The Weeds in Our Hearts

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 20:10-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-43

“You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum.
You can strike up the march
There is no drum.
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

– from “Anthem,” by Leonard Cohen

I have laid waste my life in pursuit of a better past, grieving twenty-year old mistakes while ignoring my all too present sins. I am also – and by no means coincidentally – overly attentive to the sins of others, at least those sins I know from the inside, through personal experience. As the Twelve-steppers say about calling out failings in others, “If you name it, you claim it.”

The plain sense of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds suggests a world in which the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one are distinct and readily identified, if not easily separated in this life. I trust that is sometimes – perhaps more frequently than I care to admit – the case. I hope those who can reliably tell wheat from chaff or sheep from goats benefit from this parable, reassured that God will identify and deal with each justly and in due time. We may all be grateful in knowing that’s not our job.

For now, however, we must accept that the weeds aren’t going anywhere soon. We can all pray to receive the necessary grace to love our enemies, despite the current climate of partisan rancor and public denunciation. We can all pray to resist the weight and pull of worldly ways.

Yet my own experience of good and evil reminds me of an insight from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Read more

Getting Some Real Rest

Matthew 11:16-30

This week’s gospel passage features that well-known statement of Jesus’: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Rest. That’s a difficult word for today’s society, because it’s not clear that what we mean by “rest” and what Jesus means are the same thing. Read more

The Walking Dead

Genesis 22:1-14
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

While they have long been a part of traditions and folkways in various cultures, in recent decades the concept of zombies has become enormously popular in comic books, films, and TV shows. From the late-night B-movies that thrilled audiences in the middle part of the twentieth century to more recent treatments like 28 Days Later, World War Z, and of course, the television series The Walking Dead, these productions, however predictable and familiar they might be, still intrigue viewers with their depictions of the slow-moving, dim-witted, yet always terrifying “undead”. Read more

Do Not Be Afraid

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

As the Ekklesia Project Gathering draws near, with its focus on the church as Mission, and following on Timothy’s reflection for last Sunday, we come this Sunday to the last part of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before they are sent out as apostles in the gospel of Matthew.

The sending of the apostles in Matthew differs from the story in Mark and Luke, in that we are not told of their return to Jesus, their telling of the experience, or of a restful retreat afterwards (or at least an attempt to retreat). Because of this, in Matthew’s telling there is the sense that the sending continues, up to and including the present day church. Read more

Mission Trips

Second Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In June church folk scatter to the four winds. Along with vacations, camps, ball games, and camping trips, many go out into the world on mission trips. A few years back, some youth from a friend’s Appalachian church traveled to the dark underbelly of Pittsburgh to shine for Jesus. At a rest stop along the way they bumped into a church group from Pittsburgh headed to help the poor people of Appalachia. Maybe they could have all stayed home? People sometimes travel a long way to accomplish things they wouldn’t dream of doing in their own back yard. Read more

With Us to the End of the Age

Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Talk about God’s authority over all things can make people uneasy. “Authority” sounds like it might be a threat to our freedom, as when, in the movie “The Truman Show,” the director of the reality show that is Truman’s life controls every circumstance in his world. He finally speaks to Truman from the fake clouds in the set’s fake sky: “In my world, you have nothing to fear. I know you better than you know yourself….I’ve been watching you your whole life.” We cheer to see Truman refuse to live as a slave.

That kind of domination is what happens when humans try to be God, to control each other. Read more

The Good Work of the New Humanity

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-35
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
John 20:19-23

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty—the faint surprise of minds incapable of wonder.
– Wendell Berry

We seldom associate Pentecost Sunday with work of any sort, even good work. Perhaps this is because the wild imagery of wind and flame and the strangeness of glossolalia tempts us to see Pentecost as distinctly other-worldly. Or perhaps we have simply assumed that work itself is inherent in the curse passed down from our primordial ancestors, and that the redemptive power unleashed at Pentecost is part of God’s action to release us from that curse—and so from work.

This is a misreading, both of the first chapters of Genesis—the gifts of tilling and keeping the garden were part of God’s instruction to humankind from the beginning—and of the story of Pentecost in its broader theological context as the commencement of the mission of proclaiming the gospel. It tends to obscure the fact that human work of a certain kind is part and parcel of our faithfully embodying our role as icons of the triune God. Read more

Shown, Not Told

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11


“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

-often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but of uncertain origin

The late New Testament scholar, John Pilch, noted that Jesus, as rendered in the Gospel of John, “tends to get a bit long-winded.” All those extended discourses, repetitions, and interlocking phrases stand in stark contrast to Mark’s rustic efficiency, to be sure, and if it seems like Jesus has been saying goodbye to the disciples for weeks now, you’d be right. This is the fourth week in a row in which the lectionary’s gospel reading comes from John – unless you’re celebrating the Ascension this Sunday, in which case you get a synoptic reprieve. And yes, this is the third consecutive week culled from John’s multi-chapter Farewell Discourse.

Those lost in the Johannine word-cloud might be forgiven for missing the clues in today’s gospel that Jesus has stopped talking to the disciples and is now directly addressing the Father. In other words, Jesus is praying, not preaching. Or is that a misleading distinction?

Perhaps a more helpful terminology comes from the first principle of good writing: Show, don’t tell. In what is sometimes called “The Great Intercessory Prayer,” Jesus stops telling his clueless disciples how to serve, love, and live peacefully with one another. He stops telling them that the Father and Son are one in the unity of the Holy Spirit. He stops telling them they must turn from the world’s ways in order to experience true joy. He stops telling them these things, not because the disciples already know and understand – their behavior over the next several days will destroy that illusion – nor does he stop because the lessons no longer apply. He stops telling them in order to show them. Read more

Come and Look

Easter 6, Year A

Acts 17:22-31

John 14:15-21

Do you have a dog and do you walk her?  Or a child?  A walk with a child or a dog can be an exercise in frustration.  Dogs and children don’t walk in straight paths, they meander, zig zag, go up and down, stop and start.  This can be a problem if you have a destination in mind, if you want to get somewhere, but if you want to see?  A walk with a dog or a child can open up whole new modes of perception.

This is the truth that Alexandra Horowitz writes about in her book On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to Observation.  Horowitz, a cognitive scientist by trade, takes walks with eleven experts, each one helping her to see the journey in a different way.  From a geologist and a sound designer, a dog and a child, and a host of other curious observers Horowitz learns to see her Manhattan neighborhood in whole new ways, noticing what she’d long ignored, seeing what she’d never been able to perceive, all because someone came alongside her and showed her what had always been there.

On those walks Horowitz writes: “I would find myself at once alarmed, delighted, and humbled at the limitations of my ordinary looking. My consolation is that this deficiency of mine is quite human. We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.”

Horowitz sounds like the prophet Isaiah when he proclaims the message of God:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’ (6:9) Read more