We are in Advent, and a new church year is beginning.
We have scoured and scraped ourselves through the book of Matthew with all its blessings and gnashings over the past year. Year A can be a tough haul for a lot of us: no one likes to preach on divorce (when half our people are party to or victim of one), or being cast into outer darkness when the clothing choice you made that morning turned out to be way off, or bridesmaids missing the eschaton bus because they were out buying oil for lamps.
I won’t miss Matthew all that much, but one time, Dr. Mary Shore mentioned to me that she’d like to recover the book of Matthew. I think this is a good idea, and she’s just the one for the project. She gets the arc and lift of the book: how things like kingdom are unrattled and refitted, how we’ve forgotten that ultimately when Jesus talks to his disciples in the great commission in Chapter 28, it wasn’t that the law was too much for Jesus, but that Jesus was too much for the law. She gets that Jesus pushed and pushed the Pharisees and Sadducees until he finally made them so angry they had him arrested, and that it looks like the tension peaks when the law finally took him down in the cross, but he comes back and tells his disciples to go to all nations teaching and baptizing in his name. All nations, he says, which is a lot, and completely undoes what any understanding of nation looked like before. Then, Jesus promises to be with them throughout this crazy project.
Soon, we preachers will be hauling ourselves into the book of Mark which is so chiastic and ironic. Full of silent, naked, running boys and noisy, convulsive demons with their crazy (yet truthful) outbursts, and all the while Jesus playing the quietist who turns to us with a wry smile and puts his index finger up to his mouth and says “Shhh.” Some say Mark is perfect for preaching to our culture because of all this seeming randomness and slipperiness and mystery. Our culture is a lot like that too.
That might be right, but it might not be entirely accurate. As we tuck away Year A, if Matthew taught us anything at all, it taught us that the preached word does not tie itself down to any particular time or culture but moves and shifts and unlatches and calls out and draws in. Be it Matthew, or Mark, or Habakkuk, this word we are given as preachers does not stay still, and in fact, it tends to be quicker than any of us, pulling all of us forward, into things only hoped for. The preached word takes hold of your lapels, your eyes bugging a bit by the power of it all, and you find yourself pulled into promise, a bit stunned.
Then this promise drags you out, into all nations, for this world. This promise is where Jesus finds home. And it is yours now too; it is all of ours. We, who preach, get to tell everyone, and we discover that in preaching from this wild word, we preach into this wild promise. And goodness gracious, thy kingdom comes.