Archives: Proper 13

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.

Continue reading

Eat Dirt and Live

The theme of my spiritual life lately, and thusly of my preaching, seems to be: “God will give you good things, but not in the way you want God to.”

And the Israelites in our Exodus text are examples par excellence of that phenomenon.

In the grand tradition of internet culture somehow describing ancient dynamics in more vivid ways than ever before, it often appears as though God is “trolling” the Israelites.

And I’m sure I’m not the only who feels that God has trolled me—in a loving, humorous, and exceedingly frustrating way.

We’re in the midst of “Bread of Heaven Summer” as the gospel texts for these propers in Year B is are known.

Jesus wants to make really clear to us that he is the Bread of Heaven, and if we want A. everlasting life, and B. a decent quality of life here and now, we need to turn to him for sustenance. This is a theme that rarely can be overdone.

But where things get interesting is in the contrast between how straightforwardly Jesus offers sustenance, and how roundabout and backdoor of a path God the Father seems to take in our Hebrew Scripture texts.

In the gospel lessons, Jesus does clear, concrete things, like literally feed 5000 people with actual bread and fish.

And when it comes to spirituality, he offers forthright teaching like, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That’s pretty clear.

But the Lord is much sneakier in Exodus. Continue reading

Transition: What to Do and How to Do It

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious and very helpful ways, for I could not have found two better scriptures for our transition reflection today than our epistle and gospel. They are perfect for where we are and what we need to talk about today.

The gospel tells us what to do, and the epistle tells us how to do it.

A priest who supervised me when I first got ordained told me that families are more who they are than ever at weddings and funerals.

What he meant was that in moments of life and death, all of their best qualities are exaggerated, but so too are all of their worst.

In times of transition, old fights and grudges reemerge, but so too do forgotten depths of courage and insight and grace.

I have found that this dynamic is true for church families as well.

So don’t be surprised if in the next few weeks and months, the fight about taking down the old stained glass window above the altar at St. Luke’s comes back, or the question of who exactly had the idea of taking down the altar rail at St. Thomas and moving the font up to the front.

As anxiety levels rise in transition, we start to get territorial.

This is my ministry, my area, my pet project, my meeting, my idea about how our church should go forward.

We start to take ownership, false ownership, over things and ideas and people.

It may help to damp down our anxiety, but it will not help our church at all, in the short term or in the long run.

A man in the gospel falls right into this trap. 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

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