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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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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This foreigner

13 October 2019; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23C (RCL); Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19.

This is one of those Gospel passages that makes me slightly uncomfortable. When the Samaritan leper returns and worships at Jesus’ feet, Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God but this foreigner?” The word for foreigner is allogenes – literally, ‘other born.’ It occurs only here in the New Testament, and is not attested much outside the New Testament. One of the few other places the word occurred was on the gate between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of Israel in the Jerusalem Temple – an inscription warning foreigners not to enter the Court of Israel on pain of death.

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Conspicuous feasting

29 September 2019, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21C (RCL) – Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15; Psalm91:1-6, 14-16;1 Timothy6:6-19; Luke16:19-31.

Jesus begins this parable by telling us there was a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day.  The Greek word for ‘sumptuous’ is lampros. In its adverbial form, as here, that word means something like brightly or conspicuously.  This man’s feasting was a matter of showing off.  He wore purple and fine linen every day.  He would have had to be a member of the household of Caesar to wear purple; and he wanted everyone to know it. Continue reading “Conspicuous feasting”

Count the cost

September 8, 2019; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18C (RCL); Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33.

We don’t like this passage of Luke’s Gospel (and similar passages in all the other Gospels). Commentators try to explain it away, saying Jesus didn’t really mean ‘hate,’ but that the Greek misein is translating some Aramaic phrase that means something like ‘ranked lower in value,’ or some such. The problem with that is Luke wrote reasonable good Greek. He would have picked his vocabulary carefully. Continue reading “Count the cost”

Come up higher

September 1, 2019; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17C (RCL); Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14.

One of the real potentials for embarrassment when visiting another culture is transgressing the rules of precedence. Several times on my visits to Lui in South Sudan, I found myself having made a faux pas. On one occasion, we were dining with Archbishop Daniel at the Mundri Cathedral, in the payat outside. We had entered the payat and taken our places. The archbishop came in and sat opposite the doorway, and then invited one of our party, literally, to come up higher. We all had to rearrange the seating pattern to make this happen.

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