Neighboring

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 10:25-37

Our gospel reading for this week contains the story of the Good Samaritan. The story is so well-known that the phrase Good Samaritan has made its way into everyday English usage. We use it to refer to someone who unexpectedly and out of the blue does a generous or even heroic act for someone in trouble. Unfortunately, the past month has given us far too many opportunities to point out good Samaritans.

The phrase made its way into our everyday discourse from our Gospel reading for this Sunday. Our familiarity with this story and our conventional use of the term Good Samaritan might lead us to miss some of the more interesting details of this story from Luke’s gospel. Read more

What Wishes Pentecost to Be?

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34
John 14:8-17

The UMC Lectionary Calendar suggests a framing question for Pentecost, which curiously doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit at all: What can you do to make Pentecost the day that you as a congregation witness about Jesus Christ to your neighbors who do not yet know his saving love?

The question is not without merit, but it may be getting ahead of itself. Among the dangers in approaching Pentecost with a question that directs us to focus on what we do to a subset of other people is the assumption that we can identify the needy neighbor. Once you’ve pegged somebody who “needs,” it’s remarkably easy to fall into the us-versus-them trap of thinking that we, the God-knowers, “have” God to offer, that we mediate God to the world.

This week’s lectionary passages, which all highlight the Spirit as a person of what Richard Rohr calls the “eternal flow” of the Trinity, speaks otherwise. Read more

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Is It You Again?”

 

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 10:40-42

When I first began attending mass several years ago, I was struck by the kind of welcome I received. Or, rather, the kind I didn’t. Raised in the over-eager Protestantism that hovers and fawns over every guest at worship (a well-meaning practice; I’ve engaged in it myself), Catholics were noticeably cool, it seemed—a little distant, even.

This wasn’t (and isn’t) calculating or conspiratorial on their part—nor on mine now as a Catholic. Any given group of parishioners at any given mass is not following a script about how to treat newcomers to the liturgy. And I don’t mean to suggest an absence of warmth or kindness; I’ve never experienced that in a Catholic church and I hope I’ve never communicated it. But I do think that the Eucharist—week after week, year after year—trains worshipers to know, even if they don’t or can’t articulate it theologically, that it is not the people or even the priest who does the welcoming; it’s Christ who does so.

All of us—long-timers and first-timers alike—are Christ’s guests, receivers of his gracious welcome. Read more

Tensions in the Law

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 7:7-17 OR Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Law and land are themes running through this week’s lectionary readings. In Deuteronomy, Moses spells out the law for the Promised Land that the Israelite’s will soon inhabit. In Luke, Jesus discusses Torah and its interpretation with a young lawyer as he journeys to Jerusalem, a journey that requires many Israelites to pass through the land of the Samaritans, a people in dubious relation to the law. In Psalm 82, God is the great judge holding council with the gods of the nations.

As a member of a late modern society, I sense in myself a certain complacency with regard to the law of this land. Even dramatic cases of judicial corruption do not, I am sad to say, disrupt my complacency for long. ‘We’ve got checks and balances,’ I say to myself, ‘the system will right itself.’ In blinding us to corruption, our system may find a reflection in the system confronted by Amos. Amaziah, Jeroboam’s chief priest, becomes a recognizable image of an administrator of human justice. He seems well aware that, for the system to function, protocol must be maintained. And this protocol entails a kind of behavioral training for those who live in the system. Amos flouts the dispositions for the professional prophet with the disruptive tenor of his words. It is not for speaking falsehoods that Amaziah diplomatically tries to banish him to a place where his words can do little harm; it is because he threatens the stability of the kingdom.

So the surface issue of law hovers above a deeper, systematic condition. Law is underwritten by ideology: a symbolic order by which we justify frequently unjust ways of life. Read more

First Things First

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time


Psalm 146
Mark 12:28-34

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1) To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
2) To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
3) To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

-John Wesley, October 6, 1774

On most Christian calendars, this Sunday is the 23rd after Pentecost. Those with longer historical roots may also mark November 4 as All Saint’s Sunday. I suspect, however, in many a preacher and parishioner’s mind these are overshadowed by the calendar that proclaims this as the Sunday before the American quadrennial election. One more public opportunity to remind parishioners of their citizenship duties, however one defines that. One more sermon exhorting the faithful to choose the correct boxes on the ballot, however one defines that. One more intercession as a congregation for the politicians and policies that will be crowned victors, however one defines that.

And there is a lot of debate in Christian circles about how one should define citizenship duties, who is the right candidate, and how to pray for national politics and politicians. Some, like Miroslav Volf in Values of a Public Faith, set forth conversation starters; others argue partisan politics with a vengeance. Even those of us outside the USA recognize that these election results will have worldwide impact for years to come. So the political headlines of the day hang heavy on hearts and minds as we turn to the texts and allow God to address us through these ancient words made alive today. Read more