Nine Miles from Bethlehem

Epiphany
Isaiah 60
Micah 5:2-4
Matthew 2:1-12

Sunday is Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. On that day we won’t sing: “Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping,” but songs about magi from the East bringing gifts to Jesus. Although no manger scene would be complete without these exotic strangers from afar, Matthew says that they showed up some time after the birth of Jesus, and found Joseph’s little family in a house at Bethlehem. Read more

Implicating Prayer

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 5:13-20

The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.

His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more

The Dreaded Stewardship Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

In the years we have shared the goodness of this lectionary blog, we have filled its pages with much exegeting, exhorting, explaining, organizing—and a bit of prophesying, complaining, and lamenting too. I’m going to use my opportunity this month to do a bit of bragging. Bragging? Yes, bragging. In nearly four decades of preaching, I have tried to keep bragging to a minimum, but the time has arrived. Blame Paul, he got me started. Read more

Cooperating with the God Who Acts

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:26-38

A few years ago I traveled to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. First impressions led to mixed reviews. The structure is imposing. Construction of the massive church surely kept the concrete company happy for a long while. Travelers pass scores of ornate Marian mosaics, gift from the faithful of many countries. The newer church is constructed over the ruins of an older Crusader church, so things get more interesting as you descend into the remains of the older structure. At the deepest point in the church, ancient cave dwellings are preserved–enlarged depressions and small caverns that once housed people and animals. In one of these dwellings, declared our guide, the angel came to Mary. Could this be the place? Read more

“Certainly, Certainly, Certainly Lord!”

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 18:21-35

Preachers tend to tell big forgiveness stories about people who wrestle with the devastating effects of war, murder, and stupendous acts of unfaithfulness. I am more comfortable talking about penny-ante examples of forgiveness. Jesus covered the entire spectrum with one story. When Peter asked Jesus to define the limits of forgiveness, Jesus told a tale about settling accounts. It’s easy to find ourselves in Jesus’ stories. Jesus never said, “I’m going to tell you a story about two builders, but it’s really about you.” He didn’t have to. In a good story we recognize ourselves instantly. Jesus’ parables are mirrors into which we are invited to take a hard look. Read more