On whose authority?

25 September 2011
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 21A (RCL)
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The exchange between Jesus and the officials in this passage of Matthew is almost worthy of John’s Gospel. Jesus answers a different question from the one they asked. They ask him on what authority he is doing “these things.” Since this is located in Matthew’s Gospel almost immediately after the cleansing of the Temple, we can assume that is what they mean by “these things.” The question of authority would be very important in this case. And probably also not historical. If Jesus really did cleanse the Temple during the festival, I have a hard time imagining that the Roman authorities would have waited around for him to spend another week teaching in the Temple.

But, in the discourse between the Jewish synagogue Continue reading “On whose authority?”

Grumble, grumble

September 18, 2011
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20A (RCL)
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Both Old Testament and Gospel stories are characterized by grumbling, but with very different results. In the Exodus story, Moses has led God’s people out into the wilderness across the Red Sea, and they begin to worry about their future. God hears their grumbling, and provides for their needs. In the parable in Matthew, the land-owner rebukes one of the workers for grumbling about his generosity.

Continue reading “Grumble, grumble”

What do we owe?

11 September 2011
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 19A (RCL)
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Preaching on this Sunday is complicated by the fact that it is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. What do we make of all that has transpired since that date?

It is surprising how many times I have read the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, and never really paid attention to the fate of the Egyptians in the story. They have always served as sort of cardboard figures — the faceless enemies of God’s people, who have to be gotten out of the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan. When Mark narrates the story of the man with the Legion of demons, he uses the story of Pharaoh’s army in a humorous way. The Legion of demons (a Legion, of course, was a unit of the Roman Army) plunged into the sea (just like Pharaoh’s army) as a herd of pigs! The reader gets the joke.

I suppose the story works fine when God’s people are an enslaved people, who dream of overthrowing the Empire that enslaves them. But what do we do with this, when we see ourselves as God’s people, and we are the Empire? We are only too eager to see our enemies destroyed, but where would we find God in this? Marianne Faithfull has a new album out called, “Horses and High Heels.” She sings “That’s how every empire falls” by R. B. Morris. The last half of the last verse runs, “If terror comes without warning, There must be something we don’t see. What fire begets this fire? Like torches thrown into the straw. If no one asks, then no one answers. That’s how every empire falls.”

I think the parable in Matthew can help us out of our dilemma. Remember, Continue reading “What do we owe?”

Love the law

4 September 2011
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 18A (RCL)
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Paul continues his discussion of the ethic of the new community. Here, he turns the prohibitions of the law into a positive statement. Instead of telling us what not to do, Paul tells us what to do. I have often said that Paul was really an anthropologist, Continue reading “Love the law”