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What Else is Money For?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

A friend of mine was a missionary for many years in various parts of Asia. One Sunday while on furlough she told a story about one particular country in which she had worked. The government had forbidden Christians from assembling; indeed, no citizens could have more than one other guest at their apartment at any time to preserve “order.” In defiance of political authorities, believers surreptitiously sought to get around the law; they were determined to meet together for fellowship, prayer, and worship.

Unfortunately, the local policeman saw the staggered comings and goings and figured out that they were gathering. At that point, my friend did what was socially expected in such circumstances: she paid the policeman a bribe. And as long as she kept paying, Christians kept gathering in this apartment for the sustenance they for which they longed and for which they risked severe punishment.

When my friend told this story in front of the congregation, she was a bit sheepish – even ashamed – that she had bowed to the dishonest system of payment and the black market economics common in much of the world. My friend Scott – trained by Jesuits with a PhD in philosophy (and the most likely of my Mennonite circle to be canonized if we ever decided to institute the practice) loudly and quickly retorted loudly before the entire congregation, “Ah, well, but what else is money for, really? Seems like a pretty good investment to me.” Read more

Amazing Grace

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 15: 1-10

About a year ago I buried one of our church’s founding members. Back in 1968, Archie McDonald and a handful of others started our congregation, in order to have a local church with membership policies that were not segregated. Archie was a professor and historian, ornery and rough-hewn, but he had a profound sense that it was only due to the grace of a loving God that he existed at all and only by God’s grace did our church exist. He knew what the dying priest knew in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, “It’s all grace.”

The very meaning of the word “grace” is “undeserved favor.” We do not deserve it. If it is deserved, then it is not grace and it is certainly not amazing.

Which is why Archie’s favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” As he said, “it is the one hymn most about me, especially the part about saving wretches and being found.” And he liked to call our congregation, the “Amazing Grace Baptist Church” because there was and continues to be a sense that we’re all lost yet we’ve been found by the loving Good Shepherd. Read more

To Rest in Requiring Hands

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

I have long admired hand-made pottery. So when a friend who had been throwing pots for some time asked me if I would be interested in learning, I was more than enthusiastic. All of my exposure to wheel-thrown pottery indicated a serene, meditative act, and I could use a bit more of that in my life. The first day at the wheel, I held my newly kneaded lump of clay, eager for peaceful art-making, when my friend instructed me to raise up my clay in both hands and slam it down on the wheel.

“Slam?” I asked, perplexed.

“Slam,” she answered. Read more

Praying for the Nation’s Peace and Justice

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Last week, in our Episcopal church, the prayers of the people began with these two petitions:

Let us pray for the Church and for the world.

Grant, Almighty God, that who confess your name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world.

Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.

(Followed by a short period of silence, and then: “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”)

How does praying as the church, the holy people of God, united as one, inform our ability to pray for justice and peace in the nation? Read more

Deep and Wide

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-10 OR Isaiah 58:9-14 OR Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:18-29 OR Hebrews 12:5-13
Luke 13:10-17 OR Luke 13:22-30

It’s a difficult week for ecumenical commentary on the lectionaries, a rare Ordinary Time Sunday when none of the Revised Common Lectionary and Catholic Lectionary passages match. Books and even chapters nearly align, but as the carnival barker says after the darts are tossed, “Close, son, but no cigar.” But this is the hand we’re dealt this week.

I’m suspicious of harmonizing texts. From Tatian’s Diatesseron to shepherds rubbing shoulders with magi in crèche scenes, well-intentioned acts of smoothing over create more problems than they solve. Even so, I’m enough of an intertextualist to identify a theme emerging from our varied readings this Sunday, one I believe as orthodox as a reader of scripture can get. When readers, in their own time and place, engage scripture with the heart and mind of the Church, we sense a double expansion of meaning and application. In short, we’re on to something when we find ourselves implicated in texts that grow wider and deeper at the same time. This Sunday’s texts offer examples of how to do this. Read more