Give it All

Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the talents is for me about fear, or rather, about the ways we respond to fear. I have been attentive recently to how much of modern life is controlled, or at least infected, by fear. One reason for my attentiveness is because I am something of an expert where fear is concerned. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I am by nature given to sometimes obsessive worry, and over the years I have learned mostly to accept that it’s just something I have to live with.

Mostly, I do pretty well in that regard. I have learned to distinguish rational from irrational worries, worries I can control from those I cannot. I remind myself that this is usually familiar territory, and that whatever I happen to be worrying about at a given time will eventually fade away. Read more

Giving Jesus a Makeover

a yellow flower on an orange backgroundMany years ago a dear Christian sister told me she was convinced that if Jesus appeared in our day, he would surely be a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher. As you might imagine, she admired Baptist preachers who preached hell and judgment. She made Jesus over into an image that suited her own faith and worldview.

She isn’t the first. Human beings were made in the image of God. Yet ever since our creation, we have been returning the favor in a twisted way—making God over into our own image. We all do this. In fact, it is one of our greatest sins. Read more

Cynical/Dreams

It’s hard to be cynical today.

It may be easier tomorrow, next week, or next month—it almost certainly will be. But today is a day for head-shaking wonder at what transpired on Nov. 4.

Even though it wasn’t a surprise, the election of Barack Obama is epic for all the reasons the pundits have waxed eloquent about during the last twenty-four hours, and the margin of his victory is ample evidence that Senator McCain didn’t lose the election: Senator Obama won it, and decisively. Read more

Wisdom and Folly

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

At first glance the gospel lesson this week seems to encourage the kind of smug dualism that has characterized this long electoral season. (Can it really be coming to an end this week?): Some people are wise and some are foolish and thank God I’m among the wise ones.

Such readings (of political campaigns, of scriptural texts) do more to entrench our worst tendencies toward self-righteousness (and disdain for others) than to illuminate the larger complexities of life in a polis or the Gospel’s good news for all people. Read more

Blessed Are They

Matthew 5:1-12

This year for All Saints’ Sunday, I am hearing differently Jesus’ famous Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. In previous years, I would quickly leap to associating the saints who have gone before us with those whom Jesus calls blessed. My line of thinking would go something like this; it is the witness of the faithful in the history of Christianity and in our lives that demonstrates to us what poverty of spirit and meekness look like. It is the peacemaking “giants” of the past and present who show us what it means to be children of God. As disciples we are simply called to follow their example, to cultivate within us the attitudes these saints so courageously exhibit, and we too shall be called blessed. This year, however, I am hearing Jesus differently. Read more

Leadership by Imitation

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (24th Sunday after Pentecost)

It seems that wherever you turn these days the buzz word on the street is “leadership.” The failure of the financial market, when not being blamed on minorities or the poor, is blamed on a failure of leadership in government and industry. For too long the standard of worth for CEOs and economic strategists has been a cut-throat measure of greed and self-interest. In the religious world, too, the decline in attendance and influence of mainline congregations and denominations has been attributed to a lack of effective pastoral leadership. Books filled with strategies and tactics (Is there really a difference?) on the subject of effective leadership fill the shelves of bookstores, both sacred and secular, with the promise that the right organization and charisma can lead even a failed organization or congregation strongly into the future. Read more

What God Intends

Milton Wright was a Bishop in the Church of the Brethren, traveling throughout his denomination until his death in 1917. He is reported to have said that if God intended human beings to fly, he would have given us wings. We know from history that his sons, Orville and Wilbur, thought otherwise.

At times, I find myself thinking this way. I think that if God intended us to have this or that new technology, surely God would have provided it. For example, I care little for cell phones, and only own one jointly with Gayle. If God intended us to talk anywhere, any time, surely we’d have “blue tooth” phones fitted to our ears when we were born. And I find myself thinking this way when it comes to oil and coal. I figure that if God intended us to put carbon into the air, then God surely would not have taken so long and worked so hard to fold these materials deep into the earth. I wonder if God really wants them to be taken from the bowels of the earth and used as we use them.

There I go, thinking like Bishop Wright again. Read more

No Small Change

I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

One of the grim realities of the financial markets meltdown is the loss in trillions of dollars in retirement accounts like 401(k)s. It’s no small matter that many people close to retirement may be in quite a fix. And it seems reasonable to ask, if such a vast sum is indeed lost, can’t someone figure out how and where we might find it? Where the heck did all that money go? Read more

Raging and Rejoicing

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14 (The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The lessons this week have us thinking about anger: God’s and, more obliquely, our own. In the Exodus passage, Moses has to talk down an irrational Yehweh, lest divine rage obliterate the wayward Israelites. In Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet, an equally unreasonable host-king (God) responds in wildly disproportionate ways to what amounts to a social snubbing and an ill-dressed party guest.

Sandwiched between these troubling texts is Psalm 106, which functions as something of a midrash on both of them. (More on that in a minute). And then there’s the Epistle lesson from Philippians which, when we read it, makes us realize how angry we are—at Wall Street, at the lunacy of electoral politics, at a spouse, a co-worker, ourselves—pick your favorite target(s). Paul’s cheery command to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” seems a little trite and naïve—greeting-card wisdom in this age of high anxiety. Read more

Law, Economy, Freedom and Community

stained glass style picture of the communion cup and breadExodus 20:1-20

There’s a running gag on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report in which the fake-bluster, windbag host, Stephen Colbert, interviews members of Congress in a segment called “Better Know a District.” In a recent installment, Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland was on the hot seat, and Colbert asked the congressman about his very vocal support for displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings—courthouses and such. “Can you think of any other places where the commandments should have prominence?” asked Colbert, trying, mischievously, to press the point that there might be other sites (churches, anyone? a synagogue, perhaps?) where the Decalogue is more at home.

Westmoreland didn’t get it—he kept talking about courthouses—and so Colbert (a devout Catholic, interestingly) went for the kill: “What are the Ten Commandments, congressman?”

Not surprisingly, Westmoreland was stumped. Read more