The Toughest Psalm

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 137
Lamentations 1:1-6

This week we read the Bible’s toughest, darkest Psalm–137. The lectionary scriptures from Lamentations 1 and Psalm 137 are poems of lament that look back to the same event…the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC at the hands of the Babylonian war machine.

Imagine the fear that gripped the people of Jerusalem when they heard that Nebuchadnezzar’s war machine was headed their way. Imagine hearing the city gates clang shut for the last time. Imagine how peoples’ stomachs knotted up as food, water, and supplies became more valuable than gold. Imagine the terror that gripped citizens hearts as the guards on the walls hurled stones, arrows, and fire at the attackers. Imagine the raw panic that broke out in the streets when the foreign army broke through the walls and there was nowhere to run. Imagine the sick hopelessness that overtook husbands and wives who knew what was about to happen to their spouses and children. Imagine the terror on the day the city burned to the ground and blood flowed in the gutters. Read more

You Can’t Get There From Here

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 16:19-31
Once upon a time there was a rich man who dressed in fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. Though, to be fair, he wouldn’t have called himself rich. If you were to press him, yes, he would admit that he had done well for himself.

Were you to point out that he had just bought a house in the best neighborhood in town, he’d shrug and say, well, ‘every dog has his day.’ And as for fine linen, his shirt was actually a more wearable linen/cotton blend and while yes, it did cost $120, that was nothing considering how hard it is to find shirts that are made in factories that pay a fair wage.

As for sumptuous fare, yes, good food was one of his values. His friends joked with him about how much time he spent at the grocery store—or as he liked to call it—his neighborhood market—see that’s just the thing, food should be about local sourcing and genuine relationships, about knowing the farmer who raised the lamb you put on the brazier in your new outdoor kitchen. He’d be the first to admit that the flagstone fireplace was a bit over-the-top, but in more reflective moments, he’d tear up talking about how the whole idea was to just have a place the whole family could eat together. Outdoors.

The guy who worked at the farm that sourced the rich man’s food was named Lazarus. One day, while harvesting organic eggplant, Lazarus cut his hand on a thorn. He thought nothing of it and wrapped a bandana around his wrist to stop the bleeding. If he put his back into it, he’d still get 20 baskets that day. A whopping $30 for a 14 hours’ work. Missing time was missing money, so it was almost a month later before Lazarus stopped long enough to get it looked at by some nurses from Atlanta who set up a clinic in the field. The infection had spread up his arm. Gangrene, the doc said. Amputation, or death by sepsis.

But the rich man never saw this. Between him and the people who picked his food a great barrier had been fixed alongside the highway.

As it turns out, Lazarus also had a side job cutting grass for the rich man. At least he could still ride a mower. One day, as he was mowing on an incline, the riding mower tipped over on him. Lazarus cried out, “Help! Help! I’ve cut my foot, and I’m bleeding very badly.”

But the man who had done very well for himself could not hear Lazarus, because between the two of them there had been fixed some very thick windows—the double panes of ¼” glass were insulated with Argon gas to keep the noise at a level best described as contemplative, while the low-E coating on the outside protected the rich man’s furniture from UV damage and help keep his power bill low. Saving money, saving the environment, and saving his sanity—now that was honoring his intentions toward the “triple bottom line!”

At that moment Lazarus died, and by some unforeseen aneurysm, so did the rich man.
The man who had done very well for himself in life found that in death, he was not being treated the least bit kindly. While he wasn’t in a lake-of-fire-type-situation, he did find that he had an awful taste in his mouth—a bitter taste he couldn’t get rid of.
Just then he saw Father Abraham, and said,

“I thought it was supposed to be St. Peter waiting at the gate.”
“That’s over in heaven.” Abraham answered.
“This isn’t heaven? Then what is this place?
“Ehh…it’s kinda like the Jewish waiting room for the afterlife.”
“Yeah, but…I’m not Jewish.”
“A lot of people have a hard time with that part.”
“Hey, there’s that guy who used to cut my grass! What was his name? Oh yeah, Lazarus. Hey dude, what’s up? Hey, if you don’t mind…I mean, I know there’s like an ethnic dynamic here and all, but could you bring me some water—sparkling water if you got it. And I don’t mean to be picky, but Pellegrino, please, its smaller bubbles make for a much softer mouth feel.”
“He can’t hear you.”
“What do you mean, he can’t hear me?”
“You didn’t hear him in life, now he can’t hear you in death.”
“I heard him plenty! I liked his business on Facebook. Lazarus Lawn Care: You Raise ‘Em Up, We Cut ‘Em Down—so clever.”
“The chasm that separated you in life has been fixed in death. Only now you’re on opposite sides of the divide.”
“You mean like the digital divide?”
“Something like that.”
“O.k. I get it. I overstepped a bit with the Pellegrino thing. How ‘bout this for an afterlife tryout? Could you at least ask him in a super-nice way to run down to my old neighborhood and tell everybody to stop using leaf blowers—two cycle engines are terrible for the environment—not to mention the noise pollution.”
“The glass that kept the noise out in life has been fixed permanently. You called the shots in life, but in death, your voice will not be heard.”
“That’s not fair. How was I supposed to know that all that noise out there was being made by real people? How was I supposed to know that there was some life I was supposed to live beyond the one I curated?”
“Had you listened to the words of the prophets and the commands of Moses, you would have been kind to the stranger and the alien. But you payed extra to make sure you never felt like a stranger.”
“Words of Moses? What are you talking about, dude? Everybody knows the Old Testament is like… I dunno…all judgment and sacrifice. Nobody reads that stuff anymore! I was more of a Christ-follower type. Oh, that’s it! When in trouble, just ‘call on the name of Jesus!’ Jesus, help me! Jesus!”
“For a lot of people there will come a day when they cry out Lord Lord! but you had your chance at Jesus. You could have encountered Him in the face of the incarcerated, the poor, and the abused.”
“Yeah, but I never heard Jesus say anything about that.”
“You spent your days eating and drinking, downloading and uploading, —maximizing the yield of everything from your orgasms to your organic groceries–but never once did you hear the voices shouting in the streets for justice.”
“Voices shouting in the streets? What are you talking about, dude? I hashtagged #BlackLivesMatter on several occasions. I had two or three friends on Black Twitter.”
“Did you really care, or were you obsessed with appearing to?”
“But I do care. I can prove it to you. Look, just send somebody to go tell my friends at church. Tell them all that stuff you just said. They’ll believe if you send somebody back from the dead.”
“Take it from me, Son, the Word of One risen from the dead is the last thing church folks want to hear.”

Image Credit: The Danger of Wealth by James Janknegt

Serving Wealth

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

The gospel reading for this Sunday is one of the stranger passages in the New Testament. The steward is identified as both unrighteous and clever. In addition, it looks like the master who tells his steward that he is being fired for embezzlement then commends him a few verses later for fraud. It gets worse. When Jesus says that you cannot serve God and wealth it would seem that in the parable we are invited to see the master as God. As you might imagine, this passage invites a lot of scholarly gymnastics. Read more

The Sought, the Found, the Welcomed Home

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

I suppose this is somewhat atypical, unless you too were a farm kid, but I have such distinct memories from my childhood of lost livestock and going out to find them.

Our small farm was surrounded by large fields, and my dad as a hobby farmer often used what he had on hand for fencing, or patched together parts of things he picked up at auctions. We were always tying together wood pallets with baling twine left from open bales of hay, or twisting wire or plastic zip-ties around hog panels for makeshift fencing. Most of the time these solutions worked, until they didn’t.

And so I have memories of walking fast with determination and strategy through waist-high corn in my muck boots, keeping my eyes on where the tassels were rustling as I followed pigs or sheep down the crop rows to herd them back to the barn, trying to get in front of them and turn them back toward home. Read more

Estimating the Cost

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 14:25-33

This text begins with the statement that large crowds were traveling with Jesus. We know that will change. By the time of his crucifixion, even the twelve will have abandoned him to his death. Read more

Where is the Lord?

“Where is the Lord?” When we hear that question, it usually comes from someone who is lamenting the loss of an older practice or custom, such as prayer in public schools or businesses closing on Sundays. There is often a depth of frustration hidden beneath the question, presuming that the Lord is nowhere to be found. In other words, when this question is asked, the speaker sees things going awry. Read more

The Only Time is Now

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

The only time is now.

We often conceptualize time as linear, as if the garden of Eden stands at one end of time and the New Creation stands at the other. But the truth is that the only time is now. In the words of Doctor Who, time is more like “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. . . stuff.”

Right now we experience the breathtaking wonder of new creation, of new relationships, of new discoveries.

Right now we experience the heart-breaking disillusionment as the thing we once thought was perfect is in fact shown to be as ordinary and corrupt as anything else.

Right now, if we are brave, we experience the joy of relationships mended, and of creation restored. The wonder at seeing that which we were convinced was ordinary and corrupt, made divine — cracks, wounds, and all. Read more

Which Side?

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 5:1-7 or Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 80 or Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

They say in Harlan County
there are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
Florence Reece, “Which Side Are You On?”

Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
1 Corinthians 11:19

Much has been written lately about the uncivil disintegration of contemporary American society, and for good reason; each day occasions new, often vicious spoken and written attacks calling into question the veracity, integrity, and intentions of those holding views different from the speaker or writer. Christians haven’t opted out of all the name calling, and have penned missives – some against their brothers and sisters – every bit as strident as those of our secular neighbors. I recently read part of such an exchange, which left me, as the news these days tends to do, despondent. And then I read the lectionary texts for this week, which offered a bit of perspective, if not consolation. Read more

We See What We Say

Because we live in a world marked by nationalism, racism, and horrific violence, we need voices that can help us lament, voices that can call us to prayer, and voices that can point us to faithful action and engagement with those around us. This week, we’re sharing a piece written by EP member and longtime board chair Debra Dean Murphy.
It is our prayer that Debra’s short but powerful piece, “We See What We Say,” will help guide you to faithful words and actions in the midst of a week of grief and anger.