Righteousness as salt

16 February 2020; Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 5A (RCL); Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20.

We’re reading in course from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We missed the beatitudes last week, because the Feast of the Presentation preempted the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. And this week, the passage we hear opens with Jesus saying about salt, and ends with him saying that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a rather serious departure from the way Mark treats the Pharisees.

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Mending nets

26 January 2020; Third Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 3A (RCL); Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23.

I know it is an accident of the lectionary, but I am always struck by the juxtaposition of the passage from 1 Corinthians and the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. In Corinthians, Paul says, “I appeal to you . . . that there be no tears (schisms) among you, but that you be mended into the same mind and same purpose.” In Matthew, when Jesus encounters James and John, they are in their father’s boat, mending their nets. The verb for ‘to mend’ (katartizein) is the same in both instances. According to Liddell and Scott, it only means ‘to mend’ in the New Testament. It usually means ‘to restore, to adjust, to put in order.’

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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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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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