Which Side?

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 5:1-7 or Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 80 or Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

They say in Harlan County
there are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
Florence Reece, “Which Side Are You On?”

Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
1 Corinthians 11:19

Much has been written lately about the uncivil disintegration of contemporary American society, and for good reason; each day occasions new, often vicious spoken and written attacks calling into question the veracity, integrity, and intentions of those holding views different from the speaker or writer. Christians haven’t opted out of all the name calling, and have penned missives – some against their brothers and sisters – every bit as strident as those of our secular neighbors. I recently read part of such an exchange, which left me, as the news these days tends to do, despondent. And then I read the lectionary texts for this week, which offered a bit of perspective, if not consolation. Read more

What Are We Doing Here?

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-15 or Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalms 42 & 43 or Psalm 22:19-28

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 8:26-39

Whose image haunts the mirror? And why
are you still here? What exactly do you hope

to become? When will you begin?

Scott Cairns, from

“Bad Theology: A Quiz”

Looking for signs of God’s reign can get pretty frustrating these days, especially if your looking is restricted to what you see and hear in mass and social media. That’s not to say that there’s no god-talk in the news; there are plenty of people who are not simply talking about God, but who also presume to speak on God’s behalf, loudly and at length to anyone who’ll listen. It’s not clear, though, that the god these folks are talking about is the God who was present to the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who came preaching “good news to the poor… release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,” which is to say, liberation to those suffering the yoke of every kind of oppression (Luke 4:18).

Read more

Covenants Have Legs

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Ruth 1:1-18 (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)
Psalm 146 (Psalm 119:1-8)
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking some about the notion covenant lately, or perhaps it’s because it’s simply obvious, but when I read the lectionary for this week, I couldn’t help but notice that both the primary and alternate texts presuppose or allude to God’s Covenant with Israel. Among the root senses of the Hebrew word for covenant, b’rith, is the act of binding oneself to another. God binds Godself to Israel, and asks Israel likewise to bind itself to God and become God’s partner in the ongoing work of lovingly restoring the original peace of our broken Creation. That God invites a people – Israel, and by extension, the Church – to be part of this work suggests that the Covenant “has legs.” Read more

We Do Not Own What We Have

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

… Nothing
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.
Wendell Berry

I’m not as young as I used to be. I understand fully that any one of us could at any time say precisely the same thing, but what would otherwise be mere inanity has taken on surprising concreteness for me as I have begun to realize that someday I may no longer be able to do the work I love, or much work at all, for that matter. Treating retirement as a concrete, rather than an abstract, reality, has led me to think about money, and about whether there will be enough. According to the retirement calculator I consulted, the answer, unsurprisingly, is “no,” and even though I know that this answer is determined by an ideal standard of living to which I have never really aspired, it turns my thought to worry. I hate this, if for no other reason than because I hate the person it makes me or tempts me to become. I became acutely aware of these matters, which have been floating around my subconscious for a while now, when I began to study the gospel lesson for this week. Read more

Economy of Grace

The “bookends” of this week’s lectionary readings, from Exodus and Matthew, reintroduce us to the economy of grace characteristic of God’s now-but-not-yet reign of shalom. These texts also poke at our raw spots by challenging us to recognize ourselves in them, confronting some of our deepest anxieties, and exposing our bent toward greed, envy, and pride. In reading them, and allowing them to “read us,” we are reminded of the vastness of the expanse separating God’s kingdom from the kingdoms of this world; yet we are also given hope, that God remains at work, healing Creation and transforming us, its broken members. Read more