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Got Conflict?

Isaiah 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Tired of congregational conflict?

Recently I had to work with a utility company on behalf of a woman whom our church was assisting financially.  The woman was getting nowhere with the company, so I tried to help her with the process.  It took eight calls to them before I could speak with a supervisor who would hear my concerns and rectify the billing problems the customer had.  In the first five calls, five different customer service representatives each told me different information about how the woman’s situation.

One told me everything was paid up.  Another told me that the customer had a $500 balance.  Another told me they’d ask the back office to research the issue, and I could call back in 2-3 days for an answer.  I did, and I was told that that timeline was wrong; it would take 5-7 days for the research to be completed.  After that time had passed, I called back.  That representative told me the timeline was wrong; it would take 4-6 weeks.  By the time I got to the supervisor, who was very kind and understanding, I suggested to her that some training was needed to improve consistency among the representatives.  She sighed and explained that in the last year, not only had they fired the original company to whom they outsourced the customer service calls and then hired a new company, the utility company had also begun to use a new computer system.  Balances paid during certain months were not credited to customers’ accounts, past due and termination notices were sent out incorrectly, and the new employees didn’t have much training to handle any of it.  I felt so sorry for her and said so.  She said brightly, “I’ve just learned that there are never problems; there are only opportunities.  And every morning I come to work, I am faced with all sorts of opportunities.” Read more

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All the Saints

Luke 20:27-40

Last week, Tobias Winright reminded us that October 30th was the feast of St. Marcellus who was martyred because of his refusal to participate in the idolatry of the Roman Empire. From very early on the Church understood the importance of remembering and celebrating those who had departed to be with the Lord. However, over her two thousand year history, the Church has gathered far too many saints to give each their own feast day. Thus, while we still celebrate the most exemplary of the departed, we also set aside All Saints Day to remember the faithfulness of those every day saints who have gone before us. All Saints Day falls on the first of November, but at the level of the local church it is typically celebrated on the first Sunday of November. For this year’s celebration of All Saints the lectionary offers us a discussion of the resurrection from the Gospel of Luke. Read more

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In Memory of Saint Marcellus

(Feast of Saint Marcellus)

This week the Jesuit Catholic magazine, America, posted video clips of US soldiers talking about conscience in the military. Pacifist and just war Christians respectively should support both conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection. While the former is legally recognized in the US at this time, the latter ought to be also, especially if such a stance is rooted in deeply held theological and philosophical beliefs and practices, too.

Thinking about this today reminded me that October 30th is the Feast of Saint Marcellus, who was martyred on this date in 298 C.E. for refusing to continue to serve in Caesar’s army. Marcellus was a centurion, or captain, in the Roman legion of Trajan, which was stationed at Tangier in North Africa at the time. During the celebration of the emperor’s birthday by the soldiers, Marcellus stood up and declared in front of the company, “I serve Jesus Christ the everlasting King.” In addition to his confession of faith, Marcellus cast aside his soldier’s belt, with its sword, and his staff, which was a sign of his authority as a centurion. “With this,” he added, “I cease to serve your emperors, and I disdain to worship your wooden and stone gods, who are deaf and dumb idols.” Read more

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Humble Pie*

Joel 2: 23-32, Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18, Luke 18: 9-14

About 15 years ago my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend in the denomination in which we were both raised – the practice of eliminating the prayer of confession from the worship service, essentially making confession a non-practice. The reasons seemed to be caught up in the rejection of the idea of judgment and of not wanting to make people, especially seekers, feel bad.  Thankfully there were other Christians that continued to steward the practice because we were in great need of it when we realized what our participation in Native Residential Schools in Canada had unleashed upon innocent children. Read more

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Learning, Knowing, Doing, Being

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Last week the Pew Research Center made big news when its latest poll revealed that religious people don’t know much about religion. (Atheists, though, according to the survey, are pretty savvy). Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof offered his own pop quiz, which, according to my unscientific calculations (counting the number of Facebook confessions), a whole lot of people flunked.

This news is instructive as far as it goes. Having spent a good deal of time thinking, reading, writing, and teaching about Christian formation and catechesis, I’m not surprised that life-long church-goers know so little about the history and development, the context and content of the Christian tradition. Not that it’s really their fault. When I teach, say, the history of Methodism or the liturgical year to lay people, they can’t get enough of it. They wonder where this stuff has been all their lives. Clergy don’t teach or preach it much; Sunday School is about other things, sadly. Read more

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Unchained Word

Mark’s Jesus is in a hurry, John’s Jesus is in control, and Matthew’s Jesus does parables. Luke’s Jesus forever crosses borders. This time, the border lies between the boondocks of Galilee and the enemy’s homeland, Samaria.

Nathanael – or any right-thinking first century Palestinian Jew – needn’t ask if anything good comes from Samaria. One might as well spout nonsense about a “good Samaritan,” or a “good Al Qaeda.”

This week, the border also divides clean from unclean. Unlike the encounter in Luke 5, this text doesn’t mention Jesus touching lepers, but the precedent’s set, he’s in unclean territory already, and now there are ten of them.

When they beg for mercy, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” One of the ten, it turns out, is a Samaritan, whose reception by priests might be compared to CIA headquarters welcoming Osama bin Laden. Read more

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Proper 21: Not Enough For Everyone’s Greed

Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

When I read passages like those in this week’s lectionary I find myself saying, not unlike the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I am thankful I’m not wealthy.” Of course, not withstanding the fact that I am quite comfortable and generally don’t go wanting for what I need, these scripture passages invite us into something much deeper than the matter of money; something that will challenge our way of living no matter the contents of our bank account. The lectionary passages this week invite us to a reorientation toward a life of radical dependence. Money is of course a major obstacle toward the realization of this dependence, but other resources such as degrees or physical ability or social status could just as well be stumbling blocks against living in the reality that God feeds us when we are hungry, vindicates us when injustice is done to us (Ps. 146:6). Read more

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Dives’ Sin of Omission


Scripture Reflection: Catholic Lectionary (Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31)

In my “Poverty, Wealth, and Justice” course, students still read Jonathan Kozol’s 1995 bestseller, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, which includes the author’s interviews with children in Mott Haven, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. It is striking how many of these kids bring up theology in their reflections, including David: “’Evil exists,’ he says, not flinching at the word. ‘I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher could call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don’t so they don’t need to use it to help people—that is my idea of evil’” (23). Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, according to 2009 census data, one in five children in the U.S. continue to struggle below the poverty line. At the same time, New York Times op-ed writer Paul Krugman observes how America’s rich are raging about having to pay taxes, because “a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it.” If any of these wealthy Americans also consider themselves to be Christians, this attitude stands in stark contrast to the theological meaning of the offering during Christian worship, which reminds us that all we are and all we have is from God—and that we are called to be good stewards, for the sake of others, of what we have. Read more

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Redeeming Shrewdness

Eugene Peterson observes that the story of the dishonest manager ranks as our least favorite of Jesus’ parables. What is there to cozy up to in a story where cheating goes unpunished and cunning is seemingly commended? Are we to use money to buy friends the way we buy objects for consumption?

Can Jesus truly be recommending such scandalous behavior?

But the scandal we hate in this story is precisely the scandal we love in the immediately preceding parable. Artificially separated by a chapter divide, the parable of the dishonest manager is actually meant to be heard alongside the parable of the lost son, most beloved of all the parables. Read more

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Signs, Sheep, and Shepherds

Luke 15:1-10

Our church’s logo is a shepherd’s staff, based upon the parable of the lost sheep, along with Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd of John 10. We’ve had this shepherd’s staff with our congregation’s name written beside it out front on our sign since 1979 and it is on our letterhead, Sunday order of worship, and website. This shepherd’s staff is a constant reminder to us and to others of our vocation – who we hope to be and are called to be. More than that, it always reminds us who God is.

Our congregation began in 1968 as a gathering for lost sheep, black sheep, burned-out and beaten-up sheep, with a few old goats thrown in, as well. A lot of us were lost, but here, by the grace of the Loving Shepherd, we’ve been found. Furthermore, because of our own experiences, we have sought to make this congregation a body, or flock, where other lost sheep can find a home. Read more