Open to the Work of the Gardener

Third Week of Lent

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

On a quick read, the epistle and gospel readings for Lent 3 may seem to be saying opposite things: Paul wants the Corinthians to learn from God’s judgment of the Israelites when they were in the desert. Jesus seems to warn against inferring that anyone experiencing misfortune is also being judged by God. When the lectionary places together texts that seem difficult to put together, we can see that as an invitation to put those texts into conversation with each other. When such texts are paired together for one of the Sundays in Lent, as these are, we should hope that such a conversation between them might better prepare us to engage in a holy Lent. Read more

Receiving the Gift of Christ

Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Advent is a time of watchful waiting, of preparing ourselves for the Lord’s arrival. The message of John the Baptist is designed to enable our focused preparation. In Luke’s account we read that John clearly states that he is not the coming Messiah. Instead, John’s attention rests solely on the one who is coming after him, waiting, watching, hoping. Read more

Hope for the World

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:24-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

I suspect there will be a lot of sermons this Sunday about sheep. John 10 is the locus of a lot the New Testament’s of sheep imagery. I am basically an urban and suburban person. I’ve little direct experience of sheep. I have a lot of direct experience of sermons that aim to teach me a lot about sheep from people who have no more agricultural experience than I do. I have seen a rabbit herd sheep on YouTube. I’ve had rabbits as pets. Their brains cannot be much bigger than an olive. Instead of focusing on the habits of sheep, I think our attention might be better directed elsewhere. Read more

More Righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 58:1-12
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

In a world where ever more people think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” one may be suspicious of any serious concern with and reflection on ritual observance. That suspicion may draw some energy from this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 58. The people of God to whom Isaiah shouts out like a trumpet seem genuinely baffled by the criticisms lodged against them. Their ritual observance seems to have been devout. They seek God. They “delight to know [God’s] ways.” They fast, humble themselves, and observe the Sabbath.

As we read further in this passage, it is clear that all of this ritual devotion is completely disconnected from the common life of their society. There is rampant injustice in their commercial dealings. They are indifferent and inattentive to the needs of the poor. They neglect their own family members. As the LORD makes clear, these are the activities that form the basis of worship that pleases God.

It would be a mistake, however, to see ritual devotion and social justice as mutually exclusive. Read more

Money and Friends

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 16:1-13

There are a number of interpretive puzzles in this story of the so-called dishonest manager that forms the gospel reading for this Sunday. I will try to say something about them in due course. First, let us look at the end of the story. Here Jesus is talking, adding some comments to the story he has just told. He concludes these comments by saying that no one can serve two masters for obvious reasons. Then he says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Whether or not I always serve God, I hesitate to accept the idea that I might be serving wealth. Rather, wealth is there to serve me. I think that is what many of us both in and outside the church think. We are free and wealth or money is to be used by us. It is a tool; it serves us. We may not always use our money wisely, but we definitely use it rather than serve it. Unless we think this, it would be very difficult to sustain the idea that money is something neutral. As long as money is a tool we can treat it as something to be used but it is neither good nor bad in itself. Read more