“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

Mission Trips

Second Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In June church folk scatter to the four winds. Along with vacations, camps, ball games, and camping trips, many go out into the world on mission trips. A few years back, some youth from a friend’s Appalachian church traveled to the dark underbelly of Pittsburgh to shine for Jesus. At a rest stop along the way they bumped into a church group from Pittsburgh headed to help the poor people of Appalachia. Maybe they could have all stayed home? People sometimes travel a long way to accomplish things they wouldn’t dream of doing in their own back yard. Read more

I Pledge Allegiance

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

These days our problems in the US seem endemic and intractable: the scars of war, trillions of dollars in deficits, violence in our cities, struggling schools, families falling apart, looming environmental catastrophe. But, like clockwork, every four years, The Great One comes to us like a gift from heaven. Next week we inaugurate a new president.

We had such high hopes for our last president. He was good looking, cool, smart. He had a beautiful family. He read books. He shot threes. He spoke in complete sentences. He was black and white and African and Indonesian and American. He was Kansas and Chicago. He was Yale and Harvard and the University of Chicago. He was Christian. He was Muslim—well, it turns out he wasn’t Muslim after all.

We pinned high hopes on him. We hoped he might save the economy, restore our moral standing in the world, end wars, rebuild the ozone layer, move us past partisan politics. He was change we could believe in.

And this week another Great One steps forward. Read more

Loved for What We Have in Us

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 19:1-10

From Jerusalem, perched 2500 feet above sea level, it is all downhill to Jericho, 850 feet below sea level. That makes for a hot, muggy place, but Jericho is shaded by palm trees and watered by cool springs. Jericho produces the best fruits and veggies you’ll find anywhere. And Jericho has been around for a long time—at least 11,000 years. Jericho is a land flowing with milk and honey.

That’s what the children of Israel thought when they emerged from the wilderness and marched around Jericho’s walls. Mark Antony thought so too. He gave Jericho as a gift to Cleopatra, tossing in Arabia as an afterthought. Cleo leased Jericho out to King Herod, charging him half the yearly profits of all Judea.

And how do you suppose Herod skimmed off enough cash to pay the mortgage? Look no further than one man who had his boney fists wrapped around the throats of every workingman in Jericho—Zacchaeus, the government’s chief tax collector of the area. Zacchaeus, poster boy of the One Percent. Zacchaeus, least popular man in the Jericho Rotary Club.

Zacchaeus and his cronies taxed every orange and grapefruit shipped out of Jericho. Three little words from Luke tell you all you need to know about Zacchaeus: “He was rich!” Reviled and avoided, Zacchaeus had no reputation left to protect and few friends. Then Jesus came to town. Read more

God Calls People

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

I know, I know. There’s no one that pastoral types like me distrust more than someone who declares they are called by God to do this or that. Self-proclaimed prophets and preachers in church are a dime a dozen. Believe me, I am one! In an election year we have to make do with narcissists who tell us they are God’s answers to the nation’s pressing issues. Yet if you pressed me on the matter, I would be forced to admit that I too have been called by God. Read more