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

grapes

The Quality of Mercy

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-15 OR Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

There are Sundays when it seems that God simply can’t catch a break. In one Old Testament reading, the people of God grumble and complain because they don’t have enough; they are worried about where their next meal will come from; they do not believe that Moses or God can provide; they are uncomfortable with having to rely on God.

Alternatively, if you opt for the reading from Jonah, God gets slammed by Jonah for being merciful to the Ninevites; for treating them better than they deserve; for being steadfast in love: Complaints for not providing enough, complaints for providing too much. Jonah is probably tied more directly to the gospel reading, but before that, we should talk about Paul.

From the depths of a Roman prison Paul writes to his friends in Philippi. His friends are under some pressure from hostile forces because of their faith in Christ. Later in the epistle he worries that this hostility may lead them to start grumbling against God and each other. He subtly notes that this is not the first time that that people of God had “grumbled,” and he urges them to avoid this (Phil 2:12-14).

Grumbling, however, is not Paul’s primary focus. The thing he is most concerned with, the thing is asks them to do first and foremost is this: “Order your life together in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul’s plea is not directed to individuals, but to a whole community. Ordering a community’s life together is, at its most basic level, the work of politics. The politics Paul urges on the Philippians is one that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. Read more