Quail

How Much is Enough?

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 4-35
Mark 9:38-50

Years ago in a cartoon in the Houston Chronicle, in the first frame was a man, obviously an American middle-class male, standing next to his car, saying to it, “Because of you, the air is foul. The globe is warming.” In the next frame, the man is pumping gas into the car saying, “Because of you I’m entangled in the affairs of countries that cause me headaches.” Next frame, while he is slumped in his seat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Because of you our central cities are empty and I waste half my life in traffic to the burbs.” Next frame, kids are getting in and out of the car, “Because of you my family is one big frantic snarl of hectic schedules.” Next frame, while holding his paunch with littered paper cups and french-fry containers around him, “And because of you I’m an obese drive-thru addict, a coronary just waiting to happen.” In the last frame, the man is hugging his car, “What would I do without you?” Read more

Jesus is Coming – Look Busy

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Judges 4:1-7 OR Proverbs 31:10-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

With the attention demanded by All Saints, Christ the King, and the First Sunday of Advent this month, the preacher has little time to spend with this last so-called Ordinary Sunday of the Church year. In my own United Methodist tradition this also happens to be the time of year when Finance committees are urgently preparing 2012 budgets and pastors are nervously writing stewardship sermons in hopes of funding those budgets. This weekend’s gospel text seems to play right into this pattern with a pre-packaged message about stewardship lined up for the occasion. Investing our time, talents, and even money for the up-building of the Kingdom of God might well be a legitimate reading of this text, but could likely fall on deaf ears this time of year. Who, while readying themselves to enter the bustle of this season of the year, wants to be told they’re not already doing enough for the Kingdom of God? 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

On Receiving Gifts

by Halden Doerge
(2 Sam 11:26–12:13a; Ps 51:1-12; Eph 4:1-16; John 6:24-35)

The readings for this week offer an odd combination of themes. Both the Old Testament and Psalm readings are quite clearly concerned with the fallout of the affair between David and Bathsheba (though perhaps rape might be a more appropriate characterization). The Gospel and Epistle readings however seem, at first glance to have little if anything to do with the first two readings. In the Gospel we hear about Jesus being the bread of life whom the Father sends down from heaven to give life to the world. In the Epistle we are reminded of the fullness of Christ’s gifts in and to the church, as manifested in the multiplicity of charisms and ministries which build up the body in love.

What, we wonder do David’s sexual exploits have to do with Jesus being the bread of life? Or the fullness of Christ as given to the church in grace? Much in every way, I think. Read more

Raging and Rejoicing

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14 (The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The lessons this week have us thinking about anger: God’s and, more obliquely, our own. In the Exodus passage, Moses has to talk down an irrational Yehweh, lest divine rage obliterate the wayward Israelites. In Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet, an equally unreasonable host-king (God) responds in wildly disproportionate ways to what amounts to a social snubbing and an ill-dressed party guest.

Sandwiched between these troubling texts is Psalm 106, which functions as something of a midrash on both of them. (More on that in a minute). And then there’s the Epistle lesson from Philippians which, when we read it, makes us realize how angry we are—at Wall Street, at the lunacy of electoral politics, at a spouse, a co-worker, ourselves—pick your favorite target(s). Paul’s cheery command to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” seems a little trite and naïve—greeting-card wisdom in this age of high anxiety. Read more