Workers’ Rights and the Kingdom of Heaven

Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:15-16

Some say that human beings are hardwired with a strong sense of what’s fair and what’s not. Maybe. But even if it’s not part of our DNA, it seems pretty clear that the resentment we feel when treated unjustly is learned early and runs deep. Ever been in a room full of toddlers when there aren’t enough toys to go around?

We don’t seem to lose that sense of personal violation and moral indignation as we get older. The toys we fight over as adults may be bigger and more sophisticated—they may even be things like careers and promotions and reputations—but we are often as petty and possessive as any preschooler in our scramble to claim what we believe is rightfully ours. Read more

70 x 7 and 9/11

Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. (Sirach 28:2)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

At a time like this—the week we recall the attacks of September 11, 2001—it is instructive to set the script of American civil piety next to the scriptures assigned for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. This week we’ve been admonished by politicians and others to “remember and never forget” that terrible day seven years ago. This Sunday Jesus will tell us (again) that forgiveness is the required response to those who sin against us. Read more

Love and Power

Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

I’m a political junkie. And like many addicts, I’ve been bingeing lately, and I’m not proud of it. I know better (as most junkies do), but I can’t seem to help myself. Two weeks of convention hoopla—spin and jive, sentiment and spectacle, smugness and sarcasm—have left me more hopeless than ever about the state of political discourse in the United States of America.

Where’s the maturity and civility and humility? Where’s the courage to cast our political, economic, and moral challenges in the nuanced ways they require? Why are we afraid of complexity, subtlety, complicated truth? And perhaps most distressing: Why are we so hostile to one another? Read more

Useless

Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

A good friend who teaches Theology at a seminary in another part of the country likes occasionally to begin his new classes with the pronouncement that “God is useless.” As you might expect, this assertion is usually not well received by the pious young women and men on the other side of the lectern, who find it shocking, offensive, and even blasphemous. My friend anticipates these reactions, of course, and I suspect he enjoys his students’ outrage (All of us professors have a bit of the ham-provocateur in us.). But he does not assert God’s uselessness simply for the shock value. The claim that God is “useless” is among the most important truths of Christian faith, and one of the central messages of this morning’s Old Testament lesson. Read more

Immigration and the Hebrew Midwives

Exodus 1:8-2:10; Matthew 16:13-20

“For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.” – Thomas Paine, 1776

“But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them.”- Exodus 1:17

In a class I used to teach called “Women and the Bible” my students and I would examine the Exodus story of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, as one in a long line of narratives about female tricksters. Through their wily and inventive ways, these women and others like them (Rebekah, Tamar, Rahab, Michal) carry out the purposes of Yahweh and extend the fortunes of Israel. They may not possess any real authority in the patriarchal world they inhabit but these clever women do wield remarkable power. Read more