A reflection on Matthew 22:34-46, the Gospel lesson for Proper 25a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Ilike digging into scripture to find the subtexts, the links to other texts and stories in another section of the Bible, and the cultural references that might not be readily grasped today. I love that so much, that when I’m preaching I too often spend the bulk of my time on that, and relegate the “so here’s what to do now” to almost an afterthought.
That’s one of my growing edges.
But, there are some sections of scripture which just really don’t need that. There are a few texts which just need to be read and absorbed into daily life.
Today’s Gospel lesson is one of those.
The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor. It is the very core of the Gospel. It is the distilled essence of Jesus’ teaching. AND, it’s the words behind the actions of Jesus’ Passion.
His life, death, and resurrection was the physical manifestation of the love that he taught.
The Church spends a lot of time on a lot of things. We have programs and initiatives, we have theological arguments and conversations, we build buildings and we seek to expand our reach. But, we cannot forget the core, the foundation of love.
We are redeemed by love, and we are to be known for our love of others. Love for those near us, and those far; those like us, and those alien to us; those who we like, and those who we have a hard time stomaching; those who are nice to us, and those who have injured us greatly; those who think like us, vote like us, pray like us, and those who work for the very opposite things.
We love. We encourage love. We are to build people and communities and cultures on love.
A reflection on Exodus 33:12-23, the Hebrew Bible lesson for Proper 24a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
God takes Moses, and he puts him in a little crack in a rock atop a mountain. God was going to pass by Moses, and God wanted to let Moses catch a glimpse of Him.
So God passed by – but Moses wasn’t allowed to look yet. He wasn’t able to look until God had already passed. And then… Moses was able to see the place… Where God had just been.
Our English texts usually say that Moses could “see his back,” but that’s an inaccurate translation. Moses caught no sight of the “body” of God.
He saw the place where God just was.
That preaches, I think, because it’s how I often experience God. In the busyness of life, I’m not anywhere near aware or awake enough to see God’s Presence. I’m answering emails, making visits, writing sermons, picking up kids from school, washing the dishes…
But, when I look back over my day, with intention, I can see God’s Presence so much easier.
I’ve used the practice of a nightly examen for quite some time now. Examen is a prayer, usually prayed at the end of a day, where you intentionally recall your own failures, but also God’s little gifts of grace through the day. Sometimes I forget to pray it. Sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of it.
But, never have I prayed the examen and not seen God’s Hand, God’s Presence, or the place where God just was in my day.
Here’s the thing, though: if I don’t take the time to look, I almost always miss it. Find that little crack in a rock, and sit in it. Open your eyes, and see the place in your life where God just was.
A reflection on Exodus 32:1-14, the Hebrew Bible lesson for Proper 23a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Their feet were still covered with the mud from the Red Sea’s floor. Their nights were still aglow with the brightness of the pillar of fire. Their hands were still covered with the callouses born from brick making.
They had just tasted the sweetness of freedom, won by the hand of God Almighty.
But, Moses and God were taking too long on the mountaintop. What in the world were they doing up there that could possibly keep them this long?
We’ve all been there. We’ve sat in a terminal waiting for a plane that was supposed to have arrived an hour ago, and which would still need to be cleaned before we could begin embarking. We’ve sat in a long line of endless cars, going nowhere, wondering what in the world is going on “up there.” We’ve waited for technicians to arrive for a scheduled installation, well beyond what any human being would call a “normal,” acceptable, delay.
And, if we’re with other people, group-think gets going. Which pretty soon turns into group-rage. Words are exchanged. People want to talk to managers. Sternly worded letters are going to be written, I promise you that! We get out of the car, and crane our necks as far as we can to see if we can get a glimpse at whatever in the world is going on.
But, does it ever cross your mind to fashion an idol, and fall down to worship it? Me, I’ve never been tempted to do that. Maybe I’m weird.
Here’s what this little episode shows, though: Pharaoh wasn’t the only problem.
One could be excused for thinking that once Israel escaped the evil clutches of an economic and social system that was brutally built upon their backs, that everything would be just fine. That would be the case if Pharaoh was the main issue. But, he wasn’t.
It’s so easy to point the finger towards “the man” and say that it’s “his” fault. It’s easy to always look towards flagrant abuses of power and acts of injustice and decry them as the great evil that’s going to bring us all down.
It’s easy to decry our society as losing its religion. It’s easy to point at Sunday morning soccer, creeping secularism, and see wars on Christianity at every turn.
It’s harder though to look in the mirror and see our own issues. It’s harder, and a lot less fun, to do real self-examination.
Where do I need to grow? Where do I need to change? What do I need to let go of, or take on?
What Sea is God Almighty asking me to ford? And, how patient does God need me to be? Because maybe sitting at the bottom of a mountain for a few days is just what I need.
This Sunday (Proper 22a) we have the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Sabbath these days…particularly in the sense that as a culture we don’t get any…. and I’m going to be preaching on that this Sunday. Walter Brueggeman’s recent book “Sabbath as Resistance” is amazing, and I recommend it highly.
A hi-def version of the infographic below can be downloaded in PDF form here.
As I’ve said previously, I’m a little addicted to Piktochart… I find it immensely helpful to storyboard a sermon.
A reflection on Philippians 2:1-13, the epistle lesson for Proper 21a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
While deep in the parables of Matthew for the last few months, remembering to love our neighbor, to forgive, to offer grace, and revisiting the sometimes odd intricasies and reversals which characterize the Kingdom of Heaven, we might just forget the Big Thing: For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you.
God is in you.
The same God who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. The same God who was born in human likeness and humbled himself. The same God who became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That God is in you.
The same God who is highly exalted, and who bears the Name that is above every Name, so that at His Name, every knee in all creation bends. The same God whom every tongue confesses is Lord.
That God is in you.
It’s the mystical element of Paul’s letters that just makes me get goosebumps up and down my arms. God isn’t just this entity that’s way “out there,” but that God is in us.
So much so that it no longers matters whether we live or die. (Romans 14:8) So much so that it no longer matters if we are Gentile or Jew, slave or free, male and female. (Galatians 3:28) So much so that we bear on our bodies the marks, the brands, wounds the stigmata of Christ. (Galatians 6:7) So much so that in the waters of baptism we die with Christ, and we share in the power of his resurrection. (Romans 6:4)
God is in you.
What a gift. It’s the entirety of the Gospel, crystalized into one little phrase. God, the Creator and Redeemer of the Universe lies within you. Within your body, and within the intanglible essence which makes you you.
And, while a gift, it’s also a responsibility. For as a God-bearer we are to treat ourselves like a tabernacle which houses the Living God. And, we are to treat those around us—even the prickly ones who are hard to love—as tabernacles which house the Living God.
I also wrote these Prayers of the People based on the Christ Hymn in Philippians.
A reflection on Matthew 20:1-16, the gospel lesson for Proper 20a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
This parable sounds “unfair” to our ears, every bit as much as it sounded unfair to those who heard Jesus say these words 2,000 years ago.
But, they are only unfair if you’re looking out for yourself first.
I mean, what if, just for a moment, your main concern was for someone else to get ahead. I mean what if that was the only thing on your mind?
Then, this parable would be amazing. This parable would be exactly what you were looking for.
What would it take for us to cheer for those last workers who came as the bulk of the job was finished, and as everyone was cleaning up for the day? What would it take for us to whoop and hollar when their check was just as big as everyone else’s?
What would it take for us to be for those workers who came in the cool of the morning, and who worked through the heat of the day to get the same paycheck as everyone else?
It would take us having the mindset of God.
Here’s the thing, when it comes to God’s Kingdom, there’s only one prize: Being in God’s Presence now and forever. Here in this world and in the world to come. That’s it. There isn’t a consolation prize. No silver, no bronze.
And, anyone is allowed in, whether they signed on early, or whether they skidded in at the last minute. AND, God is excited that each and every one of us is in, no matter how long our commitment.
Because the first larborers are God’s Children. And the ones who came next; they are God’s Children. And the ones who came last…they are God’s Children.
So now, isn’t this parable amazing?
I’ve started using Piktochart, which is an infographic creator. It’s not free, but there is a MAJOR discount for nonprofits. I sent them our church tax id, and they gave us the steep discount. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty quick to pick up once you get the hang of it. I like it mostly because I’m a visual thinker, and it REALLY helps me story-board my sermons. I’ve used it for several sermons now, but this is the first time I’m sharing one. This was the basic flow for my 9/14 sermon.