Archives: Ordinary Time

Actually, It Is a Laughing Matter

We have a very serious set of scriptures today, and I assure you I am going to take them very seriously.

Really. I promise.

But first I just have to share with you the verses from our Hebrews text that make me laugh.

The author is talking about the sacrifices our forebears in faith made for the sake of God, and he says, “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

I mean, that sounds pretty bad.

But look at that first sentence: “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented…”

Being stoned to death, sawn in two, killed by the sword—I get why those three are grouped together as terrible fates.

But that last one—“they went about in skins of sheep and goats.”

I understand he’s probably alluding to poverty.

But it makes me think that the people of God counted fashion faux pas right up there with swords and saws and stones as a fate worse than death.

I mean, with everything else we have to deal with, now God is forcing us to wear sheep and goatskins? I wouldn’t be caught dead in that!

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Saying Yes to Judgment

“Someone in the crowd said to Jesus…”

Someone in the crowd. That’s our first indication that things are not off to a great start in our passage from Luke today.

Throughout the gospels, “the crowd” is often a code word that stands for “people who don’t get it.”

(I would love to teach a class that traces the experience of “the crowd” through the entire gospel narrative, right up to Palm Sunday and beyond.)

But anyway, we know from the beginning that this person who is questioning Jesus is probably going to be off track. And he is.

Following up on our sibling rivalry conversation from a couple of weeks ago, we have a person angry with his brother. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

But Jesus is not having it.

“Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Now this is one of the most fascinating of the Questions of Jesus, another really interesting way to trace our way through the gospels. Jesus asks 307 questions and only answers 3. It’s worth wondering what he’s asking you, today.

But this question in particular, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” puts a major chunk of Christian orthodoxy in a bit of a pickle.

It is a foundation stone of orthodox theology all the way back to Nicaea and beyond that Christ is our Eternal Judge.

At the Last Day we will stand before him and be divided as sheep and goats if the Church Fathers are to be believed.

And to be fair, there is ample scriptural evidence for Christ as Judge.

But here Jesus tells us directly that he is not here to judge us.

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Siblings: Fighting With Them, Fighting For Them

Everyone loves a good dose of sibling rivalry.

Mary and Martha are among the most famous sibling rivals in the Bible, and Christians for generations have wondered what to do with them.

Many of us identify more strongly with one or the other of them, and then feel slightly guilty about it.

Team Martha feels like she gets a raw deal, being gently corrected by Jesus when she complains about Mary not helping her. “Where’s the love for Martha?” we ask. “Marthas make the world go around, especially at church!”

Others of us know we’re Mary. We love being spiritual and contemplative, thinking deep thoughts and feeling very religious, but sometimes we’re hard to be found when it’s time to get down to real work. Oops.

As often as I’ve wrestled with this text and its clear call away from busywork and into the peace of God’s presence, I heard it differently this time as I thought about it in the context of the whole Bible.

And what I realized is the Bible is all about sibling relationships, and most of those relationships are troubled at best.

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Jesus, A Lawyer, And Who Is Real

There’s someone missing in most of our discussions of the Good Samaritan, which is possibly Jesus’ most well-known parable.

This story is such a part of our cultural DNA that even those who do not consider themselves people of faith know what “a Good Samaritan” is and agree it is admirable.

And the modern definition of “a Good Samaritan” hews fairly close to the original story: someone who stops to help a stranger in trouble.

But of course for those of us who call ourselves Christians, there is a deeper and harder call within this story.

It’s not just about extending goodwill and literal help when happenstance provides the circumstances of someone in need right in front of us.

Jesus calls us to notice that the priest and the Levite, the religious authorities and supposedly models of ethical rectitude, leave the beaten man in the ditch and pass by.

It was the Samaritan, the outsider, reviled and excluded and considered unholy, who stopped and helped and ensured the continuing care of a man who possibly would never have spoken to him in other circumstances.

It is all the more remarkable, as a clergy friend pointed out to me this week, that just a few verses ago, Jesus got rejected by a Samaritan village and the disciples wanted to call down fire upon them. Now the Samaritan is the hero!

These are all familiar interpretations that many of us who have been around the church for a few years have heard and taken to heart.

We hear and understand the call to love and care across boundaries and borders of prejudice, receiving Jesus’ teaching that our enemy is our neighbor whether we like it or not.

Now, living into that call is something else entirely, which is why it is so helpful that the story of the Good Samaritan returns to us year after year in the lectionary, pricking our conscience as we think about those we discount and discard.

The crisis of migrants at our borders and how our government is treating them in our name makes this story all the more painful and galvanizing.

But what struck me this time around is the person that most of our Good Samaritan sermons and reflections leave out.

Who are we not talking about?

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I Guess Laborers and Lambs Don’t Wear Lipstick

Last week we talked about how the author of Luke’s gospel escalated the story of Elisha in 1 Kings. Elisha is called to follow Elijah, and he goes back to cook one last meal with his community before he sets out.

Jesus said in our gospel last week that the call was so urgent that no one could turn back for any reason, not even to say goodbye.

Today we get what seems like even more intimidating news.

Not only are we to set off immediately without worrying about loose ends, we also don’t get to pack anything. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” Jesus says.

I don’t know about you, but I never leave home without my phone, wallet, and keys at the very least, and frankly I don’t like to leave home without a lipstick and a prayerbook.

(FYI, that’s a tried and true clergywoman slogan: “Lipstick and prayerbook: don’t leave home without them.”)

But according to Luke, Jesus is having none of it.

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Homebodies On The Move

Who loves a Bible text they know they can’t live up to?  I know I do! 

Not really, obviously. 

Grappling with scriptures that detail and point out my greatest roadblocks in discipleship tends to make me depressed. 

But I have learned over the years that those are exactly the texts that I need to pay the most attention to. 

So if you’ve ever had the same problem, come along with me and we’ll try to drill down into how to hear our scriptures today.

We’ve got our lesson from 1 Kings, and our lesson from Luke’s gospel.  Both are all about what it takes to sign up for the journey of discipleship. 

At first it’s a bit confusing, because Jesus tells his disciples not go back even to bury their parents, much less go back and say goodbye to the folks at home, but Elisha does exactly that and it seems to be no problem. 

Hold that thought, we’ll come back and untangle that in a minute.

But regardless of the methodology, the basic elements of the stories are the same. 

When God’s call comes, you drop everything to say yes. 

You get on the road and follow your spiritual teacher, whether it’s Elijah or Jesus. 

These stories are about travel, more specifically travel for the sake of ministry.

And here’s my painful confession: I hate to travel. 

I am a total homebody. 

In fact, I think I may be the only millennial in North America for whom world travel is not a number one bucket list dream.

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Oscar Romero and the Voice of Truth

I’m going to take a page out of Davies’ book and do something today with my preaching that I rarely do: use a visual aid. And that visual aid is my prayerbook.

This combination prayerbook/hymnal was given to me by St. Michael And All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas at the conclusion of my internship with them when I was in college. It has my full name, Whitney Elizabeth Rice, embossed in gold on the front, and I never enter a liturgy without it.

But I’m here less to share with you this prayerbook than to share what’s inside it.

I’ve found that the extraneous contents of a priest’s prayerbook, what he or she has paperclipped or taped inside it, are interesting and revealing.

And one of the main pieces in mine relates to our feast day today, Christ the King. So let me give you the full tour.

I only have one thing inside the front cover: a yellow sticky note with 36:5-11 written on it. That’s the verses of the psalm text for Monday in Holy Week.

Ever since I became a rector back in 2011, I’ve done a Eucharist every day of Holy Week, but because the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday services are so simple, I’ve never had bulletins printed—we just do the service right out of the prayerbook.

And without a bulletin, I need to know what the texts are, especially the psalm, which I’m usually leading away from the lectern. So that sticky note stuck, and every year it helps me get Holy Week off to a good start.

I have a lot more things clipped in the back of the prayerbook.

First are the words of emergency consecration. Continue reading

True Confessions of a Convicted American Consumer

I finally did it.

I finally got rid of the stationary bike in my apartment that had long served as an impromptu clothes rack.

Even the shame of admitting I never used it could not overcome the freedom I felt when it was gone.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consumption. The verdict: I am a big-time consumer.

A series of blog articles and books has led me to evaluate the amount of “stuff” I have in my life, and I don’t like what I see.

I have long felt convicted by Jesus’ economic teachings. Over and over in the gospels he says things like, “Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and then come, follow me.”

And I feel exactly like the rich young man in that story, who goes away discouraged and downhearted “for he had many possessions.”

That young man gave up the chance to travel and learn and live with Jesus because he loved his stuff so much.

His stuff kept him imprisoned.

I’ve finally realized that I’m running much the same risk. Continue reading

Wars, Elections, and All Souls

How is everyone this morning?

I wondered how I might need to open this sermon on the first Sunday we join in worship after our midterm elections. But it turns out that no matter what your political affiliation, you ended up getting some of what you wanted and some of what you didn’t want.

And you are more than likely asking yourself: given the situation we are in now as a nation, what is our role as people of faith? How can we go forward together with integrity and compassion?

The election is of course not the only thing on our minds and hearts on this Feast of All Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls’ Day.

We gather together today to remember those we love and see no longer, the people who have formed us, loved us, hurt us and healed us, called us to deeper faith and blessed us with their lives.

Some of those people died far too early, others lived long and rewarding lives.

Some lingered through painful illnesses, some were taken away swiftly.

Some of our beloved departed are vivid in our memories, with years of stories and songs and laughter that come to mind.

Others are only imagined composites we’ve pieced together because they are too many generations back for us to have known them ourselves.

In a confluence of spiritual ideas that I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit, today we walk through the aftermath of a hotly contested election and celebrate All Souls’ Day on an important historical anniversary. Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—the guns fell silent and what was known at that time as the War to End All Wars concluded at last.

Place yourself, if you can, in the shoes of an Indiana Episcopalian on November 11, 1918. Continue reading

HIV/AIDS, Opioids, and The Public Health Crisis of Moral Blindness: We Need Bartimaeus

I have long held that Blind Bartimaeus is not the main character in his own story, or at least the only main character.

When we take Bartimaeus as the focus of this passage in Mark, we do receive many important lessons. We reflect on things like persistence, trust, and responding to the call of Jesus, being brave enough to walk toward him even when we can’t see where we’re going.

There’s also a deeply meaningful interpretation around the significance of Bartimaeus “throwing off his cloak,” as the text says. A beggar’s cloak was a vital part of his economic viability and daily survival, and to throw it away was a huge risk.

But I realized several years ago that there is another moving story layered under the main story in this passage.

Bartimaeus is not the only one whose life is changed irrevocably in this encounter with Jesus.

This is a conversion story, but it’s not necessarily Bartimaeus who is converted. Continue reading