely times when, by their eyes and measures, God had no idea what He was doing and seemed to be leading them to their death. God’s people are called not just to remember the difficulty though, but how God provided for them, ultimately establishing them in a city rather than leading them endlessly through a wilderness (v.7). God is to be praised for this specific example of his goodness and steadfast love, one of several examples the psalmist will allude to. The psalmist will end (v.43) as he begins, calling the faithful to recall not simply their difficulties – we’re naturally inclined to do that! – but also God’s steadfast love.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Reliance on ourselves is no such thing. Any time we are not reliant on God we can be assured we are relying on Satan. We would still be relying on Satan were it not for the grace of God brought to us by God the Holy Spirit, who presents to us God the Son on the cross for us. Our life stems from Christ’s death. This offering was made before we were even aware of it – before we were even born, frankly. God’s solution to our sinful slavery to Satan stands objectively in history and need not be questioned. Nor need anything more be added to it. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament reading, we only have the choice of whether to trust God’s Word. Do we believe He can and will save us from our sin, or will we die in our stubborn rejection? Our salvation is not our doing – not even our faith is our doing. We either trust God’s Word or we don’t. If we do, then the love of God in Jesus Christ is what saves us, as it becomes subjective – to and for us. And if we don’t trust God, it doesn’t change the reality of what He has done for us, but rather shows how we refused. But we should never doubt that God desires we trust him, and trust that his love towards us is real and true and good and that regardless of who we have been in the past, He is ready to work with us and through us to further his plans and his glory.

John 3:14-21 – Jesus allows Nicodemus to engage him in discussion but Nicodemus’ apparent confusion is no deterrent to Jesus disclosing who He is and why He has come. What God did on a smalll scale for his people in the wilderness – saving them from serpent venom – He will do on the large scale through Jesus, lifting his Son up on the cross that any and all who look to him in hope might live. Jesus is provided as the cure to our sinfulness. His presence in that respect is one of salvation, not judgment. The judgment is already in place. Sin is already at work in our bodies. He does not introduce anything new into the equation in terms of our condition. We are no worse off with Jesus here. Rather, He provides the alternative to the natural ramifications of the sin in us, just as the bronze serpent in the wilderness offered an alternative to the natural ramifications of deadly venom in the bloodstream. The judgment of God has already been rendered on a sinful creation, and that judgment is guilty. There is no one who does not fall under this judgment both in terms of being brought sinful into the world and in their own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The poison is already working in us. Will we trust the promises of God the Father in Jesus the Christ that faith and trust in his death and resurrection will remove the poison and save our lives?

Every person who encounters must answer this fundamental question – who is Jesus of Nazareth? He leaves three options to choose from, as C.S. Lewis once observed. He might be a lunatic, a crazed man with delusions of grandeur. He might be an evil man, knowing he is lying outright and that his lies will likely lead to his own death as well as the deaths of those around him. Those could both be options, unlike the popular alternative, that Jesus was a good teacher who was misunderstood. Good teachers don’t claim to come from God to deliver people from their sins! He’s either a liar, a lunatic, or the third option – Lord. Maybe He is exactly who He claims to be, and does exactly what He asserts He does for us.

This is the question each person must answer about Jesus. And a liar or a lunatic can’t save us from our brokenness. Only a Lord can do that.

Reading Ramblings – March 7, 2021

February 28, 2021

Date: Third Sunday in Lent – March 7, 2021

Texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 2:13-25

Context: Sin mangles and obfuscates our relationship with God, ourselves, one another and creation. We are incapable of knowing what is truly best or right. Every faculty we have is affected – our will, our reason, our emotions, our senses. There is no means for us to obtain a clear and objective understanding of ourselves and reality. Therefore God must reveal these things to us or we will remain in perpetual darkness. God reveals truth about how things are supposed to function, and the sinfulness in us rebels against it. It seems too foreign, too difficult. And we do not trust or cannot clearly define the place where God’s will becomes obscured with our own sinfulness. We may be able to learn much about the world and ourselves and one another, but our knowledge must always be checked against what God has revealed to us.

Exodus 20:1-17 – God delivers his people from slavery and genocide. Exclusively by his own means and power, He demonstrates his authority over one of the most advanced polytheistic religious landscapes of the day. The Egyptians are shown their gods and goddesses are incapable of preventing God from doing as He pleases – their gods are as nothing! God also demonstrates his identity and power to his own enslaved people. The relationship He established with them is a distant memory, but his salvific actions on their behalf are current events to them, and they are firsthand witnesses. But witnessing the power of God does not ensure a proper relationship with him. God must not simply dazzle us but instruct us. He leads his people physically through the Red Sea and the wilderness in power and majesty, but He must still reveal the depth of their brokenness, the depth of their need for him. So long as we presume to be able to handle things on our own terms, we remain indifferent to God and feel it our prerogative to pick and choose from his decrees. Such an attitude is dangerously ignorant of the depth of our sin and our utter dependence on the grace and mercy of God to save us from it. In encountering the revealed Word and will of God we either are humbled by our own brokenness and receive his Word gladly, or we reject it completely and insist on being suffocated by our own sinfulness.

Psalm 19 – The proper response to the Word and will of God is, of course, to receive it with gladness and trust! After all, we can see in nature and within ourselves the truth of what He tells us. We can recognize that, despite our propensity to prefer our ways to his, his ways are actually objectively better. As the Word of God curtails my own sinful impulses it isn’t hard to see how that curtailment benefits not just others but myself as well. Verse 12 is key here – who can discern his errors? We are unable to see the depth of our sinfulness and must trust God to reveal it to us. Like children refused their demands we grouse at God at times and consider him too harsh. But as with a good parent, what God restricts or permits is always ultimately for the best not just of ourselves but all of creation around us. As we find our proper place as creatures rather than gods, we can hope for actual healing and reconciliation in part as we await for the final declaration of our righteousness in Christ, and the restoration of perfection to creation.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Paul prefaces the heart of the issues facing Corinth, a confusion of the way of God with the way of the world. Like the Corinthians we are people of the world. Trained and molded in worldly schools and businesses, trained in worldly ways of thinking and making decisions. We absorb this naturally. But in Christ we must constantly, actively consider the reality that we are creatures of the world as well as new creations in Christ, and this can and should set up in us conflict. We should each encounter moments when the Word of God leads us in one direction when our instinct, preference, or common sense leads us in the opposite. The entirety of Scripture shows us a God who leads in ways unexpected, whether it’s leading his people out of slavery and into a barren wilderness instead of to more welcoming and suitable climates, or using the incarntion and death of his eternal Son to accomplish victory over sin, Satan and death. Intuition is flawed and must be questioned constantly. The lines we arbitrarily draw between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom and will are just that – arbitrary at best and not always helpful. And when we must make a choice between the two, the correct and best option is never the worldly way.

John 2:13-25 – Not even our religious lives are free from error in understanding and practice. It is easy to read the Bible and come to the conclusion that those people were somehow stupid and we are not. They did not accept Jesus and we have. They needed to be chastised and redirected, but we do not. By the grace of God we live on the other side of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and therefore can look back to his life and work and compare that to the Word of God to find it in harmony and fulfillment. But if we presume that we have everything figured out and are free from error in our religious thinking and doing, we are more than likely mistaken. Only God can tell the extent of that error, for the time being. But we should presume that, like God’s people throughout history, we need to take his Word seriously. And in humility we should recognize we will not have his Word perfectly incorporated into our worship life either corporately or personally.

The last few verses of this reading are fascinating and instructive. Faith in Jesus is not perfect. It is sufficient, but it may well also be mistaken in areas and always prone to the selfish manipulations of sin. So it is that Jesus does not entrust himself even to those who believe in him. This is the same Greek word that describes our faith in Jesus. Jesus does not have similar faith in us, as it were. He comes to save us – we contribute nothing towards his work, not even our approval or faith. We add nothing to what Jesus has done, we can only accept what He has accomplished on our behalf.

Jesus understands – as Peter’s rebuke in last week’s Gospel from Mark 8 makes clear – that even his faithful followers are sinful still and prone to be dangers to themselves and, in regards to his incarnate ministry, even to Jesus himself. While we give thanks to God the Holy Spirit for bringing us to faith, we need to remember our faith is not perfect. This should temper our interactions with brothers and sisters in the faith from different traditions/denominations, emphasizing the importance of holding to the core tenets of the faith while recognizing that on smaller issues we are likely to disagree and such disagreement should not be unloving or uncharitable and not treated as matters of eternal significance. We will fail in this – as in all things! – and should seek forgiveness regularly for it.

Reading Ramblings – February 28, 2021

February 21, 2021

Date: Second Sunday in Lent ~ February 28, 2021

Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38

Context: Lent emphasizes repentance as a result of self-examination. Our awareness of our sinfulness drives us to repentance and reliance on the grace of God in Jesus Christ rather than our own assessment of ourselves as somehow worthy or deserving of God’s good graces. The readings emphasize the unilateral movement of God towards us, rather than what is often described in certain Christian circles as a bilateral movement – if we do this, God will do that. Scripture makes it clear we bring nothing to the arrangement. We can only respond to what God does for us.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – Another reading from Genesis grounds our human condition and God’s solution to our sinful rebellion in the oldest stories of God’s interactions with his people. Abram is 99 years old and still does not have the heir God promised him. It should be clear that, literally, Abram does not have it in him, and neither does his wife. Nor would anyone expect them to! The emphasis is that God will do what God has promised. This comes directly after Abram and Sarai attempting to fulfill God’s promises by their own mechanisms (Genesis 16). What looks nominally as success is not the same as God fulfilling his promise to them. Rather than chastising or punishing Abram and Sarai, God renews his pledge to them, signifying this by renaming them, something only the head of a family or clan could do. God is to be the head of Abraham and Sarah and they are to trust and obey him as they would their earthly father. In return God does for them what no earthly father could do – provide them a family despite their advanced ages.

Psalm 22:23-31 – Jesus quotes from the opening of this psalm as He hangs near death on the cross on Good Friday. But the portion we read this morning is profoundly different. The speaker is no longer afflicted, forsaken, and seemingly beyond all rescue. All the pressures of time and space in the opening 2/3 of the psalm are now gone. The speaker now praises God at leisure, enjoining the congregation of the faithful to join him (v.25). He testifies to the goodness of God, standing on the other side of his tribulations and trials. This transition began in v.21b, but comes to fullness through the end of the psalm. Assurance is made that all of creation will one day witness what the speaker now affirms. All will one day worship God, ascribing to him his proper due as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all the faithful. This we are called to remember and proclaim in Lent as well as at all times. Our suffering and sinfulness are not the final words in our lives. We anticipate life and victory! We anticipate perfection and the end of all suffering! It is our duty and opportunity to proclaim this here and now, when the victory is far from obvious to so many. Our faithfulness will act as a pointer to the presence and goodness of our victorious God until the day He is revealed in fullness.

Romans 5:1-11 – Our culture deems suffering of any kind to be an evil avoided at all cost, whether through terminating unwanted life on either end of the age spectrum, or by attempting to prevent any word that could conceivably hurt or offend someone. This is testimony to the reality that suffering shouldn’t exist in creation but does. Good efforts to completely eliminate suffering inevitably result in other forms of suffering sometimes far greater than the initial suffering addressed. Christians might seek to avoid or inflict suffering but it is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable – or intuitive – is the Biblical principle that even in suffering God is at work. Therefore Christians suffer as no other people on earth. With hope – not just for the end of suffering, but that even in the midst of suffering God the Holy Spirit is present and active. Our suffering can have meaning and purpose because of the work of God the Father through God the Son, Jesus the Christ, who suffered and died and rose from death in victory, assuring us that suffering and death are not the last words in our lives, and that hope is therefore always present and will not disappoint us!

Mark 8:27-38 – Peter has the right answer but the wrong understanding. He knows the words to say but doesn’t understand what those words mean. His faith is real despite it being misguided. Peter is rebuked but not excommunicated. Knowledge can be increased. Wisdom can be received. Error can be corrected. Jesus’ rebuke is intended to bring Peter back into line and his proper place as disciple rather than lord.

Jesus outlines a path by which He offers himself for the life of the world. This makes no sense and Peter recognizes this. But the glory of God the Son is made most manifest in his willngness to divest himself of his glory that He might offer himself in our place to suffering and death. It is by refusing to do things the expected way, the simpler way, that He accomplishes the greatest and most lasting of things – victory over our enemy Satan and the sin that riddles our life and leads us towards death. We are saved, but that saving is entirely due to the actions of God the Father through God the Son on our behalf, which we are brought to faith and trust in by God the Holy Spirit. We are passive recipients of the eternal goodness and mercy of God. It as though we are plucked unconscious from the ocean and saved from certain drowning. Even if we come to our senses in the midst of our rescue, our well-being depends entirely on trusting to the efforts already underway on our behalf rather than rejecting them in denial of our situation or in preference for another rescue plan.

Lent drives us to consider our helplessness to save ourselves, and more importantly to give thanks and praise to the God who refused to allow us to simply drown in our sin. The reality of Good Friday is truly horrific, and yet through this most unlikely of means, all creation is extended the forgiving grace of God.

Reading Ramblings – February 21, 2021

February 14, 2021

Date: First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021

Texts: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 25:1-10; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

Context: The season of Lent begins. This takes us out of Ordinary Time, and marks the binding of the texts together thematically, something that will continue until June and the season of Pentecost. Lent is the season of self-examination and penance, an anticipation of both the inconceivable sacrifice of the Son of God on Good Friday for our sake, and his glorious vindication on Easter morning. It is the oldest and in many ways deepest season of the Church Year, predating Christmas. We are called in this season, whether we deprive ourselves of meat or some other pleasantry as was once more traditional, to consider our sinfulness that necessitates the blood of Christ to be poured out for us. In some ways this is awkward because Sundays are not technically counted as part of the season of Lent and remain mini-celebrations of Easter. It is awkward also because we live in Christ’s victory over our sin. Our self-examination then is not in uncertainty over whether or not God has forgiven us – He has! Rather it serves as an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us away from sinful habits in our lives we might overlook, and to focus our hearts and minds more specifically on what we receive in Christ.

Genesis 22:1-18 – What God did not require Abraham to give – his only son – God the Father does not withhold in his only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. The experience of Abraham in this chapter has troubled many people. It’s important to note that we are told immediately this is a test. We are to be under no illusions as to what is going on here or if God truly desired Abraham to sacrifice his son. God is testing Abraham. Translations vary as to how they translate the Hebrew, whether as test, tempt, tried, prove. Perhaps this chapter is valuable as a litmus test for our attitudes towards God. Is He truly the loving father who cares for us, or is He a trickster or a capricious entity? Abraham did not necessarily know at this point, but Abraham likely also did not see God’s request as problematic. Sad, to be sure, but child sacrifice was hardly unknown in that age and area of the world. And, as Luther asserts in his commentary, Abraham demonstrates a strength of faith that trusts God is capable of anything He desires, including restoring Isaac should He require Abraham to sacrifice him. Because of God the Son’s obedient sacrifice on our behalf we need never wonder whether God might as a similar thing of you and I. We are free in his grace and mercy to be advocates of human life from conception through old age.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The Lord must teach us his ways and we must want to learn them constantly as they often contradict worldly wisdom and expectations. Yet faithfulness insists that it is far better to listen to God’s Word than the dictates of human conscience or public opinion. Vindication will come, whether in our lifetime or not until our Lord’s return and all things are revealed for their proper worth (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We rely on the grace and mercy of God that He continues to remind us of his revealed will. He continues to repeat his Word to us over and over, knowing both our poor memories and the active distortion sin causes whether from within ourselves or from the broken world and people around us. But we can be assured that God’s way is best. Not that it will be the most popular (it won’t be) or the easiest (it won’t be) or that following it might not entail sacrifices large and small. But of all the shifting sands of human ideas and conventions and desires, the Word of God stands as one firm rock we can cling to in confidence.

James 1:12-18 – What caught my eye in this reading are verses 12-15. In particular verse 14 which identifies temptation as an appeal by a person’s own desires. We typically say temptation comes from within, from the world, and from Satan. But the reality is that temptation is only really temptation if it’s something we want. The world or Satan might suggest to me the idea of starting an illegal dog-fighting business, but since I am disgusted by the very idea, it’s not a very real temptation. But if it’s suggested to me by Satan or the world that I do something I already have a desire to do, even though I know it’s wrong? That’s a temptation. Abraham was tested rather than tempted, in part because he had no internal desire to slay his son. God did not appeal to some sinful deficiency or proclivity on Abraham’s part but rather demanded obedience to a command. Thus, by James’ definition, God certainly didn’t tempt Abraham even had James not just asssured us God doesn’t tempt people!

Mark 1:9-15 – Jesus as the Second Adam must demonstrate his willingness and ability – as far as his human nature and will – to remain faithful to the leading of God the Father where Adam failed. His past obedience is affirmed and commended by God the Father’s exclamation of approval at his baptism. But that obedience is only the start – obedience must be maintained, and if perhaps Jesus was shielded from direct Satanic attacks as a young man, now that He prepares to launch his public ministry He must face Satan in the fullness of Jesus’ human weakness. He must face Satan as one of us. Mark does not record the interchange that occurs, and apparently considers even the outcome of that temptation to be so obvious as to not need stating! Matthew 4 and Luke 4 both provide fuller accounts of the nature of the temptations Jesus faced as well as Jesus’ fidelity to his heavenly Father.

If we rely on James’ (and the Holy Spirit’s) insights to temptation, it’s easy to see Satan’s offerings to Jesus find no footing for temptation. What Jesus desires is to be obedient to his father, and perhaps at this early stage of his ministry Jesus is not yet worried about the very real and very painful sacrifice He will be called upon to make. While Jesus may be weaker later on, and find temptation more difficult to resist (Mark 8), here He deflects Satan’s offerings with ease, relying not on angelic protection or some other unique power but rather with the Word of God.

Jesus enters the wilderness in a re-enactment of the Exodus. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they were too afraid to enter the Promised Land. Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, but is faithful and obedient while the Israelites were not. He functions here as a summation of Israel and all the people of God, being faithful and obedient where they and we can not and are not.

In verses 12 and 13 we hear elements of prophecy as well, particularly Isaiah 43:19-20. Jesus is accomplishing already what was prophesied, a restoration of the harmony and peace of the created order. That restoration is very limited for the moment, but reveals what Jesus is about, and what the kingdom of God He proclaims in vs. 14-15 will be like.

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

February 9, 2021

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

My 14-year old signature is in the front cover of this paperback book, assigned reading in my freshman or sophomore year of high school. Beyond my signature there aren’t many marks in the book. A few brackets around passages I either thought or was told were important, mute testimony to my reticence to deface books, a habit I continue today except for theological commentaries.

I don’t remember writing my name there or making those brackets. I’m not sure what class it was a part of or who the teacher was, just as I didn’t remember the story at all beyond the basics of the key character names. But my youngest – now almost 15 himself – is participating in a book club with some other home school kids and this was the book chosen. So we as a family read it together, aloud.

It’s not a difficult read, but it’s a beautiful one.

Harper Lee’s ability to weave a cultural landscape presented through the eyes of a young child is impressive, to say the least. She depicts the rural Southern attitudes and actions of her own childhood, actions and attitudes under fierce scrutiny as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum (the book was first published in 1960). Lee portrays the difficulties of various ways of rejecting the racism embedded in aspects of Southern culture. Some do so through legal means. Others do so physically, or through complex personas. Lee holds up a mirror and allows the reader to determine for themselves whether Southern race-relations in the 1930’s were ideal.

It’s at times an uncomfortable book to read. Certainly even when I read it as a boy the terms used liberally through the book for African Americans were considered taboo. More so even today when professionals using the terms in purely academic ways can be excoriated as though they are actually racist. We were cautious to make sure the doors and windows were closed while I was reading it aloud, lest a neighbor misunderstand what we were doing or what I was saying. If you’re considering reading this, it’s an interesting exercise to monitor your own interactions with the text and the language.

The subject matter is adult – there is violence, abusive language, racist language (both intentionally and unintentionally), and a rape trial. But Lee’s conveyance of these themes is not lurid, and shouldn’t be problematic for teens with some additional explanation and contextualization. As it is written through the eyes of a child the language is relatively simple (though even there the great divide in language skills over the last 60+ years is saddening!) and shot through with genuinely hilarious moments that make it a good read for a broad audience.

I’m so glad I reread this, as essentially I read it for the first time. I appreciated the opportunities for conversation and discussion it created for our family and it would serve such ends admirably for any book club.