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 Beginning of a Heavenly Sowing

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 12:13-21

“Imitate the earth, O mortal. Bear fruit as it does; do not show yourself inferior to inanimate soil. After all, the earth does not nurture fruit for its own enjoyment, but for your benefit… Let the end of your harvesting be the beginning of a heavenly sowing.”
-St. Basil the Great, “On Social Justice.”

I arrived at the community garden early one morning, and followed the voices to the greenhouse at the back edge of the property. As I stepped through the door into the humidity, I was overwhelmed by the pungent aroma of soil and onions. Instead of the usual black trays of infant plants getting a good start on growth, before me were long rows of drying tables, heaped with onions – such an abundance that the metal tables had begun to tip and sink into the ground from the weight.

Soon I was told the story: the garden interns, knowing this planting of onions would soon rot in the ground, had pulled them all the day before. But the harvest they expected and the harvest they received were very different. Considering the yields from the prior year and what they’d already harvested, the garden director imagined they might pull a flat-bed trailer’s worth from the onion beds up at the nearby farm.

Instead, they filled the trailer two and a half times, plus an enclosed pickup truck bed. It was an incredible number of onions! Read more

Fruit of the Vine, Work of Human Hands

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

Our text this week of parable and interpretation raises a number of compelling questions for the church. Knowing the story as we do, it is perhaps understandable for us to look at Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the wicked tenants as a prophecy foretelling the opening of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles. While this isn’t perhaps an invalid interpretation, it is one that allows us, as the church, to be bystanders to the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, instead of locating ourselves within the story itself.

The parable begins with the planting and establishing of a vineyard, and the owner of the vineyard leaving tenants in charge. Servants come to collect the produce for the owner, but again and again the tenants wound and kill the servants. Finally the owner’s son comes, and the tenants murder him in order to get his inheritance.

What is at stake in this story? It doesn’t seem to be the vineyard itself in the sense of land lust, but rather the withholding of the fruit which rightly belongs to the owner. The story is that of a harvest theft. Read more

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

The Kingdom’s Gatekeepers

James 2:1-10, 11-17; Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Ouch. James must have been visiting churches in North America, where in addition to race, the other great divider on Sunday morning is class. He upbraids the congregation for gatekeeping by the way they treat visitors at their worship services. They give preferential treatment to rich visitors and fling spiritual platitudes toward poor visitors. “We’ll pray for you,” we good Christians say, without much regard to which of their physical needs we can meet.

After working last fall in a small village in the West Bank, I became friends with a Melkite Palestinian priest there. I was surprised to discover he held many of the convictions shared by we Ekklesia Project folk: beliefs that liturgy forms us, that liturgy should take us outside the four walls of the church, that we ought to stand in solidarity with the poor.

He once expressed his skepticism of the church hierarchy. He said, “I do not like the Bishops in general because they do not daily meet with the poor. They see the world secretly from behind dark glass.” Read more