Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Whatever is just

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

24 September 2017
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20A (RCL)
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

We often read this parable as an assessment of the reaction of Jewish Christians to the admission of Gentiles into their fellowship. Much like the story of the prodigal in Luke, which aligns Jewish Christians with the older brother who has observed the father’s commandments, we align the Jewish Christians with those hired first in this parable, who have born the heat and burden of the day. These late comers receive the same reward, and the first are justifiable perturbed. In my evangelical days, we read this as a comment on death-bed conversions. This interpretation did not make the bulk of Christians very happy. Why not play around until the last minute? (more…)

Keep it simple

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

9 July 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9A (RCL)
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The story in Genesis is rather shocking to our sensibilities; Abraham’s servant is certainly forward in putting a half-shekel gold ring in Rebekah’s nose, and two ten shekel gold bracelets on her wrists. And Laban is certainly forward in promising her to Isaac without her consent — although she does consent after the transaction has already been completed to go with Abraham’s servant right away, rather than waiting ten days. But the story certainly fits within a standard pattern in Old Testament literature (and even an instance in the New Testament) – betrothal at the well. (more…)

Reigning from the cross

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

20 November 2016
The Last Sunday after Pentecost
The Reign of Christ
Proper 26C (RCL)
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 146
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, as a response to the rise of secular regimes in Europe. Many of those regime were trending toward fascism. In the encyclical Quas primas, Pius stated that “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence or usurped but by his essence and by nature.” Pope Benedict XVI, in a sermon on Christ the King said that Christ’s kingship was based not on human power, but on loving and serving others. (more…)

Temptation and renewal

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

22 February 2015
First Sunday in Lent
Lent 1B (RCL)
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Most of us have heard ourselves say, “If I were king/queen (or boss, or mayor, or president) . . .” We would know how to fix the world, or the department, or the city. A friend will tell me of some intractable problem, and my response (at least in my head), is “If I had a magic wand . . .” I believe the ancients would have seen in this the sin of pride.

Our readings for this Sunday bring us face to face with this temptation. (more…)

What sort?

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

20 July 2014
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 11A (RCL)
Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

God certainly chooses the unlikely for the divine purposes. Jacob has little to commend him, ethically, for the job of divine agent. Having extorted Esau’s birthright, and then connived with Rebekah to cheat Esau out of the blessing due him, Jacob is fleeing for his life when we meet him in today’s reading. And yet God shows up in a vision, and assures Jacob that the promises made to Abraham and renewed to Isaac extend to him: he will become the father of a great nation through which the world will be blessed. I’ve joked before that God has to hit Jacob over the head with a rock to get his attention to extend the promise. But, as it turns out, Jacob is standing in the very vestibule of the divine court, witnessing the angels of God entering and leaving with their embassies for the world. This would become the site of the northern sanctuary at Bethel.

As I read the story of Jacob/Israel, I read exilic or post-exilic reflection on the unlikeliness of Israel’s choice as God’s chosen people. (more…)

I AM

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

30 March 2014
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4A (RCL)
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

The story of the healing of the man born blind is wonderfully rich and complex. It forms something of a centerpiece of John’s Gospel, and encodes a moment in the life of the Johannine community. The passage is the most dramatic in John’s Gospel (outside of the trial before Pilate), and the drama is advanced by the convention of having two interlocutors in each scene. The passage opens with (1) a dialog between Jesus and disciples, (1-5), advances to (2) the interaction between Jesus and the man (6-7), moves on to (3) the exchange between the man and his neighbors (8-12), (4) the man and pharisees (13-17), (5) the pharisees and the man’s parents (18-23), (6) the man and the pharisees again (24-34), (7) the man and Jesus (35-39), and finally (8) Jesus and the pharisees (40-41, although that scene really extends to 10:21).

In the first scene, the disciples (more…)

Stricter righteousness?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

16 February 2014
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 6A (RCL)
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than for you whole body to go into hell.” As a CPE chaplain at the Massachusetts General Hospital, I visited patients in the rehab wing of the hospital. One of the patients was a young man whose right hand had been surgically reconstructed. He was maybe 16 years old. He had committed that most adolescent male unoriginal of sins, and then took this passage to heart. He had laid his right hand (the offending hand) on a railroad track in front of a passing freight. I wish I could remember what I said to him about this passage, or whether I had any real effect on him. I do remember that I made sure the psych department came to see him. Deep in my pastoral soul, I can’t believe this is what Matthew’s Jesus meant.

But if not that, then what? (more…)

God’s foolishness

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

30 January 2011
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 4C (RCL)

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

These lessons all fit together, which is unusual in ordinary time. In Micah, God is entering a lawsuit with God’s people, and calls the moutains and hills to serve as the jury. God reminds them of all that God has done for them, in shorthand. Interesting that the prophet chooses the story of Balak and Balaam. Balak hired Balaam to curse the Hebrews, but Balaam ended up blessing them. Will the curses contained in this book end up as blessing? The people respond, “Well, what do you want from us?” and then comes the lovely expression: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

In Corinthians, (more…)

Behold, the lamb of God

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

16 January 2011
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 2A (RCL)

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Wow! I find myself just saying, “Wow!” about these readings. That may be the extent of my sermon on Sunday.

For starters, the Isaiah passage starts out with military imagary — swords, polished arrows, etc. The prophet, speaking in the person of Israel, knows himself to be God’s chosen servant. God has chosen Israel for God’s purposes in the world, and those purposes, at least as far as Israel can see, are military. Israel is God’s sword, and God’s quiver full of arrows. But, says the prophet, for Israel, “I have spent my strength for nothing.” All of that military might has gotten Israel nowhere, in fact worse than nowhere — Exiled in Babylon. What can God possibly mean that Israel is God’s chosen? Well, God says to the prophet, you have misunderstood. I have chosen you, not just to restore Israel, but the whole world. (more…)

Behold, my servant

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

9 January 2011
First Sunday after Epiphany
(Baptism of Our Lord)
Epiphany 1A (RCL)

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

I have come to think that each of the Gospels was written and used primarily as baptismal instruction. They were intended to be heard, and all at once. Imagine hearing a Gospel read from cover to cover, while you waited in the dark to be baptized. At the beginning of each gospel is a reference to baptism, and then again at the end (in Matthew, particularly clear — go and make disciples, baptizing). So, as you listened to this, it would begin to dawn on you, this was your story. The spirit came to rest on you. You would be tempted, etc. You would become “christianos” — little christ.

So, those heavenly words are addressed to us: This is my child, my chosen, in whom I am well pleased. Takes us right back to all of the Isaiah servant songs. I have called you in righteousness and kept you. I have given you as a light for the nations, to bring forth justice on the earth. Yikes!

The baptismal community is to shine God’s righteousness to the world. That’s how we live as community, and we bring it about for all. Did any of us ever really think of our baptism in that way? Or was it just a “get out of hell free card”?

What does it mean to be God’s chosen? It’s not always comfortable.