Sharing divine life

Second Sunday after Christmas; 3 January 2021; Christmas 2 (RCL); Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84:1-8; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2:1-12.

Jeremiah is writing at the end of the southern kingdom, watching as Jerusalem’s hierarchy consumes itself and Babylon approaches. And yet, he is imagining a time when God will restore not just Judah, but Israel as well. All those who went into exile from the northern kingdom when it was conquered by Assyria will come streaming to Zion, presumably when the exiles from Judah come back from Babylon. It’s a remarkable inclusive vision, and one which would be lost on Ezra and Nehemiah, who desired to set up a much more exclusive reality at the return.

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Building a house

Fourth Sunday of Advent; 20 December 2020; Advent 4B (RCL); 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.

This passage from 2 Samuel represents a dramatic shift in the theology of covenant in the Old Testament. With this reading, we enter the age of a royal ideology — politics and theology are linked. Up until this point, the covenant God has made with the people has been conditional: if you follow my commandments, I will be faithful to the thousandth generation, but if not, the covenant is void. The land will spit you out.

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In it together

Third Sunday of Advent; 13 December 2020; Advent 3B (RCL); Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.

A good friend of mine spent six months in Lui, South Sudan as a missioner for the Diocese of Missouri. She was there during the long, dry season, when people stood in line for hours at the water hole to get a little water for the day. She watched the store of grain begin to dwindle, while the people waited anxiously for the rainy season.

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Awaiting God

Second Sunday of Advent; 6 December 2020; Advent IIB (RCL); Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8.

For over a century, biblical scholars have recognized that something shifts in the Book of Isaiah at 40:1. The voice speaking is no longer Isaiah of Jerusalem, who is speaking judgment and forecasting the siege and capture of Jerusalem as punishment for her sins. Instead, the frame of reference now shifts to post-exilic times. Jerusalem has paid for her sins, and God is returning to her.

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Discernment

Last Sunday after Pentecost; Christ the King; 22 November 2020; Proper 29A (RCL); Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46.

Matthew has this thing about judgment as separation: separating wheat from weeds, good fish from bad fish, sheep from goats. And always someone is thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I would love to know what was going on in his community that required such a final separation

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Much or little

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost; 15 November 2020; Proper 28A (RCL); Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30.

Here’s another parable, the ending of which we don’t like very much. Take the one talent away from this slave and give it to the one who has ten. To those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. This sounds too much like the way the world already works to be the punch line of a parable of Jesus.

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Shine a light

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost; 8 November 2020; Proper 27A (RCL); Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.

In got curious and looked up lampas in my Greek concordance of the NT (everyone has one, right?). Matthew uses this word or a cognate in three passages in his Gospel. First, in the Sermon on the Mount, he tells us that we are the light of the world, and no one lights a light and hides it under a basket but sets it on the stand so that it will shine on (lampein) everyone in the house.

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A holy life

All Saints’ Day; 1 November 2020; All Saints’, Year A (RCL); Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12.

If you own a red letter edition of the bible, you will notice that the passage we read today from Matthew’s Gospel begins a long block of red text. If you care to explore further, you will discover that there are five such blocks of red text in this Gospel. Matthew has arranged the sayings of Jesus in to five major speeches.

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The challenge of love

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost; 25 October 2020; Proper 25A (RCL)Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46.

All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have some version of the Great Commandment (John has a new commandment — love one another as I have loved you). In Mark, a scribe asks Jesus about the greatest commandment and Jesus responds with love of God and neighbor. When the scribe says that Jesus has answered rightly, and that love is more important than all sacrifices, Jesus says that he (the scribe) is not far from the kingdom of God. In Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must to do inherit the life of the ages. Jesus asks him what is written in the law, and the lawyer responds with the Great Commandment, but then wants to justify himself and asks “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus responds with the story of the Samaritan.

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What is God’s?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; 18 October 2020; Proper 24A (RCL); Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22.

Modern scholarship has a hard time identifying the Herodians in this passage from Matthew. If they were, as the name implies, a sect that aligned itself with the rule of the Herods, it is unlikely that the Pharisees would make common cause with them. That aside, this challenge story comes after a string of parables clearly directed against the Jerusalem authorities. Whoever they are, Jesus’ interlocutors are trying to paint him seditious.

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