Pentecost 24 A: What You See Is What You Get

Matthew 25:14-30 Dear Partner in Preaching, What prompts the terror of the third servant? I mean, he’s not just nervous, or even afraid, but rather terrified. And so not only doesn’t he go out and trade to increase the considerable amount with which he has been entrusted – approximately a million dollars – but he doesn’t even put it in the bank for interest (as the property owner observes), but buries it in the ground (lest the banks fail?). What’s curious to me is that I’ve often read this parable without even questioning the servant’s assessment of his boss. When he says, “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where...

Pentecost 23 A – The Waiting

Matthew 25:1-13 Dear Partner in Preaching, The refrain from Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” kept coming to mind while reading the parable of the bridesmaids.[1]  You probably remember the plaintive quality of the so recently deceased Petty’s singing, adding at least a third syllable to “waiting”: “The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, You take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.” In her commentary on Working Preacher, Dr. Susan Hylen offers what I found to be a really helpful insight: the point of the parable is not constant readiness. “Keep awake” does not imply...

All Saints A: Preaching a Beatitudes Inversion

Matthew 5:1-12 Dear Partner in Preaching, There is a scene in Schindler’s List that came back to me while reading the Beatitudes. Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, is the commandant of a German death camp. Goeth is, in brief, a violent sociopath, prone to kill the Jewish prisoners at his camp indiscriminately. And he believes that his ability to kill is the very essence of power. Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, is a consummate showman and has somehow worked his way into Amon Goeth’s good graces. One evening, Schindler challenges Goeth’s beliefs about power. The ability to kill isn’t power; the ability to have mercy is...

Reformation Sunday: The Truth About the Truth

John 8:31-36 Dear Partner in Preaching, I suspect that the Gospel doesn’t mean very much to the self-made man or woman. Do you know what I mean? We define “Gospel” in a variety of ways – salvation, grace, forgiveness, life, and so on. Today Jesus adds another way to speak of the Gospel – freedom. Good words, all. But the common denominator among them is that they assume need. The one who values salvation knows that he or she needs saving. The one to whom grace is important is aware of the need for grace. Forgiveness implies sin. And so on. No wonder Jesus’ interlocutors are offended. Jesus says, apparently to persons who already...

Pentecost 20: Image, Likeness, and Identity

Matthew 22:15-22 Genesis 1:26 Dear Partner in Preaching, Allow a suggestion for this week’s preaching: substitute Genesis 1:26 for the first reading, normally from Isaiah (45:1-7) or Exodus (33:12-23). Yes, a single verse. Why? Because I have a feeling it is a verse that might have come to mind to some of those listening to Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees and Herodians. Allow me to explain. We are at the point in Matthew’s story about Jesus where things are getting pretty tense. Earlier in the week, Jesus had entered Jerusalem and been greeted by adoring crowds (Mt. 21:1-11). Riding this wave of popular acclaim, he immediately...