Cultivating Compassion

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Exodus 17:1-7

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

This week’s scriptures simmer with conflict. Our reading from Exodus finds the “congregation of the Israelites” stranded in the wilderness of Sin, in a decidedly unhappy mood. Water is in short supply, and people know exactly who to blame. Things get so ugly that even after the people drink their fill, Moses names the place “Massah” (testing) and “Meribah” (quarreling).

Sunday’s gospel account from Matthew 21 recounts Jesus’ escalating battle with the religious leaders. Accusatory thrusts and countering questions lead to conversation-ending judgment: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Temperatures are rising. Trouble is on the horizon. Read more

Gifts in the Wilderness

By Ben Lee

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16:2-15

Matthew 20:1-16

During my family’s annual week-long family reunion, my parents would sometimes find unique things for us to do as a family. One year, when I was around twelve years old, he decided to rent a boat and take us out to a nearby island. Many of my cousins and I spent the day snorkeling and collecting shells, rocks, and even a few fossils. The next year, he arranged for us all to go on a deep-sea fishing trip for the day. After these two years, I began to expect something even better. I even had the gall to say “What are you going to do for us this year? It needs to be something that is more exciting than deep-sea fishing.” That was the year that my dad decided to do nothing. I was furious. It was going to be the worst year ever. Forget the fact that even being able to take a week-long vacation was a tremendous privilege.

The more I calculated what was coming to me, the more I distorted the dynamics of the gift that was being offered. And so my dad withheld that particular gift, lest I confuse the reason why he was offering it in the first place.  Read more

Mercy Shortage

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Genesis 50:15-21

Psalm 103:1-13

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

 

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.

                                                                        –Mary Gauthier,  “Mercy Now”

 

I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.

                                                                        —Dorothy Day

 

As reprehensible as it was, Republican congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recently posted image of herself holding an AR-15 next to pictures of the group of progressive Democratic Congresswomen known popularly as “The Squad” wasn’t especially shocking, and not only because it was but one instance in an extensive and expanding catalogue of her outrageous behavior. Such belligerent, threatening actions, facilitated by the anonymity of the internet and enabled by so-called leaders who thrive on divisive rhetoric that often crosses the line into bigotry and hate speech, is no longer exceptional. Political differences have morphed into battle lines, and violence, directed disproportionately toward the powerless at the margins, is not uncommon. While the political roots of this crisis run deep and are many and complex, they are easy enough to sum up theologically: we collectively suffer a critical shortage of mercy. “Every single one of us,” as Mary Gauthier sings, “could use some mercy now.” Read more

Of Birth Pains and Birthday Parties

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 12:1-14

I remember well the days my two boys were born, one in September and the other in May, four years apart. When they were born, although we were obviously expecting them, they each decided to arrive earlier than expected and we were not fully prepared for their arrival. But their births, at least for this mother, were memorable. Read more

Returning to the Scene

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

I have been experiencing depression for the first time in my life over the last year or so. While not recognized as an official pathology, climate depression (or climate anxiety) is on the rise. I lose a lot of sleep. I find that I simply cannot read certain portions of the newspaper. At last year’s Ekklesia Project, I had to excuse myself during Mike Budde’s talk because I couldn’t bear to hear him detail the irreversible damage happening to our home, our planet.

Part of the problem is recognizing how complicit I am in climate change. The militaries of the world, aluminum smelting, concrete manufacturing, global shipping, industrial agriculture, certainly these are all among the chief culprits of our crisis. But I have traveled extensively around the world. I cool my home so that it can be more comfortable. I shop on Amazon. I am trying to change my habits and choices, but I also recognize I have so far to go. Read more

The Power of Naming

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Matthew 16:13-20

I share a name with both my father and my grandfather. Due to our family circumstances, I grew up mostly away from both men, seeing them only occasionally on summer breaks or special events. Sharing their name feels like a special connection to them, and to my family. 

However, I never thought much about the origin of our name. It was my grandfather’s and my father’s name, and that seemed sufficient for me. Until recently, I didn’t think to dig any deeper.  Read more

For She Keeps Shouting After Us

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 15:10-28

This gospel passage takes us into uncomfortable territory. We travel from a land of Pharisees and parables to one of Canaanites and demon possession. The words of Jesus to the Pharisees are harsh, the words of the woman to Jesus are insubordinate. It does not sound like the comforting gospel hope we crave in the midst of this chaotic year.

It begins simply enough with the usual characters—Jesus, a crowd, Pharisees, disciples. Jesus tells the crowd that their words have meaning and significance enough to defile them. It is what they say, and not what they eat, that makes them unclean. This brings about the anger we expect from the religious leaders, and then, of course, the parable, the confusion, and the explanation. Everything is shaping up for this to be a standard gospel tale. Read more

Science, Church Signs, and the Hope We See

Proper 14, Year A

Matthew 14:22-33

I have long been a fan of the church marquee.  I don’t generally pay attention to the service times or the pastor’s name written large; what I look for is a good word, a funny saying, some pithy call to the Christian life.  I am, of course, often disappointed.  Some jokes fall flat, some scriptures are ripped from their contexts, and often the theology is an abuse of all that is good and beautiful about our faith.  But often enough the signs are just right.

I recently saw a few online that gave me laugh or at least a humored groan: “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.”  Or “Adam and Eve, the first people to not read the Apple terms and conditions.” Or “This too shall pass, it might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”

As I drove past a church in my city, I recently saw a LED marquee with the message: “We are praying for scientists that they may find a vaccine.”  There was something in that message that didn’t sit well with me, a problem that I couldn’t quite articulate.  It wasn’t that I am against scientific inquiry or that I think praying for scientists or even a vaccine is a bad idea.  Much of my own life has been formed by scientific modes of understanding, I once even imagined that science would be my career.  I often read books written by scientists and I own a microscope, telescope, and dissecting kit with which I engage in my own explorations of the world, often with my children, whom I encourage to pursue knowledge through scientific means. But still, I had some sense that there was another message the church should have been offering. Read more

The Cost of Compassion

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Genesis 32:22-31

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Quoting Henry Ford, Dale Carnegie wrote in his seminal, bestselling self-help work How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.” While Carnegie might not have been the first public figure to package this brand of empathy for the masses, he was certainly one of the most prominent. In the decades since, the move he describes here, of understanding “the other person’s point of view” has come to be adopted by businesspeople, politicians, gurus and ministry experts as an effective sales technique, a surefire campaign strategy, a can’t-miss item in our evangelistic toolkit. Empathy sells. Compassion pays off. Read more

The Present and Hidden Kingdom

By Johnny Tuttle

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I am a sucker for the universality – the “catholicity”[1] –  of this string of parables. They seem concerned, not simply with identifying the Kingdom of God, but the universal reach of its presence.

Certainly, the mustard seed is a speck in the field. Yet, as the parable announces, it grows into “the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” I suppose you could debate whether the mustard seed is indeed the smallest seed, or whether it is the greatest of shrubs when it is grown; I’ll pass on that debate. It seems the point, rather, is that the entirety of this “sprawling” plant – one large enough to house the birds of the air in its branches – is contained by the seemingly insignificant seed. Read more