Belonging to Christ

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

In the days after the American election results, it was one of the big questions lingering in the air, a question I heard in prayer requests at church, whispered from downcast friends, and even bubbling up from some deep place in me: How do I talk to my family in this post-election moment?
Read more

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more

Fallible Church, Deliberate Grace

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:1-11
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

 

It is strangely comforting to hear Jesus talking about a sinful church.

Some heap admiration on Jesus’ teaching, and then dismiss it as too lofty to be attainable. Turning the other cheek is for the spiritual elite. Loving one’s enemies is for the age to come. The Beatitudes are true spiritually, but not in practice.

But if ever we wondered whether Jesus were a realist or not, his words in Matthew 18 put that question to rest. The church Jesus envisions is not some idealized community we have not yet discovered or planted, or can’t belong to. The church Jesus envisions is entirely realistic: it is my sinful congregation and yours. We don’t need to be told that sin exists among the saints. We see the havoc wrought in our parishes by pride, greed, and sloth. We know the devastation of own wrath, envy, lust, and gluttony. Consequently, these words hold out the hope of experiencing grace because they reveal that Jesus knows full well the half-born condition of the community he leaves behind. His words take hold of us as we and our congregations are today and not as they can never be. Read more

70 x 7 and 9/11

Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. (Sirach 28:2)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

At a time like this—the week we recall the attacks of September 11, 2001—it is instructive to set the script of American civil piety next to the scriptures assigned for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. This week we’ve been admonished by politicians and others to “remember and never forget” that terrible day seven years ago. This Sunday Jesus will tell us (again) that forgiveness is the required response to those who sin against us. Read more