handwashing

The Heart of the Matter

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Pharisees have travelled from Jerusalem out to the region of Lake Galilee to find Jesus, but this is not a spiritual pilgrimage. We quickly discover they have come to find fault: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Isn’t it interesting that the accusation is not leveled at Jesus himself, whom we might assume was performing all of the rituals the Pharisees were so focused on?

But, before we get to Jesus’ response, we need to pause and really hear the Pharisees. Read more

Eucharist

The Eucharist and the Hollow Place

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
John 6:56-69

At the center of Christian worship is, and always has been, a meal – the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the times coalesce: at the moment of communion, salvation history and future hope meet in the holy now. Those who take this meal, who eat this flesh and drink this blood, take in a meal at once like and unlike the meals of their ancestors. It is bread, it is wine, yet it is somehow so much more, for as Christ himself says, it is also eternal life. At the center of Christian worship is this meal, and this meal is the future hope of eternal life.

Yet at the center of common human experience is not now, nor has it ever been, anything remotely like eternal life. For much of the world, human life is short and brutish, ugly and bleak. In a worldwide family fractured over religious, political, economic, and racial lines, humankind’s ecumenism is rooted in our shared experience of death, of suffering, of pain. These are our common heritage, our familiar burden.

And this presents a problem for any who would eat and drink – and truly believe in – this holy meal. Read more

election campaign

Choose Wisely; Remember Well

Thanks to a campaign organized by Mennonite pastors, there’s reason for those of us in the United States to look forward to November 6 as something more than the official end of a nasty and dispiriting secular political cycle: whatever you choose to do on Election Day in the US, take time to consciously celebrate the unifying communion of and in the Body of Christ. Among the goals of this Election Day Communion Campaign is “…to build unity in Christ despite theological, political, and denominational differences.” Read more

word salad

Reading Around the text

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6: 51-58

The Lectionary is a mixed bag. No preacher wants to rely on the tyranny of the urgent to choose a text. No one wants to close their eyes, flip open the Bible and point a trembling finger to the page, praying that they do not land on Hebrews or Paul’s words for women in worship. The Lectionary mitigates that risk, and a host of other dangerous tendencies, by laying out readings in coherent and thoughtful units. But sometimes the preacher must interrogate the given pericopes, always watching the edges for things that have fallen away.

In the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter a cluster of texts that converge around the idea of Wisdom. The Psalm says that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10a). The epistle warns the reader to live as the wise and not the foolish (Ephesians 5:15). And at the head of the images for wisdom stands Solomon, the king who had the good sense to ask God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 2:9). The presentation of King Solomon is so simple and straightforward, only a fool would go looking for nuance where the Lectionary has provided clarity.

So let us chase a fool’s errand. Read more

Absalom_Albert_Weisgerber

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more