Not So Ancient: Reflections on Institutions, Widows, and Discipleship

32nd Week of Ordinary Time
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Mark 12:38-44

This week’s lectionary gospel (Mark 12:38-44) gives us the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.” Most times I’ve heard this preached as a story of immense generosity on the part of the widow – and we who are followers of Jesus are asked to go and do likewise, to give all we have, even to the point of giving our whole lives over to God. Of course, giving our whole lives is what Jesus does – and so we can make a connection between the widow’s example and Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection – she becomes an example for us to emulate. Read more

The Dreaded Stewardship Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

In the years we have shared the goodness of this lectionary blog, we have filled its pages with much exegeting, exhorting, explaining, organizing—and a bit of prophesying, complaining, and lamenting too. I’m going to use my opportunity this month to do a bit of bragging. Bragging? Yes, bragging. In nearly four decades of preaching, I have tried to keep bragging to a minimum, but the time has arrived. Blame Paul, he got me started. Read more

The Quality of Mercy

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-15 OR Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

There are Sundays when it seems that God simply can’t catch a break. In one Old Testament reading, the people of God grumble and complain because they don’t have enough; they are worried about where their next meal will come from; they do not believe that Moses or God can provide; they are uncomfortable with having to rely on God.

Alternatively, if you opt for the reading from Jonah, God gets slammed by Jonah for being merciful to the Ninevites; for treating them better than they deserve; for being steadfast in love: Complaints for not providing enough, complaints for providing too much. Jonah is probably tied more directly to the gospel reading, but before that, we should talk about Paul.

From the depths of a Roman prison Paul writes to his friends in Philippi. His friends are under some pressure from hostile forces because of their faith in Christ. Later in the epistle he worries that this hostility may lead them to start grumbling against God and each other. He subtly notes that this is not the first time that that people of God had “grumbled,” and he urges them to avoid this (Phil 2:12-14).

Grumbling, however, is not Paul’s primary focus. The thing he is most concerned with, the thing is asks them to do first and foremost is this: “Order your life together in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul’s plea is not directed to individuals, but to a whole community. Ordering a community’s life together is, at its most basic level, the work of politics. The politics Paul urges on the Philippians is one that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. Read more

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

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