Come and see

19 January 2020; Second Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 2A (RCL); Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42.

This is really the first narrative unit of John’s Gospel. Everything up to now has been prologue. This unit sets up what we can expect from John’s narrative. The first words spoken by a character in the narrative belong to John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This is already stunning.

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Behold, my servant

12 January 2020; The Baptism of our Lord; Epiphany IA (RCL); Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

The voice from heaven speaks a phrase that is a conflation of Psalm 2:7 (You are my son; this day have I begotten you) and Isaiah 42:1 (Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased). This very combination is already asking the reader to make a profound theological move by combining the figure our the King with the figure of the servant.

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Ask a sign

22 December 2019; Advent IVA (RCL); Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Ahaz was facing a military threat in the alliance of Israel and Syria, and scrambling to make alliances of his own. The prophet is trying to tell him that God will protect Judah without the help of a foreign alliance. Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz responds that he will not put God to the test.

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The King’s High Way

15 December 2019; Advent 3A (RCL); Isaiah 35:1-10; Canticle 15; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

In St. Louis (as probably in many other cities), there is a street called Kingshighway (all one word). In medieval times, a highway maintained by the crown would have been called the King’s highway. There are African American spirituals that refer to the King’s highway (Walking up the King’s highway). This passage from Isaiah refers to the Holy Way (or road). Early Christians understood themselves as the people on the Way (or Road: see Acts 9:2)

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Preaching to vipers

8 December 2019; Second Sunday of Advent; Advent IIA (RCL); Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

We often forget that all of scripture is politically situated. None of the prophets, or storytellers, or letter-writers, or poets were writing in a vacuum. Religious hope and political aspiration went hand in hand. This is clear in these readings. Isaiah is likely writing at the beginning of a period of religious renewal (although scholars dispute when this passage was written). It is likely that the Northern Kingdom was waning, or had already been overthrown, and priests from Samaria were showing up in Jerusalem.

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What kind of king?

24 November 2019; The Feast of Christ the King; Last Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 29C (RCL); Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43.

The Feast of Christ the King was only added to the liturgical calendar in 1925, in response to increasing secularism and rising nationalism, and perhaps as a way of the pope reasserting the idea of his own kingship over the papal lands. On at least the first two points, the feast is as relevant as ever, even if we don’t particularly like the idea of kingship, as being too masculine and too rooted in domination.

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Opting out

10 November 2019; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27C (RCL); Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

The Bible tells us precious little about any kind of an afterlife. In the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he tries to give us some insight into the resurrection, but pretty much just says, “It’s a mystery.” This is one of the only passages in which Jesus talks about the resurrected life, and he pretty much only tells us what it isn’t.

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Blessed?

3 November 2019; All Saints’ Day (observed); Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31.

We have, for years, connected All Saints’ Day with a reading of the Beatitudes — often the Matthean version. In year C, we get the Lukan version, which includes a mirror-image set of woes, as well as blessings. I think we tend to connect saints and the beatitudes as if to say, “It is these people who are holy.” But the woes challenge us, because if the above is true, then we are not particularly holy. We are full now; we are rich now. Should we be worried?

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Who is justified?

27 October 2019; Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 25C (RCL); Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.

A few months ago, I read Amy Jill Levine’s book, Short Stories by Jesus. Her reading of this parable upended the way Christians have been reading it for centuries. It turns on the translation of a preposition, and at first I was quite skeptical of her reading, but the more I’ve looked at it, the more I like it.

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Nevertheless, she persisted

20 October 2019; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24C (RCL); Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Luke’s use of this parable to reinforce the moral about persistence in prayer appears at first glance to compare God to the unjust judge. If God doesn’t answer at first, keep going back and back and back again, just like the widow, until God, out of shame, responds. Certainly, in the Old Testament, we have numerous examples of people reminding God of God’s own nature as a way of encouraging God to take action.

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