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The Lord Upholds the Orphan and the Widow

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 OR 1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Christian history teaches us many lessons, chief among them that the church has an on-again, off-again relationship with economic justice and the prophetic proclamation of Jubilee. The church does justice in fits and starts, it seems. We started off particularly strong, with the Messiah coming onto the scene and announcing the Reign of God, a world-order marked by mutual self-giving and a reversal of first-century patronage politics. But lest I be called a naïve restorationist with a rose-colored rearview mirror, it should be noted that even the glory days of economic justice and mercy showcased in the Gospels and Acts were apparently short-lived, or at the least not universal to all churches throughout the empire (cf. 1 Cor 11:22; Philemon). With the forward march of history and the diversification of the churches came a certain forgetfulness with regard to the politics, economics, and faithful concern that is, at a foundational level, wrapped up in the confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Read more

God Abstracted

Matthew 4:1-11

Lent begins with Jesus fresh from the waters of his baptism, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  At baptism, Jesus is reminded that he is called as God’s anointed, the Messiah.  But what kind of messiah is he going to be?  It is in the wilderness, where everything is stripped away, in prayer and fasting that Jesus seeks to clarify who he is and what he is going to do.

Satan, the Great Deceiver, shows up to steer Jesus away from God’s call upon him and uses three of the greatest temptations for those who want to change this world: economics/money – turning stones to bread; religion – spectacular religion which will make the crowds want to follow you anywhere; and politics – to get the power to make things turn out the way you want. Read more

The Economics of Anxiety

Eighth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

One of the steadfast realities of following the lectionary is the predictable rhythm of its three-year cycle of readings. Preparing a sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday in 2011?  You might go back to your files from 2008 to see what text(s) you focused on, what themes prevailed, what prayers and hymns were chosen for worship. You might—depending on your congregation’s current needs and challenges—revisit, rework, recycle, as it were, the riches of the lectionary cycle.

But because Easter is so late this year—a day short of the latest date possible—there was no eighth Sunday After Epiphany in 2008 or 2005 or 2002. In fact, the factors that determine the date of the Church’s prime moveable feast are so unusual this year that an eighth Sunday after Epiphany is an astronomical and liturgical rarity. This means that, with a longer stretch of Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, we take in much more of the Sermon on the Mount, Year A’s appointed reading for the Sundays after Epiphany. And this week’s portion from Matthew 6—rare in the Sunday cycle but familiar in our hearing—couldn’t be more timely. Read more