Crossing the Red Sea

The Reckoning

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 14: 19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14: 1-12
Matthew 18: 21-35

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, admits to her admiration of those who understand “the risk of prayer.” She describes the tearful, sorrowful response of two faithful Jews leaving each day to engage in the always dangerous practice of prayer, not knowing if they would survive the experience to return to their families. It is this same risk we undertake when we host scripture, actually seeking to encounter a Word from the God whose fury can consume like stubble, whose answer to our “Here I am” will not leave us untransformed. And so we come to the collision of these texts with this time, just over half way through the season after Pentecost, when the church is called to full participation in what God is up to in the world so loved (how goes that with all you all?). Read more


Fallible Church, Deliberate Grace

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:1-11
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20


It is strangely comforting to hear Jesus talking about a sinful church.

Some heap admiration on Jesus’ teaching, and then dismiss it as too lofty to be attainable. Turning the other cheek is for the spiritual elite. Loving one’s enemies is for the age to come. The Beatitudes are true spiritually, but not in practice.

But if ever we wondered whether Jesus were a realist or not, his words in Matthew 18 put that question to rest. The church Jesus envisions is not some idealized community we have not yet discovered or planted, or can’t belong to. The church Jesus envisions is entirely realistic: it is my sinful congregation and yours. We don’t need to be told that sin exists among the saints. We see the havoc wrought in our parishes by pride, greed, and sloth. We know the devastation of own wrath, envy, lust, and gluttony. Consequently, these words hold out the hope of experiencing grace because they reveal that Jesus knows full well the half-born condition of the community he leaves behind. His words take hold of us as we and our congregations are today and not as they can never be. Read more

Peter crucified

Follow the Leader

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:21-28

“We believe that the truth of the gospel cannot be separated from the kind of lives required for the recognition of that truth” -Stanley Hauerwas

“Our instinct to embrace Jesus’ exemplary goodness while avoiding the blood of the cross is a “stumbling block” to God’s mission in the world.” -Charles Hambrick-Stowe

At some point in my growing up years I remember seeing, on the bookshelf in our living room, the spine of a book whose title was Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Even at a young age, I can clearly remember sensing the irony and nonsense of that phrase. Who makes war to get peace? Now I understand why its author would have suggested that the dominant ethos of our time is the notion of perpetual war for perpetual peace. Now I see why the world is so easy to believe that the means for achieving peace in the world need not match the ends. Why? We do it all the time. Read more


Signposts and Seeds

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

This week’s comments are pointings and plantings rather than a single extended reflection. My focus is on Matthew 16, but first a word about the other readings.

Rene Girard’s seminal insights, as well as those of his able interpreters (and critics) provide a profound context for the lectionary passages of the day. It is worth wrestling with how these insights shine light on parts of the texts that can be overlooked in more conventional readings: seeing through the “official” policy of “justified,” veiled violence by telling the story from the perspective of victim; turning “the logic of sacred violence” and blood sacrifice on its head, unveiling God’s revelation of Christ’s atonement and the witness of the Church as “living sacrifice.” Psalm 124 then becomes testimony. (Athanasius says that most Scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us).

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Now some signposts and seeds from Matthew 16: Read more

Embodying God’s Unity in a Fragmented World

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Psalm 133 begins with a refrain that will be familiar to many of our ears: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!,” but it is the powerful imagery of the latter two verses of this brief psalm that drive home the depths of the God’s desire for the people of God to live in unity.  The psalmist flashes two quick, familiar images into the imaginations of his Israelite audience – first the anointing of the priest Aaron, with the precious oil flowing down his head, coursing through the hairs of his beard and dripping down unto his robes, and the second image is that of the dew of God’s blessing falling upon the mountains of Zion – that place that Israel associated with eternal and abundant life.  These vivid images reminded Israel that living together in unity is the life to which God has called them, and indeed calls us as the people of God today.  This deep longing of God for unity is echoed in the prayer with which Jesus leaves his disciples in John 17: “that they may be one, as we are one.” Read more