Kings behaving badly

July 12th, 2018

15 July 2018
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10B (RCL)

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

The story of the beheading of John the Baptist, in this form, is unique to Mark. Each of Matthew and Luke soften the story and move it to a different place in their narrative. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like a Marcan composition, but instead like a tradition he dropped into his own narrative. The first few verses very awkwardly introduce the flashback, which then reads like an integral narrative. That raises the question why Mark chooses to include it precisely here. Read the rest of this entry »

Asleep in the boat

June 21st, 2018

24 June 2018
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 7B (RCL)

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

The bulk of Mark’s Gospel (from 4:35 through 8:10) is organized around a repeated pair of miracles; a sea crossing and a feeding in the wilderness. This pattern should be familiar to readers of the Old Testament. Moses led the people across the Red Sea and fed them with manna in the wilderness. And just so we don’t miss the connection, Jesus’ first miracle after disembarking from the first miraculous crossing is the destruction of a demon named Legion (a unit of the Roman army) in a herd of 2000 pigs drowned in the sea, just as Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea. Read the rest of this entry »

The scrappy kingdom

June 14th, 2018

17 June 2018
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6B (RCL)

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

There is an odd little puzzle hidden in this passage from 1 Samuel: why does Samuel take a heifer to Bethlehem? Almost every sacrifice described in the Old Testament involves a male animal a year old. Jonathan Z. Smith (The Domestication of Sacrifice) points out that killing sexually immature male animals with unwanted qualities is a way of breeding the herd for desirable characteristics. What to do with that meat? Eat it, of course. Read the rest of this entry »


June 7th, 2018

10 June 2018
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5B (RCL)

1 Samuel 8:4-15; 11:14-15
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

There is a strong strand of tradition in the historical writings that sees the monarchy as a failure of faith on Israel’s part. We have here one of the clearest expressions of that tradition. The author warns the people that a king will enslave them just as Joseph and Pharaoh did in Egypt. The Joseph story, cited as one of the clearest examples of the Wisdom tale of the suffering righteous one who is finally vindicated by God, also contains in it a stern critique of Joseph. Joseph ended up enslaving his own people. One wonders if this is a critique leveled by Judah against Ephraim, Joseph being part of the Northern pantheon. Here, Israel, as so often throughout the story of the Exodus, desires to return to Egypt. Reliance on God isn’t as easy as it seems — much easier to have the certainty of knowing one’s place in the scheme of things, even if that place is at the bottom of the pyramid. Read the rest of this entry »

Hearing God’s word

May 31st, 2018

3 June 2018
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 4B (RCL)

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23 – 3:6

I find it intriguing that the boy Samuel was sleeping in the presence of the ark of God. Given the later concern for fencing the ark off into the inner sanctum, the simplicity of this story is refreshing. The narrator is careful to tell us that the word of God was rare in those days, probably because of the behavior of Eli’s sons, who took the best offerings for themselves, and slept with the women who served at the entrance of the Temple. But Samuel, dedicated to God by his mother Hannah, sleeps in the presence of God. Read the rest of this entry »

Living with delight

May 24th, 2018

27 May 2018
Trinity Sunday
Year B (RCL)

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

If I were Nicodemus, my first question to Jesus would have been, “Wait, who said anything about the kingdom of God?” Nicodemus says by way of introduction, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God for no one could do the signs you do unless God were with him.” And Jesus comes back with, “Truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again/from above.” Talk about non sequitur. Read the rest of this entry »

Groaning in expectation

May 17th, 2018

20 May 2018
The Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost B (RCL)

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 6:4b-15

We rely so heavily on Luke’s chronology for the liturgical year, that we can hardly imagine any other role for the Spirit than the “birth of the Church” on Pentecost. The Spirit gives the rag-tag band of disciples the courage and ability to begin the proclamation of salvation to all the peoples of the world, beginning in Jerusalem. Read the rest of this entry »

Consecrated in truth

May 10th, 2018

13 May 2018
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7B (RCL)

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

For the liturgical year, the Church has adopted Luke’s chronology, but we don’t read Luke’s story each year, so the other Gospels are shoe-horned into Luke’s pattern. In Luke’s pattern, Jesus ascended into heaven (his apotheosis) forty days after his resurrection, so we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday forty days after Easter, but then we read from John’s Gospel this Sunday. For John, there is no real apotheosis, but Jesus is always in the process of going to the Father. On the evening of Easter, he breathes on his disciples to give them the Holy Spirit, so there is no need to wait to Pentecost. Read the rest of this entry »

Fruit that abides

May 3rd, 2018

6 May 2018
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6B (RCL)

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

I’ve never seen the movie “The Big Lebowski,” But after these readings from John and 1 John, I might just have to rent it. A quote from the film that has made it into popular culture is, “The Dude abides.” In John’s Gospel and letters, the verb abide plays a central role. When the two disciples of John the Baptist (Andrew and an unnamed disciple) follow Jesus, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What do you seek?” They reply, “Rabbi, where to you abide” (or remain – often translated, where are you staying?). Jesus replies, “Come and see.” The Gospel is an invitation to learn where Jesus abides. Read the rest of this entry »


April 26th, 2018

29 April 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5B (RCL)

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:721
John 15:1-8

If you read these passages aloud, you will quickly discover that “abiding” is a theme for the Johannine author. The verb occurs six times in the passage from John’s first letter, and eight times in the passage from the Gospel. The letter appears to have been written during a conflict within the community (2 and 3 John seem to be cover letters for 1 John, one addressed to the leader of the community and one to the community itself; and both speak of those who have left the community). The only way of being fruitful is to abide. Read the rest of this entry »