handwashing

The Heart of the Matter

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Pharisees have travelled from Jerusalem out to the region of Lake Galilee to find Jesus, but this is not a spiritual pilgrimage. We quickly discover they have come to find fault: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Isn’t it interesting that the accusation is not leveled at Jesus himself, whom we might assume was performing all of the rituals the Pharisees were so focused on?

But, before we get to Jesus’ response, we need to pause and really hear the Pharisees. Read more

The Eucharist and the Hollow Place

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
John 6:56-69

At the center of Christian worship is, and always has been, a meal – the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the times coalesce: at the moment of communion, salvation history and future hope meet in the holy now. Those who take this meal, who eat this flesh and drink this blood, take in a meal at once like and unlike the meals of their ancestors. It is bread, it is wine, yet it is somehow so much more, for as Christ himself says, it is also eternal life. At the center of Christian worship is this meal, and this meal is the future hope of eternal life.

Yet at the center of common human experience is not now, nor has it ever been, anything remotely like eternal life. For much of the world, human life is short and brutish, ugly and bleak. In a worldwide family fractured over religious, political, economic, and racial lines, humankind’s ecumenism is rooted in our shared experience of death, of suffering, of pain. These are our common heritage, our familiar burden.

And this presents a problem for any who would eat and drink – and truly believe in – this holy meal. Read more

Choose Wisely; Remember Well

Thanks to a campaign organized by Mennonite pastors, there’s reason for those of us in the United States to look forward to November 6 as something more than the official end of a nasty and dispiriting secular political cycle: whatever you choose to do on Election Day in the US, take time to consciously celebrate the unifying communion of and in the Body of Christ. Among the goals of this Election Day Communion Campaign is “…to build unity in Christ despite theological, political, and denominational differences.” Read more

Reading Around the text

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6: 51-58

The Lectionary is a mixed bag. No preacher wants to rely on the tyranny of the urgent to choose a text. No one wants to close their eyes, flip open the Bible and point a trembling finger to the page, praying that they do not land on Hebrews or Paul’s words for women in worship. The Lectionary mitigates that risk, and a host of other dangerous tendencies, by laying out readings in coherent and thoughtful units. But sometimes the preacher must interrogate the given pericopes, always watching the edges for things that have fallen away.

In the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter a cluster of texts that converge around the idea of Wisdom. The Psalm says that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10a). The epistle warns the reader to live as the wise and not the foolish (Ephesians 5:15). And at the head of the images for wisdom stands Solomon, the king who had the good sense to ask God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 2:9). The presentation of King Solomon is so simple and straightforward, only a fool would go looking for nuance where the Lectionary has provided clarity.

So let us chase a fool’s errand. Read more

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more

There is No They

Author and blogger J.R. Daniel Kirk brings this helpful reminder to the church:

When you are part of a church, especially in leadership (but not only then), there is no “they” who will or will not do something.

In those moments when what needs to be done butts up against the policy, or when what they’ve done embarrasses us, deferring to “them” is not going to convince the person in front of you that you are not part of that “them.” That person will only be convinced that you are different when you act, when you do what is right.

Read the full post.

Discerning What Displeases the Lord

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13a

Our Old Testament lesson brings us to one of the most dramatic moments in this extraordinary narrative of David when he is confronted by Nathan the prophet. It is high drama in this narrative and it is a high drama in the history of prophetic speaking truth to power.

David stole Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, and then when it was discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he used his power to have Uriah killed by the Ammonites. The last sentence of chapter 11 says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” The next sentence, which begins chapter 12, says, “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.”

My question is “how does the church come up with Nathans?” Read more

Between the Narrative and the Psalm

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15 , Psalms

“I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic… I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I had a liaison with another woman. I was painfully honest with my family and I asked my wife’s forgiveness. I have been stripped bare….”

– John Edwards, August, 2008

“I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. There is no one else responsible for my sins. I am responsible…. I don’t think God is through with me. I really believe he thinks there are still some good things I can do, and whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward, what I’m hopeful about is all those kids I’ve seen…in the poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places in the world that I can help them in whatever way I’m still capable of helping them.

– John Edwards, May 2012

In the summer of 2008 I departed from the lectionary to preach a sermon series on David. That was the summer the scandal involving then presidential candidate John Edwards broke. The David story is among the readings for this summer’s lectionary cycle, coinciding with the news of Edwards’ trial that filled North Carolina media.

Like it or not, I wonder how to read one story in the light of the other. Do we pass off Edwards as just another politician doing religious things? Do his emotional confessions stem from political expediency or from refiner’s fire? Are they expressions of hand-in-the-cookie-jar panic or scalpel-in-the-heart contrition? And if we hear John Edwards’ words with nothing but suspicion, can we hear the David story with anything other than the hermeneutic of suspicion? Read more

The Shepherd Who Feeds Us

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is striking beauty in the appointed texts for this weekend.

And there are shepherds.

And the shepherds are beautiful.

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jer. 23:4).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

. . . and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk. 6:34b)

The lesson from Ephesians does not mention shepherds but its images and metaphors are equally beautiful, and shepherd-like:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)

When one reads these four lessons together, going back and forth among them, savoring their beauty, noting their obvious (and not so obvious) connections, it is difficult to reconcile the vision they cast of the shalom of God with much of what constitutes ecclesial life in our time. Especially in this season of denominational gatherings in which the worst of ourselves, individually and corporately, is often on display: the petty bickering; the refusal to really listen to each other; the lack of charity and humility in our dealings with those we disagree with.  Read more

Our Weak God

From a recent sermon preached by EP endorser Matt Morin, in keeping with our Slow Church theme . . . .

Mark 6:1-13; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Milwaukee Mennonite Church
July 8, 2012

The scene in today’s gospel passage begins with Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. According to Mark, this is not the first time that Jesus has attempted to teach in the synagogue. In Mark 1, Jesus does so, but his teaching is interrupted by a demonic spirit. In Mark 3, Jesus’s actions in the synagogue anger some of his rivals, who in turn begin plotting ways to kill him. And, as you just heard in today’s scripture reading, Jesus’s third attempt to teach in the synagogue is met with scorn by members of his own hometown.

So, three times, Jesus enters the synagogue to teach, and three times, he is met with some resistance or rejection: first from evil spirits, then from his political adversaries, and finally from his own people.

It is clear, then, that the synagogue is not going to be the site where the good news is received and shared. In fact, this is the final time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus will enter a synagogue at all. Following this final rejection, he begins a new strategy for sharing the good news.

We’ll take a closer look at that strategy in a moment, but first let us give greater attention to the rejection Jesus experienced in Nazareth. “Where did this man get all this,” the people ask in verse two. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Isn’t this the carpenter? And they took offense at him.”

It is odd that the people would reject Jesus because he spoke with wisdom and worked deeds of power. We would understand if the passage said, “What is this man blabbering about? Why is he going on and on about nothing? He hasn’t done anything, he hasn’t said anything…. BOORRRING.”

To read the rest click here.