Signpost

Signposts and Seeds

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

This week’s comments are pointings and plantings rather than a single extended reflection. My focus is on Matthew 16, but first a word about the other readings.

Rene Girard’s seminal insights, as well as those of his able interpreters (and critics) provide a profound context for the lectionary passages of the day. It is worth wrestling with how these insights shine light on parts of the texts that can be overlooked in more conventional readings: seeing through the “official” policy of “justified,” veiled violence by telling the story from the perspective of victim; turning “the logic of sacred violence” and blood sacrifice on its head, unveiling God’s revelation of Christ’s atonement and the witness of the Church as “living sacrifice.” Psalm 124 then becomes testimony. (Athanasius says that most Scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us).

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Now some signposts and seeds from Matthew 16: Read more

Embodying God’s Unity in a Fragmented World

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Psalm 133 begins with a refrain that will be familiar to many of our ears: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!,” but it is the powerful imagery of the latter two verses of this brief psalm that drive home the depths of the God’s desire for the people of God to live in unity.  The psalmist flashes two quick, familiar images into the imaginations of his Israelite audience – first the anointing of the priest Aaron, with the precious oil flowing down his head, coursing through the hairs of his beard and dripping down unto his robes, and the second image is that of the dew of God’s blessing falling upon the mountains of Zion – that place that Israel associated with eternal and abundant life.  These vivid images reminded Israel that living together in unity is the life to which God has called them, and indeed calls us as the people of God today.  This deep longing of God for unity is echoed in the prayer with which Jesus leaves his disciples in John 17: “that they may be one, as we are one.” Read more

joseph and brothers

One Big Happy Family

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37:1-28

Typology has gotten a bad rap in modernity, but Scripture isn’t Scripture without it. So both Old Testament passages on offer this week invite theological reflection on a provident God who orders deliverance to and through Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll concentrate on Genesis 37.

“This is the story of the family of Jacob” (37:2)—our story, people of God. It isn’t pretty. Bad reports, preferential loves, internecine hatred, braggadocio followed by “even more” hatred (37:8), conspiracy to kill, deception, and betrayal for 20 pieces of silver. This story of the family of Jacob—our ecclesial story—puts ugly on display. Read more

Ruined ancient city

For God So Loved the World…


For God So Loved the World He Sent Nahum

A sermon shared with us by John C. Nugent of Delta Community.

Michigan pastor, Rob Bell, recently made a splash in the media by going public with his “unorthodox” position on the afterlife. What has raised the hackles of several readers is Bell’s insistence in Love Wins that, when it comes to eternal destinies, God’s love overrides our sinfulness—not just for the elect (which would be orthodox for some), not just for those who say the sinner’s prayer or are immersed into Christ (which would be orthodox for others), and not just for those who actually seek first God’s kingdom with their whole life (which would be orthodox for still others)—but that God’s love overrides the sinfulness of all people, including those who have never heard the message of Christ and those who have heard and have rejected it for some reason. Since God wills all people to be saved, Bell surmises, at some point in time God must get his way. If that doesn’t happen in this life, it must somehow happen in the next one.

Now I have no intention of addressing Bell’s book in this sermon, other than to say that he is going to have to do a lot more work to convince me. Read more

The More You Get, the More You Have

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 14:13-21

And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Immediately before the story of the feeding of the five thousand is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer’s head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew’s version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John’s demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew’s gospel — recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one – is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas’s 1990 essay in Theology Today).

Also interesting is the juxtaposition of fear and death (in the story of John’s beheading) with that of fulfillment and abundance in the feeding narrative. The murder of John the Baptist is a result of power confronted and hypocrisy exposed. Where fear reigns, violence cannot be far behind. Herod’s birthday party is an occasion for the casual disregard of human life to come to a head (forgive the pun) in the expedient execution of a political troublemaker. And while this blood-tinged birthday banquet represents the old order with its fear-mongering and death-dealing ways, the feeding of the five thousand heralds the new order: fullness of life and health for all (even women and children). Read more

Madmen, Destruction, and the Art of God’s Patience

Sometimes my worlds race toward collision in frightening, yet illuminating ways. Friday, I watched the entertaining story of a ‘madman’ thwarted on the brink of high-tech global genocide by Captain America. Later than night, 60 days of growing zucchini vines was destroyed in less than 60 minutes of torrential rain. Saturday morning, I heard the tragic news of a ‘madman’ who wreaked local carnage in Norway using a few guns and a truckload of fertilizer.

In the aftermath, our temptation is to mouth platitudes about justice which are usually little more than vengeful sentiments in disguise. Read more

Senf-1

Mustard Seeds and Evangelism

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

Being a Baptist in Texas the very air that I breathe is full of evangelism, growth, outreach, and marketing.  Everything is either big or needs to be bigger and it seems that the church is no exception.  Here in Big Texas (and America seems to be just a bigger version of Texas) it’s all about Big Business and trans-national corporations, mega-churches, and mega-plexes.  We want Big Answers and Big Solutions to Global Problems and we want to super-size everything from fries to storage buildings to football stadiums.  Politicians and economists of every persuasion keep telling us that a bigger economic pie is the answer to everyone’s concerns.  Closer to home, every day I receive mailings and emailings on how to grow, be bigger, reach more people, raise massive amounts of money, train more people, build bigger buildings, have a bigger sound system, a bigger music program, a bigger youth program, get a bigger church van, where to order a bigger pulpit, or how I can get a bigger Bible with larger print (okay, so I’m keeping that one).  In other words, bigger is always better; it is a sign of blessing and success, and if we’re not getting bigger then something is wrong. Read more

jamie gates

Where Strangers Quickly Become Friends

The Ekklesia Project Gathering is a place where strangers quickly become friends.  This is my third Gathering, having come last year and once way back in 2002.  I’m learning that this is a time and place for the growth and discipleship of sub-versive friendships for the sake of more clearly seeing and naming the Reign of God, for the reconciliation of the Body of Christ and for more faithful participation in the Reign of God.  It is learning to see and speak with prophetic eyes and a prophetic voice.  Read more

Van Gogh, Vincent. Harvest in Provence. 1888. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel..

Life Among the Weeds

Pentecost +5:  Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We live among the weeds—they crowd around us, their roots intertwine with ours, and sometimes the suffocate us.  Surely the harvest will be less bountiful when we allow the weeds to grow among the wheat—we can imagine the full vibrant growth of their grain as they have the full resources of the soil.  Couldn’t we just have some genetically modified wheat, some holy Round-Up to kill the weeds?

Perhaps, but Jesus’ hearers would have understood something important about the wheat that came out of a field of weeds—it was strong and sure, tested by the weeds and able to grow in spite of them.  The seeds of that wheat will carry that strength too—it is this seed that a farmer would want to plant next year, not the untested wheat that can’t stand up to the pressures that will inevitably come.  The question is one of endurance—of surviving until the apocalyptic harvest. Read more

Birth of Jacob statue

Jacob, Despite Jacob

JacobIn Preaching and Reading the Lectionary: A Three-Dimensional Approach to the Liturgical Year, O. Wesley Allen Jr. advocates for a what he calls a cumulative preaching strategy that focuses more on the sweep of a year’s worth of preaching than any one particular sermon.  As Allen explains “all pastors know (or at least hope), deep in their hearts, that the great power of preaching lies less in the individual sermon and more in the cumulative effect of preaching week in and week out to the same congregation, to the same community of believers, doubters and seekers…sermons offered Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year weave together to have an immeasurable cumulative influence on individuals’ and the congregation’s understanding of God, self, and the world.” (ix)  To that end, Allen examines the patterns of the lectionary and the way the lectionary can be used a whole year at a time.

Read more