Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unfairly pours out divine grace upon us. Amen.
“Life isn’t fair.”
Someone has probably said that to you – at least once – at some point during your life. Maybe a parent, a teacher, a coworker. It’s practically a cliché at this point; as someone complains about the injustices of the world, be they minor or major, to tell them, “Life’s not fair.” As if to say, “Welcome to the club, bub,” or “Deal with it,” and end the conversation there.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has called the entire Church. Amen.
“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
If these words sound familiar, it’s because we’ve read them before – and recently. It was two weeks ago, when Simon confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” and Jesus bestowed on him a new name: Peter, the rock, and promised him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (This, by the way, is why Saint Peter is so often depicted in pop culture as pearly-gatekeeper, a sort of celestial maître’ d, checking off whatever fictitious character happens to find themselves knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door.)
As you might imagine, a lot of that has changed during the ongoing pandemic. Sure, there are still sermons to write and pastoral care to be done. At its most basic level, ministry goes on.
But the daily work of ministry? It’s different. In the ELCA, we call pastors “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” — but right now, the Word is proclaimed through a camera lens, and we’ve had difficult (at times, contentious) discussions about what Sacramental ministry looks like when the Church is meeting in cyberspace.
So what is it I’m doing now that I’m not behind the Altar and can’t climb into the pulpit?
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has entrusted the apostles with the true faith. Amen.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God…”
Once more we have one of those stories that, were this a modern piece of cinema, would end like all other bio-pics. The film score would swell. A title card would appear on the screen, reading something like, “Saint Peter became the first Bishop of Rome. To this day, he has been succeeded by two hundred sixty-five popes who lead the world’s one billion Catholic faithful.” To be honest, there might actually be a movie that ends this way. (And it’s worth noting, this is roughly how the movie about Luther ended, too.)
Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.
Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.
The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.
In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heaven Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks across the face of the deep. Amen.
Preachers and the folks who write Bible study curriculum have gotten a lot of mileage out of this story, reading it in completely opposite ways.
Some have criticized Simon Peter for his doubt, spending page after page tsk-tsking Peter for his fear, for his lack of trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” and authors, safe in their armchairs far away from the crashing waves, have taken this as an opportunity to rake poor Simon over the coals. He’s supposed to be the rock upon which the Church is built, but he sinks like a stone. Continue reading “Sinking Beneath the Waves”→
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who invites us to dine at the abundant feast. Amen.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.
Some of our kindred in the Church use this verse as a proof-text to explain God’s wrath. We simply cannot understand, they say, how a loving God despises his creation because God is so much loftier than us. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, how many people you fed, how little wrong you did, God still despises your every action unless you’ve prayed a certain way and been baptized by immersion as an adult and attend a specific type of Church. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we simply cannot understand the righteousness of the divine temper tantrum. So stop asking questions.
Texts: Romans 8:26-39; St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who gives us faith like a mustard seed. Amen.
Small things become big things. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. A little bit of yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread. Mmmmm. Bread. Especially with some spicy brown mustard and, while we’re at it, a slice of good cheese. Toss the whole thing in the oven to make it toasty and melty. You’re making me hungry, Jesus. Bring on the appetizers of the Kingdom of God.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Merciful One who sows good seed. Amen.
One day during my childhood, while we were living in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was surprised to see small, colorful pebbles laying in the flowerbed outside our house. What could they possibly be? (I’m not even sure I knew the word “fertilizer” at that age.) And, at least as I remember it now, a week or so later, the same flowerbed had small shoots of green emerging from the soil.
Aha! So those small pebble-looking things were seeds! (Wrong.) But what were they growing? I reached down, grabbed the greenery, and yanked. Low and behold, it was attached to a bulb! Those small seeds had grown into something bigger than my fist! (Wrong again.) Amazed, I took my discovery in to show my mother, who was horrified that I had uprooted her one of her new tulips.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will not cut us off but instead delivers us from the thorns. Amen.
Imagine walking along any street in the Georgia summer. The cicadas are calling from the trees; pine towers overhead while magnolia limbs hang low, diving into the dirt and erupting out again. The humidity presses in around you, reminding you of the promised blast of air condition and tea when you get home. You pass an empty lot, erupting in deep green that covers last square inch, climbing up the trees, covering the abandoned shed, threatening to crush it under the unbearable weight.
For the farmers listening to Jesus, thorny weeds threatened to choke out their crop. For farmers living in the southeast, the threat is kudzu.
How lush the hillside covered in this once-heralded vine appears at first glance! But it has that look of uncanny uniformity, every leaf looking exactly the same, choking out any other grass, bush, shrub, or tree that ever took root in that same soil. Continue reading “Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth”→