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

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One Big Happy Family

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37:1-28

Typology has gotten a bad rap in modernity, but Scripture isn’t Scripture without it. So both Old Testament passages on offer this week invite theological reflection on a provident God who orders deliverance to and through Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll concentrate on Genesis 37.

“This is the story of the family of Jacob” (37:2)—our story, people of God. It isn’t pretty. Bad reports, preferential loves, internecine hatred, braggadocio followed by “even more” hatred (37:8), conspiracy to kill, deception, and betrayal for 20 pieces of silver. This story of the family of Jacob—our ecclesial story—puts ugly on display. Read more

The More You Get, the More You Have

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 14:13-21

And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Immediately before the story of the feeding of the five thousand is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer’s head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew’s version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John’s demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew’s gospel — recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one – is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas’s 1990 essay in Theology Today).

Also interesting is the juxtaposition of fear and death (in the story of John’s beheading) with that of fulfillment and abundance in the feeding narrative. The murder of John the Baptist is a result of power confronted and hypocrisy exposed. Where fear reigns, violence cannot be far behind. Herod’s birthday party is an occasion for the casual disregard of human life to come to a head (forgive the pun) in the expedient execution of a political troublemaker. And while this blood-tinged birthday banquet represents the old order with its fear-mongering and death-dealing ways, the feeding of the five thousand heralds the new order: fullness of life and health for all (even women and children). Read more

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Mustard Seeds and Evangelism

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

Being a Baptist in Texas the very air that I breathe is full of evangelism, growth, outreach, and marketing.  Everything is either big or needs to be bigger and it seems that the church is no exception.  Here in Big Texas (and America seems to be just a bigger version of Texas) it’s all about Big Business and trans-national corporations, mega-churches, and mega-plexes.  We want Big Answers and Big Solutions to Global Problems and we want to super-size everything from fries to storage buildings to football stadiums.  Politicians and economists of every persuasion keep telling us that a bigger economic pie is the answer to everyone’s concerns.  Closer to home, every day I receive mailings and emailings on how to grow, be bigger, reach more people, raise massive amounts of money, train more people, build bigger buildings, have a bigger sound system, a bigger music program, a bigger youth program, get a bigger church van, where to order a bigger pulpit, or how I can get a bigger Bible with larger print (okay, so I’m keeping that one).  In other words, bigger is always better; it is a sign of blessing and success, and if we’re not getting bigger then something is wrong. Read more

Van Gogh, Vincent. Harvest in Provence. 1888. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel..

Life Among the Weeds

Pentecost +5:  Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We live among the weeds—they crowd around us, their roots intertwine with ours, and sometimes the suffocate us.  Surely the harvest will be less bountiful when we allow the weeds to grow among the wheat—we can imagine the full vibrant growth of their grain as they have the full resources of the soil.  Couldn’t we just have some genetically modified wheat, some holy Round-Up to kill the weeds?

Perhaps, but Jesus’ hearers would have understood something important about the wheat that came out of a field of weeds—it was strong and sure, tested by the weeds and able to grow in spite of them.  The seeds of that wheat will carry that strength too—it is this seed that a farmer would want to plant next year, not the untested wheat that can’t stand up to the pressures that will inevitably come.  The question is one of endurance—of surviving until the apocalyptic harvest. Read more