Martin L. Smith

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Posts By This Author

More Than You Can Imagine

by Martin L. Smith 11-26-2018
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

POWERFUL CLAIMS IN SCRIPTURE about the gospel are clothed in thought forms so archaic that most preachers shy away from them. The letter to the Ephesians has much to teach us this month, but what are we to make of the claim that we are called to ensure that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10)?

We moderns assume that evangelism targets human individuals, but the New Testament writers insist that the revolutionary message is addressed to cosmic forces that exert control over our culture and our political institutions, giving them notice that God’s saving intervention in Christ is more than a match for their malign influence. These are the “rulers and authorities” that the writer to the Colossians insists were disarmed by Christ’s death on the cross, where he “made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:15). Let us do the hard work of translating these claims into terms that can apply to our own work of evangelism. We may no longer believe in actual heavenly entities that need to be deposed by the good news, but we must bring the gospel to bear on our contemporary equivalents. Don’t we talk glibly about “the markets”—as if they were an impersonal force we can do nothing about? But the gospel debunks this evasion of responsibility about how human beings distribute the good things of the earth.

Clothe Yourselves With Love

by Martin L. Smith 10-29-2018
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

A CLOTHESLINE IS AN ODD IMAGE for Advent spirituality, but it dances before my eyes, reminding me of the pleasure I had as a child helping my grandmother hang out our clothes to dry in the back garden. How fresh they smelled when we took them down! Those who have to use dryers may never know what they are missing.

After Christmas, we will be reading from Colossians about the new styles of being human that the Incarnation attracts us to try out for ourselves. After stripping ourselves to put on the baptismal self, each layer of our new outfit is “pegged out” on the line for us to admire and try on. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience ... Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:12, 14). This same passage goes on to invite us to take seriously that meditation on scripture is a foundational Christian practice, not an optional one. Each of us must find our way of internalizing scripture, celebrating and investigating it in the inner space and landscape of our unique selves. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3:16). Advent is a visitation to us of “words of Christ” that we need to invite in and entertain. Words of Christ as the coming Human One, our New Self, the indwelling Presence with which we are pregnant, the young Christ growing into God’s call.

Christ Walks In Our Shoes

by Martin L. Smith 08-08-2018
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B

IN RECENT YEARS there was a popular religious meme with the question, “What would Jesus do?” But it has faded as these trends usually do. One of its weaknesses was that it seemed to invite us to supply the additional qualification “if he were alive today and in our shoes.” This month provides a great opportunity to explore in preaching and reflection the magnificent but neglected theme of Christ the Intercessor, found in the readings from the letter to the Hebrews. The question here is: “What is Jesus doing since he is alive forever?”

The answer is that, in total solidarity with us all as fellow human beings, the Risen Christ is representing and offering to the Holy One all that we are undergoing and struggling with and needing. “He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:24-25). Christ was and is “in our shoes” as struggling human beings.

It is not as if Christ prays instead of us so that we don’t have to. Rather our sense of his total sympathy for our human vulnerability and weakness removes our inhibitions and encourages us to offer them to God, knowing that the Living Christ is identifying with our prayers and making them his very own. What riches we discover when learn from scripture what praying “in the name of Christ” actually means!

Caught Up in Love

by Martin L. Smith 07-02-2018
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B.

THIS MONTH WE HEAR ABOUT God’s alluring wisdom, personified as the ultimate hostess, who invites us to a banquet in her glorious home with its seven pillars. The passage from Proverbs 9 always reminds me of an unforgettable moment in Lawrence of Arabia’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Once when he was in the desert, taking water from a spring, Lawrence saw coming toward him “a grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and weariness.” When this man drew near the spring, he shut his eyes and then groaned aloud, “The love is from God; and of God; and toward God.”

This pronouncement would be a perfect summation of the “mystical core of the gospel,” worth holding in our hearts as we hear about Jesus as the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Other scriptures will speak of the endemic folly that disconnects people from this love, of the new patterns of behavior that stem from embracing the saving love of God that reaches into our predicament to liberate us through Christ. It can remind us that the complaining pitilessly recorded in the Exodus narratives and the hostile reception to Jesus’ claim to be the authentic food and drink from God really stem from our fear of true intimacy with God, fear of becoming caught up in the love that is of God and returns to God with and in Christ.

[ August 5 ]
A Satanic Cloud

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesian 4:1-6; John 6:24-35

THE TENDENCY OF churches to make our worship “lite” in the summer becomes harder to justify this Sunday. We worship under the cloud of the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, the horror that ushered in our nuclear age. We have gotten used to our “sane” leaders coolly considering the conditions in which they would unleash weapons that could make our—God’s—earth uninhabitable. Ours is a self-imposed wilderness exile in which, for those who are brave enough to look up, this lurid, satanic pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night continually looms ahead, drawing us toward self-destruction.

Becoming Fluent in the Language of Hope

by Martin L. Smith 10-02-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Texts of Terror and Wealth

by Martin L. Smith 08-15-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

The Church of the Long Haul

by Martin L. Smith 08-02-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

The View from the Bleachers

by Martin L. Smith 07-01-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.

Soaking in the Word of God

by Martin L. Smith 06-05-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.

'Greater Works Than Mine'

by Martin L. Smith 05-11-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

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