Eucharist

The Eucharist and the Hollow Place

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
John 6:56-69

At the center of Christian worship is, and always has been, a meal – the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the times coalesce: at the moment of communion, salvation history and future hope meet in the holy now. Those who take this meal, who eat this flesh and drink this blood, take in a meal at once like and unlike the meals of their ancestors. It is bread, it is wine, yet it is somehow so much more, for as Christ himself says, it is also eternal life. At the center of Christian worship is this meal, and this meal is the future hope of eternal life.

Yet at the center of common human experience is not now, nor has it ever been, anything remotely like eternal life. For much of the world, human life is short and brutish, ugly and bleak. In a worldwide family fractured over religious, political, economic, and racial lines, humankind’s ecumenism is rooted in our shared experience of death, of suffering, of pain. These are our common heritage, our familiar burden.

And this presents a problem for any who would eat and drink – and truly believe in – this holy meal. Read more

word salad

Reading Around the text

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6: 51-58

The Lectionary is a mixed bag. No preacher wants to rely on the tyranny of the urgent to choose a text. No one wants to close their eyes, flip open the Bible and point a trembling finger to the page, praying that they do not land on Hebrews or Paul’s words for women in worship. The Lectionary mitigates that risk, and a host of other dangerous tendencies, by laying out readings in coherent and thoughtful units. But sometimes the preacher must interrogate the given pericopes, always watching the edges for things that have fallen away.

In the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter a cluster of texts that converge around the idea of Wisdom. The Psalm says that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10a). The epistle warns the reader to live as the wise and not the foolish (Ephesians 5:15). And at the head of the images for wisdom stands Solomon, the king who had the good sense to ask God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 2:9). The presentation of King Solomon is so simple and straightforward, only a fool would go looking for nuance where the Lectionary has provided clarity.

So let us chase a fool’s errand. Read more

Absalom_Albert_Weisgerber

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more

Nathan confronts David

Discerning What Displeases the Lord

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13a

Our Old Testament lesson brings us to one of the most dramatic moments in this extraordinary narrative of David when he is confronted by Nathan the prophet. It is high drama in this narrative and it is a high drama in the history of prophetic speaking truth to power.

David stole Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, and then when it was discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he used his power to have Uriah killed by the Ammonites. The last sentence of chapter 11 says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” The next sentence, which begins chapter 12, says, “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.”

My question is “how does the church come up with Nathans?” Read more

good-shepherd-icon-13110lg

The Shepherd Who Feeds Us

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is striking beauty in the appointed texts for this weekend.

And there are shepherds.

And the shepherds are beautiful.

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jer. 23:4).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

. . . and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk. 6:34b)

The lesson from Ephesians does not mention shepherds but its images and metaphors are equally beautiful, and shepherd-like:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)

When one reads these four lessons together, going back and forth among them, savoring their beauty, noting their obvious (and not so obvious) connections, it is difficult to reconcile the vision they cast of the shalom of God with much of what constitutes ecclesial life in our time. Especially in this season of denominational gatherings in which the worst of ourselves, individually and corporately, is often on display: the petty bickering; the refusal to really listen to each other; the lack of charity and humility in our dealings with those we disagree with.  Read more