three monkeys

Minding Our Own Business

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-17
Psalm 119
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

The students whose work I evaluate would probably disagree, but it’s my disposition, both by nature and upbringing, to be averse to conflict. The very thought of confrontation puts me ill at ease, and I will go out of my way to avoid saying or doing anything that might hurt another’s feelings or create an unhappy tension between us. I am far too captive to and dependent upon the esteem of others. I want not just to be respected, but liked – by just about everyone.

My past is strewn with occasions where I allowed another’s offense against me or someone else to slide simply because I didn’t care to suffer the discomfort of confronting them. Imagine my consternation, then, when I read this week’s lectionary texts, two of which address in a disturbingly direct manner not just the importance, but the absolute necessity of confronting and speaking truthfully to wrongdoers. Both are absolutely clear about what is at stake: compassionate truth telling is often nothing less than a matter of life and death. Read more

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Risen Indeed

Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

Death is the peak of all that is contrary to God in the world, the last enemy, thus not the natural lot of man, not an unalterable divine dispensation. … Peace cannot and must not be concluded just here in such a way as to establish a spiritual-religious–moral Kingdom of God on earth, while forgetting the enemy. There is peace only in prospect of the overcoming of the enemy.

-Karl Barth

I recently accepted an invitation to write an encyclopedia article on death and dying, and I wonder if I am up to the task. In particular, I wonder if I have it in me to tell the truth about death. The fact is death intrigues me even as it scares me. I think about it all the time. I read books and essays about it. I have my students read and talk about it.

And yet, I find that I rarely tell them or myself the truth about death. That truth, if Barth is to be believed (and I think he is), is that death is an enemy, one with which we are never to make peace. More importantly, death is a defeated enemy, defeated by God’s raising Jesus from death. Read more

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Just a Kid. Just a Seed. Just a Church.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

He was just a kid, so young and apparently insignificant that his own father didn’t consider him worthy even to attend the sacrifice offered by the traveling prophet Samuel. Sure, he was good looking, and he was tough, and he had some talent, but by and large everyone who knew him assumed he’d spend his days as an adult the same way he’d spent those of his adolescence: tending sheep, playing with his sling, writing poetry, and playing music. He was hardly a suitable replacement for a great warrior like Saul. Yet David, the least of Jesse’s sons and the unlikeliest of leaders, was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to be King over God’s people Israel.

It was just like the God of Israel to do something so totally unanticipated. He had, after all, chosen to redeem the world through the as yet unborn descendants of a pair of skeptical senior citizens named Abram and Sara. When those descendants were enslaved and oppressed by the mightiest political, economic, and military power the world had known, He called upon a hot-headed, inarticulate fugitive named Moses to take up their cause and lead them to freedom. Read more

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Spoilin’ for a Fight

Mark 11:1-11 (John 12:12-16); Psalm 118 (Palm Sunday/Liturgy of the Palms)

In her wonderful autobiography An American Childhood, Annie Dillard fondly recalls her Sunday School days in her parents’ mainline Protestant church. She notes of her introduction to the Bible, “The Bible’s was an unlikely, movie-set world alongside our world. Light-shot and translucent in the pallid Sunday-school watercolors on the walls, stormy and opaque in the dense and staggering texts they read us placidly, week after week, this world interleaved our waking world like a dream.” Read more

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Wild Grace Abounding

Epiphany – Jan. 6 Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

In Canto I of Dante’s Purgatorio (the second of three volumes of the Divine Comedy), Dante and his guide Virgil climb from the depths of hell to emerge tired and dirty on the shores of the island of the Mountain of Purgation. They are immediately confronted by the appointed guardian of the island, the Roman orator Cato of Utica (d. 46 BCE), who demands they give an account of themselves.

Dante is shocked by their interlocutor, not because of his question, but because he is there at all; Read more