grapes

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

shapeimage_1

Rocking the Boat

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9

Genesis 37:1-4Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45bRomans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2008.

 

I’ve been following a blog debate over at www.theolog.org [ed. note - this blog is now part of http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs] between a scientist of some sort, hostile to religion generally and Christianity particularly, and a pious defender of the faith. In my view, neither has been very impressive in articulating his case against the other, and the back-and-forth accusations and “gotcha’s” and outright vitriol have only escalated as the debate has gone on (and on and on). I tried briefly to weigh in on it earlier this week, calling for a little charity and humility from both sides, but, like a sister trying to pull her two brothers off each other in a backyard brawl, I was roundly ignored. Lesson learned.

The gospel text from Matthew 14 this week strikes me as the kind of passage over which science guy and defender guy would go at it, arguing past each other all the while—as they have been doing all week. The ghostly Jesus walking on the water is too much for the rationalist to take in; it’s laughable, even—easy pickins. The mocking denial of such an archetype biblical image of Jesus (and the sacrosanct truth it represents) is scandalous to the defender’s deeply-felt piety. You can almost hear defender guy quoting Jesus back at his opponent: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” (14:31). Disagreement. Accusation. Counter-accusation.

Impasse.

What to say about such a text when there are probably many science guys and defenders guys (and gals) in our congregations? Whose side does the preacher take? Read more

Western Wall

Living into the Mystery

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


Daniel 12:1-3 OR 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8 OR Mark 13:24-32

It’s November, the closing weeks of the liturgical year, when those in the northern hemisphere see what had recently appeared so green and full of life now wither and die. We see signs in the trees and know that winter is near.

For those in the United States, it is also post-election season. Despite the predictable posturing of winners and losers alongside quadrennial promises of pragmatic cooperation and “reaching across the aisle,” it’s difficult to find real joy in the just concluded, nearly two-year electoral process that left many feeling like a James Bond martini. I, for one, found little to be stirred by in the ugly accusations and dire predictions that now pass of campaigning.

As grace would have it, our readings take a seasonally appropriate turn, looking beyond “current events,” reminding us that what appears deadly serious now will, soon enough, be revealed as inconsequential. For Christians, this so-called eschatological turn can be difficult to negotiate, and scripture’s use of apocalyptic language – unveiling hidden realities through frightening images and strange events – worsens our collective vertigo. Read more

strangely warmed

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

Karl B

Strange New World

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

“What house is it to which the Bible is the door? What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?”
-Karl Barth

The Lord God Almighty through the prophet Amos: “Seek me and live…. Seek the Lord and live…. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.”

Check.

Got it.

Now what? Read more