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Questions for a Picnic

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 8:35-39 OR 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

What does is mean to be fed, to not know when or how our bodily needs will be met, yet to wait in confidence that food will come? How do we grow so confident of being fed – and fed well – that we follow Christ into the desert? What do we learn from having our dependence on the grace and love of another made so obvious, so public?

Why was the story of the feeding of the five thousand (“not counting women and children”) so important to the early church that it appears in all four gospels, with a reprise – for four thousand – in Mark and Matthew? What are we to learn from such unexpected abundance? Why are being taught and being fed central acts of Christian worship? Read more

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The Greatest of All Shrubs

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

What a time in the life of the American church to read this brief parable of Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of …shrubs.” A shrub. Not a towering redwood, not a spreading chestnut, nor a big oak, and not even a nice fruit tree. Just a shrub. At least Ezekiel thought the kingdom of God would be a cedar, about as big a tree as existed in the ancient Middle East. But a shrub? What’s going on here, Jesus?” Read more

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Something to Do

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-27
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

A couple of weeks ago our family moved about 180 miles south and east to Dayton, OH, In the spring, I had been offered and accepted a job teaching Christian ethics to business students at the University of Dayton. I have been out of full time work for two years.

To get this job was a homecoming: I was now “Lecturer in Christian Ethics” at a good university. What’s more, in coming to this position I am being welcomed by friends—friends associated with the EP, as it happens. Who I am, what I have to offer, has been affirmed by persons who know something of me. Given the specific nature of the position, I was being affirmed not only for what I had done, but for what they believed I could do. Read more

flower in rocks

Wasteful Miracles

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11 OR Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

With two millennia of practice, Christians have nearly perfected the art of explaining away Gospel demands. Excuse-making is, after all, a human strong suit, and it’s not easy to stop doing what you’re really good at.

A modern variant of the “that’s nice, but it doesn’t apply to me” excuse stresses how different our lives are from those of first century peasants. Farmers, shepherds, and fishermen are, for many of us, abstractions invisibly at work somewhere beyond our personal experience, black boxes in the grocery store supply chain, while the few among us who farm or fish for a living know better than to throw precious seeds along a rocky path, leave ninety-nine percent of the stock loose and unwatched while searching for a stray, or toss nets over the oarlocks and hope for the best without benefit of engines, fishfinder, or radio.

In contrasting my busy, technologically sophisticated modern life to sentimentalized myths of agrarian simplicity, I construct all the distance I need to miss the point – and missing the point is, after all, the unacknowledged point of much contemporary scripture study. I like to imagine that I would never be so wasteful and inefficient as the benighted peasantry of Jesus’ time. Read more

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(Mis)Remembered Words

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011. -

Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 11:25-30

In an October 13, 1813 letter to his former political rival, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson described his work on a short book, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. This was Jefferson’s own distillation of gospel texts, in which he meant to include, “the very words only of Jesus,” while eliminating all elements Jefferson deemed irrational.  Jefferson assumed the parts he found superstitious were simply the result of ignorant men who misremembered or misunderstood Jesus’ “pure principles.”

When he was done with his editing, Jefferson wrote, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

He later completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, a unified narrative of Jesus’ life cut from the New Testament with all mention of miracles, angels, prophecy and resurrection edited out. Jefferson privately shared his compilation with friends, but declined to have it published in his lifetime. Read more