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Fear of Beggars

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 OR Amos 6:1-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

When I served as the pastor of a local church I often had folks in my office who wanted to know what to do about the guy on the street corner flying a sign. I’ve been part of churches who have made “blessing bags” to keep in their cars, full of items like bottled water and socks, to avoid passing cash to the homeless that live on the streets of our town. (Because, you know, drugs and stuff). I have had folks confess to me that the only reason they give money to the man or woman they pass on the corner is out of guilt, but they know deep down that their $5 bill is more about them feeling good than helping the poor. I suspect that you go to church with folks who are wrestling with many of these same questions. You might even be asking these questions yourself. Read more

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New Endings, New Beginnings

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 8:1-12
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

My father and I often respond to absurd news reports shared by text message or email forward with the tongue in cheek response: “A sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us.” In the past few weeks I have not been sure if that’s an appropriate joke to make. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and violence and death plague every news cycle. My cries have been “Come, Lord Jesus” more often than they’ve been jokes or hashtags.

When I read the Old Testament lesson appointed for this coming weekend and hear Amos’ denunciation of 8th century Judean social, economic, and religious practices, it sounds so familiar. Income inequality, corrupt business practices that benefit the wealthy, religion that’s nothing more than form without substance. It was bad news for Judah. Amos told them it was the end of the line.

This weekend I’ll be mounting the pulpit in a comfortably wealthy, white, mainline church. Are there ways in which Judah’s bad news needs to become our bad news as well? Read more

Mooddisorder

Pain and Hope

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 42
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Eternal God, lead me now out of the familiar setting of my doubts and fears, beyond my pride and my need to be secure, into a strange and graceful ease with my true proportions and with yours; that in boundless silence I may grow strong enough to endure and flexible enough to share your grace. Amen.
–Guerillas of Grace, 28

These are tough days for those who mount pulpits to proclaim the Word of God. Sitting, as I am, on this Monday before Sunday, wondering how to write faithfully about these appointed texts for the week, I find my thoughts repeatedly drifting to my newsfeed. These stories cry out for the preacher to say a word about them, too.

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston. Is there a word from the Lord for those who yet grieve the daily violence and injustice perpetrated against the black community in this country? Is there a word from the Lord for young women in the pews who watch these same newsfeeds in fear and disgust as a rapist walks away from his crimes with not much more than a slap on the wrist and we are all reminded of the power of privilege–or is it the privilege of power? Is there a word from the Lord for members of the LGBTQ community whose fragile (if they had it at all) sense of security was shattered yesterday when a gunman walked into a nightclub and perpetrated the largest mass shooting in US history? A word for those who might use this tragedy to pit this one vulnerable population against an equally vulnerable Muslim population? Is there a word from the Lord on days when the demons that threaten to break us are Legion and their names are racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious extremism? Is there a word from the Lord on days like these when there are simply no words at all? Read more

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The Power of Fear

Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

On Monday of this week, a grand jury in Ohio declared that the police officers who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice while he played with a pellet gun in a Cleveland park and then left him unattended on the ground for four minutes before administering comfort or assistance would not be indicted on any charges related to his death. The officers said the boy looked like he was 20. They said they told him to stand down. He was a large black boy in a park and they were afraid. People do stupid and sometimes horrible things when they are afraid.

As a country we’re being told that we should be afraid of a lot of things lately: immigrants, Muslims, crazy men with guns, black men (with or without guns), ISIS, the jobs report, tap water. We’re told that there are forces afoot in this world, embodied in these and many other things, which threaten our way of life. We’re told that if we do not eliminate these threats, bad things will happen. We’re told to hold nothing back, however immoral or inhumane, to keep ourselves and our way of life safe: border controls, internment camps, religious tests, militarized policing, racially skewed drug laws, carpet bombing, suppression of unions, bottled water.

Fear maintains order. Collateral damage is to be expected. When those in power fear that they are losing hold on that power, ramping up the fear of the general populace is a surefire way to secure and maintain power.

Exhibit A: Herod the Great. Read more

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Helpless Before the Throne

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38: 1-7 (34-41)
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

“We will have so much winning. We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning. Believe me, I agree, you’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored. We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning big on trade. Militarily, we’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” -Donald Trump, September 2015

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee. Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” – Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

In last Sunday’s epistle lesson from Hebrews we were reminded that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joint from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If the gospel lessons of the past few weeks have been any indication the power of God’s word to cut deeply into our lives, this week’s gospel conversation between Jesus, James, and John leaves no doubt that the Word made Flesh will not rest until everything that separates us from God has been sliced away with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel.

Last week this “Good Teacher” cut into our idolatry of possessions. This week it gets even more personal. Placing ourselves in this story we realize that our sinfulness, like that of James and John, is not just caused by external forces like wealth (or Mammon), but by forces dwelling deep within us, like envy, pride, ego, and the illusion of grandeur. Read more