choir

Priests at Every Elbow

I Thessalonians 2:1-8

Indeed, the appeal we make never springs from error or base motive; there is no attempt to deceive; but God has approved us as fit to be entrusted with the Gospel, and on those terms we speak… With such yearning love we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves, so dear had you become to us. (I Thessalonians 2: 3-4, 8).

Unbelievable! Paul it seems identifies himself, his very person, with the Gospel.‘God has approved us as fit to be entrusted with the Gospel,’ so that we have imparted ‘to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves.’ These are not exactly expressions of humility. What would you think if Kyle said that of himself? ‘God has entrusted me with the Gospel so that my very self makes present God to you. Indeed, if I fail in the ministry then all our salvation is in doubt.’ I suspect you would think if Kyle expressed such views, he would have gone around the bend. But I am telling you not only is that exactly what Kyle should think about his ministry but also it’s what you should hold him to. For if the Kyles do not exist and churches like Austin Heights Baptist do not exist to make Kyle’s ministry possible, then we are indeed lost.

So said Stanley Hauerwas, preaching on the I Thessalonians lectionary text, in the worship service that was part of my tenth anniversary celebration as pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church.

These were strong words in Stanley’s provocative sermon. These were words that made all of us in the congregation sit up and pay attention to what the Apostle Paul was saying about ministry to the small, struggling congregation in Thessalonica. For me, they were uncomfortable words.

In listening to Stanley’s high view of pastoral ministry, I squirmed. I was not so sure I agreed with such an elevated perspective of ministry. I mean, I know pastors! I also knew then and know now that when anyone is put up on a pedestal they will eventually fall off or get knocked off. It is much safer to never be on the pedestal in the first place. Read more

prayer

They Cried to the Lord

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

“They cried to the Lord, and the Lord answered them” (Psalm 99:6b)

The Psalmist’s words will be the entrance into this week’s Scripture passages. The hope as we gather in our respective places of worship is that the words of the texts will not only say something, but also do something. Paul Simon’s song “Wartime Prayers” helps bridge that divide. Simon, who admits he is as surprised as anyone at how God keeps showing up as the subject of his songs, has the poet’s gift of speaking in image rather than in proposition. He also unashamedly joins the chorus of the needy.

“Show me your glory,” Moses cries to the Lord. His plea is occasioned by God’s command to leave the Mountain, the place of special revelation, for an unknown future. He yearns for certainty. “Show me your glory,” he cries. Read more

TV distractions

Deadly Distractions

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:1-14

On a recent morning, after listening to my wife read the gospel passage where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet, my mind, distracted by a crying child and the anticipation of a day of teaching, was able only to form a somewhat vague prayer: “Lord, help us to discern the kingdom of heaven, and to turn our hearts towards it.” Read more

vineyard

Fruit of the Vine, Work of Human Hands

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

Our text this week of parable and interpretation raises a number of compelling questions for the church. Knowing the story as we do, it is perhaps understandable for us to look at Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the wicked tenants as a prophecy foretelling the opening of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles. While this isn’t perhaps an invalid interpretation, it is one that allows us, as the church, to be bystanders to the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, instead of locating ourselves within the story itself.

The parable begins with the planting and establishing of a vineyard, and the owner of the vineyard leaving tenants in charge. Servants come to collect the produce for the owner, but again and again the tenants wound and kill the servants. Finally the owner’s son comes, and the tenants murder him in order to get his inheritance.

What is at stake in this story? It doesn’t seem to be the vineyard itself in the sense of land lust, but rather the withholding of the fruit which rightly belongs to the owner. The story is that of a harvest theft. Read more

Head of Christ

The Unfairness of God’s Justice

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The twentieth century political philosopher, John Rawls, summarily restated his most famous work, A Theory of Justice, as “Justice as Fairness.” Many who know little of his learned, complex argument may have heard of his “Original Position,” the thought experiment that serves as creation myth for Rawls’ social contract.

Rawls asks his reader to imagine a meeting where all parties choose a common social structure from behind a “veil of ignorance.” No one knows his/her/its origin, history, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, talents, abilities, or conception of the Good. This artifice, Rawls believes, forces participants to choose the basic rights and duties of citizens impartially, rationally, and fairly — and Rawls confidently tells us what they will decide.

Many of Rawls’ subsequent conclusions are appealing, but his starting point strikes me as a progressive “just so” story. For Rawls, it seems, people emptied of nearly every personal quality will nevertheless share his late twentieth century bourgeois liberal values.

This week’s lectionary readings envision a radically different universe. Read more