Tough Guy

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 31:10-31 OR Wisdom 2:12-22
Psalm 1
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

Over the recent Labor Day weekend, one of the movie channels was showing a Rocky marathon, so I took the opportunity to introduce my kids to a movie that, in my mind, once represented the apex of filmmaking—Rocky III. While it’s always fun to revisit a cultural experience from my childhood, in this case we found ourselves laughing at all the wrong moments.

Particularly confounding to my kids was the character of Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. For those of you who don’t remember Mr. T, he was a grumpy, mohawked celebrity in the early 1980’s, the star of television shows, cartoons, and numerous commercials. He even had a breakfast cereal named after him.

And as his appearance in Rocky III reminded me, his persona could be boiled down to one basic characteristic: he was a tough guy. In the movie, his dramatic range extends from macho posturing to aggressive verbal abuse, all delivered in a gravelly, staccato cadence. My two kids, who are around the age I was when Mr. T dominated the airwaves, had a hard time understanding why I—and millions of other red-blooded American children—had once thought that he was so cool.

Of course, if such characters were only found in fiction, this world would be a much safer place. As we enter another presidential campaign, and another glut of debates, Super PAC commercials, and stump speeches hit the airwaves, I’m reminded that Mr. T’s hair and wardrobe may have been mercifully left in the 1980’s, but his affectations have never gone out of style. Read more


Revolutionary Danger

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 1:20-33
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

“Why doesn’t God answer my prayer? Why is my life so hard? When will things get better for me?” This week we are confronted with the difficult possibility that God’s primary reason for existence may not be to meet our every need, to make us happy, or give us what we want. The disciples began to learn that lesson at Caesarea Phillipi.

Caesarea Philippi is a site of incomparable beauty and longstanding political turmoil. Known today as Banias, or Panias, this once Syrian, now Israeli-controlled site in the foothills of Mount Hermon is a major source of the Jordan River. Spring-fed streams tumble through the area, making it one of the most picturesque sites in all the Holy Land. Yet the marks of violent struggle are visible too. The hulls of blown out military vehicles lie frozen as memorials to Israeli soldiers from the Yom Kippur War. Sheep graze in pastures with warnings posted in three languages: “Danger Mines!”

In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi harbored plenty of ethnic, religious and political landmines too. Read more


Stranded on Olympus

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Mark 7:24-37

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17


The appropriate response to the depiction of Christ’s suffering and broken flesh is not empathy leading to philanthropic action or political activism on behalf of the less fortunate other.  Rather, it is meant to provoke repentance and conversion.                                                                

                                             Luke Bretherton

There are two kinds of people in the world, the saying goes – those who divide people into two kinds and those who don’t.  The saying is, of course, tongue-in-cheek; a satire of, say, candidates who draw dishonestly simplistic false dichotomies for political gain, or of “experts” who presume a perspective from which they omnisciently categorize the world.  At best these folks are pretentious.  At worst, they are the ones who make “distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4).

The lectionary readings unabashedly speak of two kinds of people – the poor and the rich.  Far from making a false dichotomy, the texts shine light on what is perhaps the primordial divide.  Read more


Inside and Out

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I was leaving a meeting with several clergy members. Just behind me, close enough that I could overhear their conversation, was the long-time pastor of the leading Baptist church in town and walking alongside him was the moderator of our local ministerial alliance, who happened to be the pastor of the local Unity congregation, fifteen members strong.

My own experience with ministerial alliances, especially in other cities, was that they were ecumenical, even interfaith, so I never thought twice about whether our moderator was Unity or Baptist or Muslim. Apparently, not everyone agreed. Since the Unity minister’s election, most clergy in town had quit coming to the ministerial alliance and my own suspicion was that they were boycotting the alliance, (a suspicion later proven true).

The Unity pastor was inviting the tall steeple Baptist pastor to the alliance meetings, “We’d love to have you join us the second Tuesday of each month at noon.” The Baptist said, “Well, we have staff meetings on Tuesdays and I’m usually tied up.”

So the Unity guy replied, “I bet we could re-schedule our meetings to accommodate you. We’d love for you to come.”

The Baptist stopped, turned to the Unity pastor and said, “Children of Light have nothing to do with Children of Darkness. I won’t be there.” The Unity pastor was stunned, shocked into silence while the Baptist walked away without another word. Read more


Who Is This?

Thirteenth Sunday afar Pentecost
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 6:56-69

It is at the eucharistic table and in our liturgies that we likely most often encounter Jesus’s words in the gospel of John, that his flesh is true food, his blood true drink, and that when we eat and drink, we abide in him and he in us.

Perhaps we couldn’t be blamed then if such claims of Jesus slide down into the belly of our hearts with ease, like comfort food, filled with familiarity and fond association. For those who have lived this story long, we hear bread and think body, body and think bread – a mingling of symbols and referents that comes as a hard-won accomplishment of good formation.

Add to our formations the distance most of us typically experience between our food and its source. The realities of eating the body of another being are somewhat muted by a food industry that does the hard work for us, and conveniently renames body and flesh as “meat.” To eat a body is a rather pedestrian act that the majority of us easily embrace without too much reflection.

Given our grasp on eucharistic symbols and our eating formations, perhaps it is then difficult to identify with the Jews’ disgusted question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52) and Jesus’s disciples who ask, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (6:60)

As a child growing up on a small farm, where my family’s eating life was marked by considerably less distance between farmyard and table, it was not entirely unusual to sit down to a meal, and for one of my siblings or I to ask about the meat on our plates, “Who is this?” We hoped the answer would be no one we knew. Read more