Archives: Ordinary Time

There Is No Such Thing as iChurch

“I can’t get no satisfaction,” to quote Mick Jagger.

That is exactly what our scriptures are about today.

We have a passage from the Book of Exodus where the Israelites are so unhappy and ungrateful that they actually wish out loud that God had allowed them to die as slaves in Israel.

And we have the story from the Gospel of Matthew where the laborers who worked all day are angry that the workers who only showed up at 5 p.m. get paid the same amount as themselves, who have worked all day in the hot sun.

To be fair and honest, they all have a case.

The Israelites are lost in the desert, and have no reason to expect that food and water will magically appear to save them.  And it really doesn’t seem fair that nobody is rewarded according to how much he or she worked in the parable in Matthew.

Despite these instinctive misgivings, we like to believe we would somehow be far-seeing and obedient to God if we were in the same situation.

We’d like to believe that if we were with the Israelites, we would be brave and have faith that God would take care of us.

And we’re sure that if we were with the disciples hearing Jesus’ parable, we’d immediately understand that God’s grace is given freely to everyone regardless of how much effort they are able to put in.

Well, I’m calling bogus, and I’d actually like to propose that we are even less likely either have faith in or be satisfied with God’s grace than the people in these two stories. Continue reading

Changed by a Promise I Cannot Keep

Today Jesus invites us from the economy of the world into his economy of grace.

The word “economy” comes from a Greek root meaning “household” and the management of a household.  And Peter, in our gospel story today, is asking Jesus about the management of our Christian household.

“Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘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.’”

Of course, Jesus does not mean that we should forgive each other literally seventy-seven times and then stop.

He means that we should quit keeping count all together. Continue reading

Beyond the Wilderness, The Burning Voice of God

The story of Moses and the burning bush has me riveted just as it always has.

It’s a rich image throughout art and movies, and we think of the great quotes of the story, such as God’s commandment to remove our shoes because we are on holy ground, and God naming Godself as the Great I AM.

But when we go back and read the story carefully, there’s always some little detail that we hadn’t seen before that opens up new insight into the story and its meanings.  That’s part of the richness of scripture.

The part that caught me this time around was the very first sentence: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

“He led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

That is one of the finest pieces of foreshadowing I have ever read.

Because it’s not just some literary device put in by a clever author.

God is helping Moses complete his mission before he’s even begun it.

Let me explain. Continue reading

The Case Against Christian Unity

I really only have one simple thing that I want to say today. It’s an idea that’s been growing in me for some time now, and our text from Romans really spoke to me about it.

I’d like to present to you the case against Christian unity.

“Against Christian unity?” you might say. “But that’s one of the most basic Christian doctrines! Jesus prayed for us all to be one as he and the Father are one!”

That’s absolutely true. But Jesus didn’t specify how he wanted us to be one, and I think we may have gotten a wee bit off track there.

And I don’t so much want to get rid of the doctrine of Christian unity as to add to it. Continue reading

How We Fear God’s Love

God has been trying to get one message through to us for our entire lives, L-O-V-E in great big skywriting with the bass pumped up and the speakers on full blast, and we’re so off in our own worlds we never hear this glorious music made of God’s love that forms the very substance of every breath we breathe.

Joseph was in this very situation in our lesson from Genesis today.

He has been through a lot with his brothers.

They were his heroes when he was a little boy running around the sheepfolds.

Then he started to dream.

In his innocence he couldn’t understand why they became angry when he told them his visions of sheaves of grain and the sun, moon, and stars.

His childhood ended the day they left him to die in a pit in the desert and then sold him into slavery with the Ishmaelites.

He started to build a life for himself in Potiphar’s household but then it all came crashing down through no fault of his own and he found himself locked away in jail for two years.

This time he wasn’t the one dreaming. Continue reading

The Ghost on the Water

If you are awake at 3 a.m., there is probably something wrong.

You might be having fun if you’re partying that late, but you’re probably past your prime and have had a few too many drinks.

If you are awake at 3 a.m. and not a drunk college student, the most likely explanation is that you are up with a sick child, you are lying in bed worrying about losing, finding, or keeping a job, you are sitting by a hospital bed having been told your loved one is unlikely to survive the next twenty-four hours, or are facing some other catastrophe, large or small.

The disciples in our gospel story today are quite literally in the same boat.

The wind has been against them their entire journey, and they are being battered by the waves. The land is far away and their boat is small. Continue reading

My Starving Soul: Spiritual Food Insecurity

I honestly don’t have a generous bone in my body. It’s terrible.

Some people are naturally giving, scattering their resources with joy and never counting the cost.

How very much I wish I were one of them.

I am at heart simply a selfish person.

My sisters remember from our childhood how bad I was at sharing.

All my giving is an act of conscious will that I sometimes have to just force myself to do—not a great characteristic for a priest.

That’s why I so desperately need our gospel story today, and why I pray so often for God to teach me to be generous.

Selfishness is a basic human trait, but underneath it there is something deeper: fear. Continue reading

And I Did Not Know It: Jacob Goes To Mt. Rushmore

A rock, a ladder and a promise to a man who is running for his life.

That is what we get in our story from Genesis today.

Jacob is in a very bad situation.  He stole not only his brother Esau’s birthright, but also his blessing, and Esau has finally had enough.

Esau resolves in Genesis 27 to set aside a decent time of mourning for his father Isaac, but once it is over, he will kill Jacob.

Rebekah finds out and tells Jacob he needs to get out of town, fast.  So Jacob sets out.

There is very little that is admirable about Jacob.

Even his name means “cheater,” and he lives up to it every time.

We might even question why God keeps providing for him, why God continues to come through for him, why God chooses him to be the vessel through which the entire nation of Israel will be built.

We should actually take God’s choice of Jacob as great good news.

Why?  Because it takes away the burden and the illusion of personal worthiness being necessary for us to serve God. Continue reading

I’d Rather Be Esau

Sibling rivalry.

What a familiar story that is.

With four sisters to choose from, I had plenty of sisters with whom to compete as a child.

We all had our distinct roles in the family.

My older sister Maggie was the rebel.

I was the goody two-shoes.

My little sister Merideth was the consummate middle child, and the twins, Ginny and Kitty, lived in a secret twin society of their own.

Over the years there were many alliances and counter-alliances, trade negotiations for toys, peace talks over games, and so on.

Jacob and Esau had clearly defined roles as well.

The scripture says that “Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.”

Genesis makes no bones of the fact that there were distinct favorites as well: “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

In a patriarchal society, a father’s approval was everything, and like any young boy Jacob would have longed for his father’s attention and favor.

But it was not to be. Continue reading

Idiot Faith

Right.  This has got to be one of the most messed up stories in the Old Testament.

Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, I mean.

And it’s not like we have a scarcity of truly disturbing stories in the OT.

There’s David deliberately sending Uriah to be killed so he can hook up with Bathsheba.

There’s Cain killing his own brother Abel over an agricultural misunderstanding.

And that favorite for family fun, Jael inviting Sisera into her tent, tucking him in for a nap, and then driving a tent peg through his skull.  Charming!

I mean, it’s just terrifying and there’s no other way around it.

Put Abraham and Isaac into a modern context.

Picture a man holding a gun to his ten-year-old son’s head, ready to pull the trigger.

There would be SWAT teams aiming laser-guided assault rifles at him from behind parked police cars, police and news helicopters buzzing overhead broadcasting the standoff live around the world, and a hostage negotiator over a bullhorn, begging the father to stand down and asking him why he would want to kill his son.

The answer?

“Because God told me to do it.” Continue reading

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